Iconic Beach Town Studying Storm Surge & Sea Level Rise

The town of Duck conducts a vulnerability assessment with help from the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines


Feburary 22, 2019 

Barrier island town takes steps to prepare for disasters

The Town of Duck along NC-12 on the Outer Banks is tightly bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the East and Currituck Sound on the West. There’s a broad beachfront, a maritime forest, a park with a boardwalk along the Sound and about 400 people for most of the year.

But the population grows by the thousands during the summer tourist season and town officials want to look at how vulnerable every building in the town is as it relates to floodplain management, storm preparation, disaster planning and recovery. So the town has hired Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines to conduct a vulnerability assessment.

The study will examine potential hazards and the effects of storm surge, coastal erosion, flooding and sea-level-rise inundation on structures and transportation systems.

Looking at every building and road

The WCU program will evaluate the danger facing every building and road and how best to protect them. “We’ve focused on adaptation and resiliency and by looking at vulnerability data we can identify needed improvements and how best to allocate assets towards resource protection,” said Town Manager Chris Layton. “This report will provide town staff members with another tool to enhance policy decisions and to coordinate with homeowners’ associations, other private road and property owners, and applicable agencies to discuss vulnerabilities.”

"This is a pilot project for us,” said Rob Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines and WCU professor of Coastal Geology. “We have developed a tool to examine hazard exposure and sensitivity at a building-by-building, road-by-road, scale.”

The tool shows more than just where flooding will occur. It also analyzes how the building will perform in a flood. For example, a building that is adequately elevated will withstand flooding better than one constructed on a concrete slab. Young said town officials want to identify vulnerable public assets, but also have information that can be tailored to identify all vulnerable private assets and infrastructure in the future.

The study will take about eight months. The WCU assessment will also provide a list of adaptation options the town may consider for mitigating future hazards by reducing either the exposure or the sensitivity of critical infrastructure.

“We want to give them a menu of options, look at costs, viability, the specific needs the community has,” Young said.

The study is funded by a $20,000 grant to Duck by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Coastal Management For more information about WCU’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, visit the website.

—Frank Graff 

 Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci NC, a broadcast and online science series.