Hazards Planning Research Center

Coastal Zone Management

APA's Hazards Planning Research Center and the Coastal States Organization (CSO), which represents the interests of governors from the 35 coastal states, commonwealths, and territories, are both current members of NOAA's Digital Coast Partnership.

NOAA's Coastal Services Center, creator of Digital Coast, is sponsoring a fellow to work with APA and CSO in producing a Coastal Zone Management PAS Report. The report will examine the nature and extent of state technical assistance available to community planners, as well as compare coastal management legislation across the U.S. The report will also identify best practices in the use of geospatial technology for managing coastal hazards, climate change threats, environmental quality, and other issues relevant to coastal zone management.

Redwood City, California

In 1972 the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) created the National Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program. The CZM Program allocates funds to the 35 coastal states and territories through specific programming areas ranging from enhancing public access to mitigating coastal hazards. The diverse coastal regions throughout the U.S. deeply vary in their priorities and use, from conservation to tourism to industry. While this report will outline the differences between various state strategies, it will also point to comparisons among coastal regions prioritizing similar uses.

Coastal zone management is continually becoming more complicated. Climate change effects — particularly sea level rise — threaten coastlines, and is a politically volatile topic. The PAS Report will explore the role of coastal zone management in adapting to and mitigating climate change, building off the CSO survey and report on sea level rise. Technology is important now, more than ever, to help manage these increasingly complex coastal regions.

In the findings from the 2010 APA Digital Coast Needs Assessment Survey of members working in coastal communities, the majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that there is strong support for geospatial technology within their organization (64 percent) and that their organizations are very aware of the capabilities of such technology (69 percent). However, only 28 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that their organization provides/pays for all the needed training, and only 25 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that their organization funds sufficient investment in geospatial technology. This disconnect between acknowledging geospatial technology as beneficial and actually supporting an investment in it will be explored in the PAS Report.

Geospatial technology is becoming more accessible and affordable. NOAA's Coastal Services Center and the Digital Coast Partnership offer a growing array of freely available online Digital Coast tools, resources, and training specific to coastal zone management. These tools will be directly incorporated into the report, in addition to best practices and case studies detailing the use of technology in coastal zone management.


This curated list of guides outlines varied coastal planning techniques, with an emphasis on climate change strategies. Many outline a process for creating a general coastal zone management plan, and some delve into a specific element of coastal planning. APA will put out its own guide on coastal zone management, a PAS Report scheduled for the end of 2014.


The knowledge and skills necessary to effectively manage coastal zones are diverse and interdisciplinary. Many organizations — specifically geared towards coastal management, or not — do work and research helpful to coastal planners. Various programs and reports not only guide planners, but also build cooperation among many different agencies.

Data and Tools

Various networks provide opportunities for coastal planners to share data and information. Some resources are specific to certain geographies, while others span the entire country. Visualization tools, such as those available through the NOAA Digital Coast, are particularly helpful in analysis and communicating with the public.

Image: Aerial view of the port of Redwood City in San Mateo County, California. Photo from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library.