Digital Coast Needs Assessment Survey

This survey was conducted by the American Planning Association under the auspices of the APA Hazards Planning Research Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Services Center and the Digital Coast Partnership.

APA acknowledges the NOAA Coastal Services Center and the Digital Coast Partnership for providing the funding for this survey. Without NOAA's support, particularly project contacts Melissa Ladd, Miki Schmidt, Susan Fox, and Zac Hart, this effort would not have been possible. The needs assessment survey was conducted by the following APA staff: Jim Schwab, AICP, Hazards Planning Research Center Manager, and Joe MacDonald, AICP, Senior Research Associate, with the support of Ann Dillemuth, AICP, Research Associate.


Planners are well suited to understand the value of partnership and collaboration. APA's participation in Digital Coast is a noteworthy example of a partnership whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts, with both the federal government, through NOAA's Coastal Services Center, and the partner organizations all gaining more from their common efforts than they can achieve separately. It was with this in mind that APA undertook the Digital Coast needs assessment survey in its first year of participation in Digital Coast, launching the survey online in November and closing in December 2010.

The aim of this web-based report is to allow users to move easily through the various sections of the survey results, including regional responses to six questions, and to focus on the information they find most relevant and useful. There is a great deal of information in these web pages. We wanted to make it visually appealing and understandable.

Survey Results Organization

What you will find in these pages is information at both the global and regional levels on a series of main topic areas, and subtopics within most of them.

Each of those, except for Constraints, then links to pages that break down the results of that section of the survey.

The Needs page links to three pages breaking out responses concerning three subsets of needs, each of which then links to nine pages of regional results.

Three other sections also link to nine pages each of regional results:

The aim is to let you choose what matters.

In the survey, respondents were asked about various professional characteristics, including location and professional roles; their personal skills and organizational capacity with regard to geospatial technology; issues they confront as planners for coastal communities; the needs they face with regard to data, tools, and training; the constraints they face; and the communication challenges they confront in doing their jobs. Where it was possible to do so, we then also broke those nationwide responses down into regional responses, which will allow you to compare differences among the nine regions we listed in one of our initial questions.


The purpose of this report is to outline the coastal and marine geospatial tools, data, training, and information needs of APA members involved in planning coastal communities along a marine coast, tidal estuary, or the Great Lakes.

APA is a member of the Digital Coast Partnership, a group of organizations contributing content and focus to the Digital Coast. The Digital Coast is a website hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Services Center to provide coastal and marine geospatial tools, data, training, and information for planners and allied professionals.

APA will use the input garnered through this survey to determine the form and content of future information in Digital Coast that will best meet planning needs.


Respondents were asked what constraints they face in using coastal data and tools in their planning work. This question was asked with the intent of determining what kinds of technical challenges planners face in performing their jobs in coastal communities. Respondents could offer as many responses as they wished in identifying what they considered their biggest challenges, so the number of responses in this case far outnumbers the number of respondents. Because of the multiple responses, it was not possible to cross-tabulate the data with regional identifications.


Biggest Challenges in Using Coastal Data and Tools (Question #18)

Not knowing what data and information are available 385 56.0
Lack of trained staff 340 49.5
Ability to compare and analyze alternatives 264 38.4
Technical difficulty of using unfamiliar data 258 37.6
Ability to factor in and prioritize other community value drivers 208 30.3
Obstacles to data sharing 179 26.1
Suitability of scale 168 24.5
Otherb 96 14.0
Do not have significant challenges 71 10.3
Total Responses 1969  

a. Respondents could select more than one challenge

b. Write-in responses for "Other" are provided at the end of this page.

c. Percentages based on 687 survey respondents. However, respondents were encouraged to identify all applicable challenges based on their current or past service in coastal communities. Therefore, total responses exceed total respondents.

Table 7 shows that more than half of the respondents (56%) cited "Not knowing what data and information are available" as one of their biggest challenges in using coastal data and tools. Nearly half (49.5%) cited "lack of trained staff."

"Ability to compare and analyze alternatives" and "technical difficulty of using unfamiliar data" were each cited by approximately 38% of respondents. More than 10% of respondents indicated they do not have significant challenges in using coastal data and tools to conduct planning practice, analysis, and research.

What are the biggest challenges in using coastal data and tools for your planning practice / analysis/research (Question #18 — 96 free responses)?

  • DATA
    • insufficient data for Hawaiian Islands
    • Update frequency (need current data)
    • Knowledge of various data sets. Only a few key people know about select data sets and tools. A clearinghouse listing everything available and resources might be helpful. If this exists, could APA make it known?
    • Need more data
    • not having enough relevant data of sufficient quality
    • Not having a definitive source (NOAA) for sea level rise in my local area (San Diego Bay) at the 2050 and 2100 timeframes.
    • Pacific Coastal Management Zone is not available in GIS
    • lack of data
    • available arctic data
    • lack of suitable or available data
    • much of the material is classified
    • Data not understood or recognized by the decision-makers
    • Lack of understanding of the data and data applicability
    • lack of useful projections
    • Lack of funding to acquire/develop data & tools
    • Budget cuts to GIS dept.
    • cost and staff resource allocation
    • funding limits
    • lack of resources to fund this information
    • cost of obtaining software and hardware
    • Funding
    • cost of technology
    • Funding
    • lack of funding to support planning
    • cost
    • Budget
    • Lack of funding to buy appropriate GIS software and provide adequate training in its use.
    • Costs
    • Startup facilities and data costs, as well as ongoing staff/database management costs
    • Funding
    • Financial Resources to support staff, equipment and software
    • Cost
    • Budget
    • Funding
    • no money
    • lack of MONEY to have that staff. Dominance of GIS technology at the STATE technical transfer and I need a job and could do that, for Christ's sake. Call Ken at 410-708-4194.
    • Local funding
    • Cost
    • Funding
    • $
    • Getting funded adequately so projects can take full advantage of data & tools
    • Funding
    • Budget
    • Funding
    • financial constraints
    • Funds to implement a regional GIS access portal regarding coastal issues and someone to support/maintain it
    • lack of political will to invest in these resources
    • very little municipal interest / low priority
    • some stakeholders unwilling to engage in planning
    • political willingness to use data to make decisions
    • political & public opposition
    • Hostile coastal property owners
    • Lack of political support for ecology/environmental projects that are not related to job creation
    • Public acceptance of data reliability
    • support from administration/elected officials
    • Lack of political support
    • Willingness to utilize technology to its fullest.
    • Having community leadership recognize need for such for all aspects of community service provision: planning, infrastructure, engineering . . .
    • Manpower
    • Staffing
    • boss does not support GIS because he has no training and resents technology he didn't need for the last 30 years to do his job
    • lack of cooperation between fed., state and local agencies. Lack of cooperation between federal agency departments/divisions
    • Lack of staff.
    • Training
    • Staff time and staff resources.
    • lack of employment
    • Lack of support and guidance from state and federal experts
    • Training
    • training for specialty tools and expertise
    • GIS Platform is Map Info, not ARCGIS
    • Access to software
    • Lack of tools in using LIDAR Data effectively
    • IT related issues
    • Hardware issues
    • a GIS system
    • equipment
    • Acquisition of tools and datasets
    • Lack the equipment, hardware, & software to realistically utilize programs. Currently using Google Earth & County Web dada do to free access and ability of low speed computers to utilize data sets (e.g. new fema floodplain maps)
    • cumulative impact assessment
    • GIS software applications
    • availability of free analytical tools and processed data — collaboration and extension
    • unfamiliarity with ArcGIS extensions that may be useful.
    • Not having it available when starting SMP update
    • emerging science related to alternative energy resources
    • originations ability to adapt to the new technology
  • TIME
    • time available to use tools — too busy with other job duties
    • time
    • time to learn
    • time
    • time
    • not enough time
    • Time to use the data.
    • Time
    • Insufficient billable hours to conduct adequate analysis.
    • Not heavily involved in planning at Lake Erie
    • Am retired
    • Our jurisdiction includes portions of the Delta but is not strictly on the coast.
    • Not having a "coast" this is not applicable
    • non-coastal community
    • do not do much of analysis of coastal data
    • Some applications are not applicable to Tribal Consortium Non-Profit
    • Although I have worked in coastal communities, I am currently working inland.
    • Very GIS savvy organization, few if any constraints
    • depends on the project and community