Coastal Community Resilience to Natural Hazards: A Socio-Economic Policy Analysis
of Communities along the Florida Gulf Coast
Daniel Herrera, Stephanie Lavey, and Sarah Spiegler, May 2012
This master’s project is the beginning of a 5-year investigative effort by Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution and Mote Marine Lab studying the harmful effects of red
tides. This paper investigates the resilience of coastal communities in western Florida
in the face of natural hazards. On Florida’s Gulf Coast, despite chronic exposure
to natural hazards, coastal communities are growing in population and economic scale.
Coastal development is often haphazard and unplanned, resulting in degradation of
fragile and hazard-prone coastal ecosystems. This places communities at greater risk
to the effects of coastal hazards. This paper hypothesizes that, although it is unlikely
that natural disasters independently drive economic trends in this region, their presence
exacerbates preexisting vulnerable economic conditions on an annual time-scale.
This study investigates community resilience of Florida’s 23 Gulf Coast counties,
exploring the adaptive capacity of the counties to absorb shocks while maintaining
essential functions. Community resilience of western Florida is affected by the spatial
and temporal distribution of hazard exposure. This paper assumes the effects of hazards
are reflected in annual economic and population data for the year following the hazard.
It categorizes historical storms and red tides and responses to these events via trends
in four economic indicators for each county from 1969 to 2011; population, employment,
per capita income, and number of proprietors.
The results of this study show there were very few changes in the trends of the economic
indicators after one year for most of the hazard events. The majority of economic
and demographic data show persistent increases between 1969 and 2011, indicating that
the Florida Gulf Coast system is resilient to red tides and hurricanes. Decreases
in economic data trends were more closely correlated to years of economic recessions,
not red tide blooms or major hurricanes years. This analysis suggests that storms
and red tides may exacerbate decreases in economic and demographic data in the year
following the storm, but that counties rebound to previous levels after one year.
It concludes that perturbations from normal economic and population trends are most
likely due to a combination of factors, such as economic recessions or anomalous air
temperatures, along with natural hazards. It is also possible that effective government
policies enhancing and protecting social and economic resilience can be addressed
through public polices over time in response to hazard events, contributing to the
increased resilience of coastal communities.
Policies that plan, mitigate, and adapt to these hazards create a more resilient socio-economic
system. Because the effects of these policies are not always immediately clear, resilience
planning is difficult. Red tides and hurricanes place the growing population of Florida
at greater risk for structural damage and economic downturns following hazard events.
Increasing population in the Gulf Coast of Florida and the impending effects of climate
change may decrease community resilience in the future. It is necessary for policymakers
to consider these challenges and others inherent in resiliency planning. This paper
concludes with a compilation of policy recommendations based on resilience research
that state and local officials may consider for mitigating harmful effects of natural