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Universities unite to help communities prepare for and cope with climate change

Floodwaters carry pollutants into rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
Climate Central
Floodwaters carry pollutants into rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

Resilience Adaptation Feasibility Tool or RAFT is a project led by UVA’s Institute for Engagement & Negotiation in partnership Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University. .Its mission is to help communities cope with climate change. On the Eastern Shore, for example, Fellow Elizabeth Andrews recalls advice to Cape Charles on how to alert visitors at hundreds of rental properties in the event of storms and floods.

“They tried to put flyers in the mailbox, and they get rained on and washed away, so we worked with them to develop a magnet, so it could stay on the refrigerator no matter who’s there and tell them – okay, this is your evacuation route, and these are the number you need to know.”

Onancock residents were faced with frequent flooding of their harbor’s parking lot.

“So we connected them with the Sea Grant program. They had a fellow at an engineering and design firm, and they came up with a solution that they then had on the shelf, ready to apply for a grant, because that’s important to have the designs ready,” Andrews explains.

The town of Whitestone knew it could face climate-related dangers, but cell service is spotty and many older residents lack computer skills.

“So we connected them with a community foundation that paid for emergency radios that they could use to get the message out.”

Tanya Denckla Cobb says Colonial Beach had a different problem.

“They needed help in determining exactly where the erosion was happening on their shore, and so ODU – Old Dominion University – had a professor who brought some students in to do some drone mapping.”

RAFT spends up to a year helping each town, city or county to identify areas where they’re not prepared, to propose solutions and to find resources to make changes. After working in coastal areas, Andrews says the team is now turning its attention to inland communities.

“Heat is a factor that is – for all of us -- a big risk. They actually have riverine flooding, and there’s also increased wildfire risk as you go inland too.”

RAFT draws from many disciplines – planning and law, landscape architecture and engineering. The group has helped 26 communities so far – at no charge and is now working with Petersburg and Hopewell.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief