Students Recruited to Brainstorm Flooding, Sea Level Rise Solutions
This post is part of the Mace & Crown’s sea level rise and adaptation blog, Rising Seas, Sinking Cities.
Sean C. Davis
The Virginia Sea Grant held a student discussion on Sept. 18 to address the local effects of sea level rise and brainstorm solutions. Their ideas, which ranged from relocating the campus to Suffolk to housing international students on the USS Wisconsin during major flood events, reflected the unprecedented challenges of adapting in one of the country’s most threatened cities.
The event, “Engaging Students: Adapting to Sea Level Rise” was led by the Mace & Crown’s own Jugal Patel and Michelle Covi, outreach director for the Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative. Covi explained that the goal of the event was to get an idea of what students think is important to protect and how to do it.
“We’re going to put it into a report, and we’re going to share it with the city and… the university because young people have not been that represented in our planning process,” she said.
Students were split into four groups led by faculty and graduate students, which discussed and developed ideas. After each discussion session, the groups shared their ideas and Covi recorded them.
Patel gave a presentation explaining the projected effects of sea level rise in Norfolk over the next few decades.
“Most planners and state and federal agencies expect about two feet [of sea level rise] by the middle of the century,” he said. “The 2050 projections are a little bit clearer because the further you go out into the future, the range of uncertainty widens… But it depends on how we move forward, how we continue with our energy usage and whatnot.”
The presentation included a video from “Flood of Voices” project in which Tuere Brown, an area elementary school teacher, tells the story of having to evacuate six students during a flood event.
“I corresponded with the mom, and we had the idea to meet just two streets away. I could see her truck and she could see me but we never made it to each other,” she said. “All the things I had [in the car] were damaged that day… [including] the books that the kids carried.”
The discussions that followed included the lack of hurricane readiness and the challenges with evacuating residents when normal traffic is often impeded on the bridge-tunnels. New Orleans, the only metropolitan area in the country more vulnerable to sea level rise, was an often-evoked example.
“A lot of the actual damage that occurred [in Hurricane Katrina] wasn’t because of the size of the storm. It was because of a lack of preparedness… and… a lack of infrastructure in the areas that were affected,” said SGA Vice-President Bret Folger. “Things like infrastructure, and even just community preparedness, neighborhood preparedness; those are things that are priceless when dealing with an event like that.”
Perhaps the most talked about issue was ODU’s location amongst several flood-prone bodies of water. “This could be one of the most vulnerable campuses in the nation,” Patel noted.
Student suggestions ranged from halting future building in Norfolk, to sacrificing the most endangered parts of campus and even a full-on relocation to Chesapeake or Suffolk where recurrent flooding isn’t such an issue.
Students also talked about the lack of communication from the university during and in the lead up to flood events. It’s not uncommon for students to receive text alerts for flood warnings but no word on the cancellation of classes. They suggested that university emergency personal could better utilize social media to keep students up to date.
Although it got a pretty big laugh when it was brought up, the proposal to utilize the USS Wisconsin, which is docked next to the Nauticus museum downtown, for flood relief was perhaps one of the smartest suggestions.
The ship is technically a storm surge barrier, so it could be used to protect an area from waves. But that’s not the best part.
“You can use it as a shelter; you can use it for hospital evacuation; you could make a contract with ODU [to house] international students,” explained one student who was a naval officer. “There are 3000 beds available there, and it’s designed, and it’s all in place and it’s all still usable because they have an internal power plant.”
The student also noted that the ship would survive a storm surge better than most homes and that fully loaded, the power plant could run for up to five years.
“The law changed last year so there’s no legal restrictions for the use of that vessel,” she said, before giving a detailed explanation of how it could be done.
In the ever-so-appropriate words of Vice-President Folger, thinking outside the box “is necessary at this point.”
The event was also attended by members of the League of Women Voters and Sierra Club organizer Zach Jarjoura who encouraged students to take action and vote with these issues in mind.
The event capped off ODU’s Public Service Week which featured s number of other engaging events.