Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 1261–1275 | Cite as

Perceptions of severe storms, climate change, ecological structures and resiliency three years post-hurricane Sandy in New Jersey

  • Joanna BurgerEmail author
  • Michael Gochfeld


Global warming is leading to increased frequency and severity of storms that are associated with flooding, increasing the risk to urban, coastal populations. This study examined perceptions of the relationship between severe storms, sea level rise, climate change and ecological barriers by a vulnerable environmental justice population in New Jersey. Patients using New Jersey’s Federally Qualified Health Centers were interviewed after Hurricane [Superstorm] Sandy because it is essential to understand the perceptions of uninsured, underinsured, and economically challenged people to better develop a resiliency strategy for the most vulnerable people. Patients (N = 355) using 6 centers were interviewed using a structured interview form. Patients were interviewed in the order they entered the reception area, in either English or Spanish. Respondents were asked to rate their agreement with environmental statements. Respondents 1) agreed with experts that “severe storms were due to climate change”, “storms will come more often”, and that “flooding was due to sea level rise”, 2) did not agree as strongly that “climate change was due to human activity”, 3) were neutral for statements that “Sandy damages were due to loss of dunes or salt marshes”. 4) did not differ as a function of ethnic/racial categories, and 5) showed few gender differences. It is imperative that the public understand that climate change and sea level rise are occurring so that they support community programs (and funding) to prepare for increased frequency of storms and coastal flooding. The lack of high ratings for the role of dunes and marshes in preventing flooding indicates a lack of understanding that ecological structures protect coasts, and suggests a lack of support for management actions to restore dunes as part of a coastal preparedness strategy. Perceptions that do not support a public policy of coastal zone management to protect coastlines can lead to increased flooding, extensive property damages, and injuries or loss of life.


Climate change Concerns Environmental justice Evacuation Dunes Salt marshes Sandy Hurricanes 



This study was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Health Preparedness and Response Research to Aid Recovery from Hurricane Sandy (CDC-RFA-13-001) grant to New Jersey Department of Health, which included collaboration with the New Jersey Medical School, Rutgers University, New Jersey Department of Human Services, New Jersey Department of Health, and the Division of Life Sciences, Rutgers University, as well as the NIEHS Center (P30ES005022). Our project and protocol were approved by the New Jersey Primary Care Association, the Directors of the participating Federally Qualified Health Centers, and Rutgers Institutional Review Board (Protocol E14-319, Notice of Exemption). We thank K. Grant Davis (CEO of New Jersey Primary Care Association), her Executive Board, and the Center Directors of the Federally Qualified Health Centers for allowing us to interview their patients, their staff for being so accommodating, Clarimel Cepeda, Marta Hernandez, Ahmed Nezar, Alan Perez, and Ana Quintero for aid in interviewing, and all those patients who consented to be interviewed. We particularly thank C. Jeitner and T. Pittfield for logistical and graphic support. This paper represents the views of the authors, and not the funding agencies.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Life SciencesRutgers UniversityPiscatawayUSA
  2. 2.Environmental and Occupational Health, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical SchoolRutgers UniversityPiscatawayUSA

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