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Economic impacts of storm surge and the cost-benefit analysis of a coastal spine as the surge mitigation strategy in Houston-Galveston area in the USA


Rapid population growth, urbanization, and concentration of valuable assets and strategic infrastructure in coastal regions make coastal inundation, flooding, and storm surge national problems for many countries, including the United States of America (USA). Enhancing coastal resilience is a complex problem and involves an integrated risk management approach, entailing both structural protection as well as other risk reduction strategies (e.g., building codes and ecosystem preservation). The former is an increasingly recognized mitigation option for densely populated areas and industrial hubs. Fully justifying benefits of costly flood defense structures is crucial, particularly when lack of funding and other institutional barriers make such projects easy targets for omission from or cuts to a budget. Justification usually requires a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis. This paper explores the economic feasibility of a coastal barrier, i.e., coastal spine, as a potential storm surge mitigation strategy to protect the Houston-Galveston metropolitan area of Texas, one of the most flood-prone and economically important regions in the USA. We provide an assessment of residential and chemical manufacturing plant and refinery exposure to multiple synthetic hurricane storm surge events by comparing losses with and without a coastal spine. While under all scenarios, benefits exceed engineering costs of a spine, our results indicate that the project feasibility largely hinges on accounting for industrial losses and resultant indirect and induced effects. As many regions and industrial hubs globally are designing adaptation and mitigation strategies to combat the consequences of extreme events, structural solution to surge mitigation maybe one of the few mitigation options for them. Unlike population and residential structures that can retreat and insure, these options are not viable for industrial plants that are resource-based. However, expertise and knowledge pertinent to surge barrier systems are relatively scarce as there are only handful of barriers around the world and they are all unique in engineering designs. As storm surge is becoming a threat for many coastal urban centers, one of the recommendations is to consolidate knowledge base and research across countries in order to foster knowledge exchange internationally. This will help identify concerns associated with existing barrier systems, pragmatic ways to improve them and will also aid the investment decision, engineering designs, and operational aspects of barriers in other parts of the world. Furthermore, forming regional research collaborations with developing countries at risk of storm surge and the sea level rise is vital to further facilitate knowledge spillover and exchange of expertise.

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  1. Unlike other flood-prone countries including Netherlands and Denmark, where governments have been adamant in investing in flood control defense structures and where disaster risk management has been predominantly proactive (Botzen et al. 2013; Hallegatte et al. 2011), in the USA spending on mitigation projects at the federal government level is commonly triggered after major disaster declaration, and disaster risk management is typically delegated to relevant stakeholders at the local and state levels (Bierbaum et al. 2013).

  2. NAICS permits detailed breakdowns across 440 economic sectors.

  3. Available at

  4. Depth-damage percentages vary by structure type and residency classes. The Online Resource Table A.1 presents percentages for each Hazus residency class type and structure features.

  5. Post-FIRM buildings refer to buildings that were built after the effective date of the first FIRM was adopted by the community.

  6. More accurate approach for estimating foundation elevation would require elevation certificates and direct foundation height measurements using aerial photograph street views. This was left for future research.

  7. Available at

  8. For instance, Phillips 66’s Bayway, New Jersey after super storm sandy reported economic losses approximately 706 million, of which $56 million (7.9%) was the cost of damaged equipment (capital loss) and the remaining 650 million was the output loss associated with 24-day shutdown due to power outage (Hydrocarbon Publishing Company 2016).

  9. In Online Resource Table A.2, we report the full list of Texas plants and corresponding shutdown/partial capacity days experienced as a consequence of the 2005 and 2008 hurricanes.

  10. The sample average number 26 days came very close to the number of shutdown days due to power outage reported for Phillips 66’s Bayway, one of the largest refineries in New Jersey, during and after super storm sandy. These shutdown durations were also close to reported 2-week shutdown periods for refineries after hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Kirgiz et al. (2009) documented that of the 46 extensively damaged oil production platforms and 100 significantly affected pipelines, many returned to full operation in 2 weeks. However, approximately 50% could not fully operate until Hurricane Rita forced additional shut down over a month time window.

  11. Control/system rooms maybe elevated in some plants as part of their mitigation and hazard contingency plans. Under this scenario, plants will likely do not sustain damages but may still be down if there is mandatory evacuation of workers, shutdown happens for precautionary purposes or due to power outage.

  12. In Online Resource Table A.3, we report Hazus occupancy class categories along with corresponding IMPLAN sectors.


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This paper is based on research supported by the US National Science Foundation (Grant No. 1545837). The findings and opinions reported are those of the authors and are not necessarily endorsed by the funding organizations or those who provided assistance with various aspects of the study.

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Correspondence to Meri Davlasheridze.

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Davlasheridze, M., Atoba, K.O., Brody, S. et al. Economic impacts of storm surge and the cost-benefit analysis of a coastal spine as the surge mitigation strategy in Houston-Galveston area in the USA. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 24, 329–354 (2019).

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  • Coastal spine
  • Flood damage
  • Industrial
  • Petrochemical
  • Economic losses
  • Disaster impacts
  • Storm surge
  • Hazus
  • Houston
  • Galveston