Hurricanes and coastal flooding

Climate Change: The Impact on Facilities and Communities

  July 11, 2019

By Dan Hounsell

The relationship between institutional and commercial facilities and their communities is complex. Organizations and their facilities often are central components of cities, providing jobs and other benefits. In turn, communities provide utilities and other essential resources that support the operation of businesses and facilities.

Because of its impact on facilities and communities, the issue of climate change is forcing owners and managers in both entities to revisit the relationship to determine what the future holds for each and how they can support each other in the looming challenges.

Consider the case of Texas A&M University, where its seaside Galveston campus had a choice to make. It was 2008, and Hurricane Ike had just devastated the Gulf Coast, forcing the university to move its students 145 miles inland to College Station for a semester. 

Should the school retreat inland, or would it build more structures and place an emphasis on coastal resiliency? Texas A&M in Galveston’s decision mirrors the situation that many colleges in high-risk coastal areas are grappling with, according to USA Today.

A 2018 study from the Union of Concerned Scientists detailed the danger that cities face due to chronic flooding. As Earth's temperatures increase and ice melts, rising sea levels could leave major portions of U.S. cities underwater in decades. Texas A&M’s Galveston campus is protected from Gulf waters by the main island, where Galveston College lies. At that community college, located on one of the highest points on Galveston Island, the threat of rising sea levels is concerning but not a reason to move inland, says Myles Shelton, the university’s president. 

The college is building student dorms 18 inches above ground to combat flooding. But its future is on the island, Shelton says as long as other people live and work on the island, too.

“If those (climate) predictions come true, then our tax base starts to disappear, and the whole economy of Galveston changes dramatically,” Shelton says, stopping short of endorsing a move inland. “I think it's something that you don't want to panic at this point in time, certainly.” 

Dan Hounsell is editor-in-chief of Facility Maintenance Decisions.



Read next on FacilitiesNet