Summary of the Heinz Center Report on Coastal Erosion and the National Flood Insurance Program


  • Robert M. Friedman
  • Stephen V. Dunn
  • William J. Merrell, Jr.


FEMA, erosion-related flooding, economic impacts of erosion, floodplain management requirements


Over the next 60 years, coastal erosion may claim one out of four houses within 500 feet of the U.S. shoreline. To the homeowners living within this narrow strip, the risk posed by erosion is comparable to the risk from flooding. These are the findings of a recent study by The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, prepared for the U.S. Congress and funded primarily by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Other key economic and policy findings are summarized, as well. Underpinning these findings are: 1) detailed projections of shoreline movement over the next 60 years (first published in a special issue of this Journal), 2) an extensive engineering and economic data set on over 10,000 structures located within 500 feet of the Nation's shorelines, and 3) a model that uses these detailed data to estimate economic costs needed by the FEMA for setting flood insurance rates. Extrapolating nationwide, roughly 87,000 homes and the land on which they are built will be lost to erosion over the next 60 years. We explain the procedures for making such extrapolations, using a national shoreline change data set from Dolan and May and 1990 Census block group data on dwelling densities.