ECU part of $16 million grant to study resiliency of coastal communities

Economics professor Meghan Millea is part of a team that has received a National Science Foundation Coastlines and People grant totaling more than $16 million to study the increased intensity of hurricanes as well as address the equity, economic prosperity and resiliency of affected communities.

Millea, interim director of ECU’s Natural Hazards Research Center, will work with researchers from 11 universities across the country on the grant.

Foundational research for the project has taken place over the past 15 years in eastern North Carolina. While that principal research mainly captured affected homeowners — specifically those with home insurance policies — the new grant will increase the scale of the project and allow it to expand in two directions.

Economics professor Meghan Millea

Meghan Millea

“One will consider the degree to which climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of hurricanes,” Millea said. “The second: We’re going to try to look beyond homeowners to consider the more vulnerable populations, which include renters and potentially even people without homes. We’re trying to expand what we know about the human impacts of storms and recovery in a more inclusive way. To get to that level of detail, we will be working with community partners because this is data that does not exist in these government-collected housing survey instruments.”

Eastern North Carolina, Port Arthur, Texas, and Houston will be the targets of the research. Millea says ECU is perfectly positioned to lead the research project in eastern North Carolina.

“You need the local university to be the conduit to the service area. And, of course, ECU has existing community partnerships which have been fostered by ongoing community engaged projects,” she said. “This is very much what ECU is about. We’re interested in doing things that impact our region. Hurricanes, eastern North Carolina … that’s us.”

Millea is one of four co-principal investigators and is leading the education component.

“The professional development component will involve students and postdocs learning to work together across disciplines,” Millea said. “The dialogue across disciplines is very different, so they will learn how to work on interdisciplinary teams.”

The team will work with the Bill Anderson Fund and the McNair Scholars Program to recruit students and postdocs from historically underrepresented groups.

“The goal is really to make sure that as we are recruiting students to participate in this work, we are also developing the next generation of natural hazard researchers,” she said.

“This work is critical both for coastal communities and inland areas where strong storms impact the ways people live much more frequently than in the past,” said Sharon Paynter, ECU’s acting chief research and engagement officer.

In total, the project will consist of 19 faculty members including ones in civil engineering, sociology, atmospheric sciences, coastal oceanography, public policy, urban planning and economics. The University of Delaware is the lead institution on the five-year project.