Document Type


Date of Award

Fall 2017

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Science - (Ph.D.)


Chemistry and Environmental Science

First Advisor

Zeyuan Qiu

Second Advisor

Karen M. O'Neill

Third Advisor

Nancy L. Jackson

Fourth Advisor

Maurie J. Cohen

Fifth Advisor

Karen A. Franck


Emerging United States (U.S.) federal policies call for more comprehensive integration of both engineered and natural infrastructure in mitigating coastal hazards. For such policies to be effectively implemented, the mitigation functions of and relationship between natural infrastructure and engineered infrastructure must be understood and their integrated use accepted by affected actors, especially residents living in at-risk coastal communities. Little is known about public perceptions of the functions of engineered and natural infrastructure in coastal hazard mitigation and the interactions between these two types of infrastructure. This study analyzes perceptions based on semi-structured interviews of 14 residents in Laurence Harbor, Middlesex County and 13 residents in Union Beach, Monmouth County, New Jersey. Interview questions solicit participants’ awareness and perceptions of how the two types of infrastructure affect the hazards of flooding, erosion, and storms. Photographs of engineered and natural infrastructure in each community are shown to prompt participants’ comments about the functions and possible interactions between the two types of infrastructure. Thematic content analysis is used to analyze these interviews to understand participants’ awareness and perceptions of both types of infrastructure and their preferences for using each type of infrastructure in mitigating coastal hazards.

Laurence Harbor and Union Beach are located on the shore of Raritan Bay, New Jersey and were significantly impacted by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The two communities have similar mitigation infrastructure but different experiences with coastal hazards: flooding is the primary hazard in Union Beach and erosion is the major concern in Laurence Harbor. This study finds that participants’ awareness and perceptions differ as a result of their local experiences with coastal hazards. Participants in Laurence Harbor are more aware of existing local mitigation infrastructure than are participants in Union Beach. Perceptions of the functions of both types of infrastructure of participants in Laurence Harbor are also more similar to the assessments of scientists and engineers than are the perceptions of participants in Union Beach.

Participants’ preferences for the use of specific type of infrastructure are related to their perceptions about the ability of each type of infrastructure to mitigate coastal hazards. The ancillary benefits of each infrastructure type, such as aesthetics, recreation, and ecological value, are also related to the preferences for participants in Laurence Harbor. Although participants broadly understand the functions of the two types of mitigation infrastructure, they are less aware of the interactions between them. Education and outreach should be targeted to improve the public understanding of the ways that natural and engineered infrastructure interact in coastal hazard mitigation. Results of this study could improve the governance process of coastal hazard mitigation by informing all governance actors about the value of drawing on residents’ current knowledge of local mitigation infrastructure.



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