Coastal Services Center

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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The NOAA Coastal Services Center Story: A New Level of Support for the Coastal Resource Management Community

* This story is reprinted from the NOAA Coastal Services Center's 1999 annual report.

It Starts with NOAA

Weather forecasts are important to everyone, from the mother dressing her children for school to the boat captain heading out to sea. For many people, NOAA, the abbr for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, means weather. But NOAA offers more than weather forecasting. This federal agency also is a world leader in coast-related science and management.

NOAA serves America with a wide array of services and scientific products. It is through NOAA that many of the nation's coastal management goals are addressed. NOAA works to protect marine fisheries and endangered species, produces charts to aid in air and nautical navigation, and partners with states to protect coastal resources. Current coastal research efforts include harmful algal blooms, ecosystem understanding, and shoreline dynamics.

To provide these and other products and services, NOAA is divided into five offices: the National Weather Service (NWS); the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS); the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR); the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS); and the NOAA Ocean Service (NOS). State and local coastal resource managers are one of NOAA's primary customers, as their programs play an important role in determining the fate of the nation's coastal resources. In addition to providing federal funds, NOAA assists this community in a variety of ways, including using new scientific discoveries to create technology and information to assist coastal managers in their everyday tasks.

New and improved technology is greatly increasing the amount of valuable information available to the coastal resource manager. Getting access to this technology and using it effectively, however, is not as simple as it sounds. Different levels of expertise and technological capabilities limit many state and local programs. These organizations need assistance determining which tools and services can help them resolve site-specific issues and build the capacity to effectively utilize such information and tools. The NOAA Coastal Services Center was created for this task.

The NOAA Coastal Services Center

The NOAA Coastal Services Center opened for business in 1994 in a vacated naval facility in Charleston, South Carolina, with four employees and a building in need of extensive renovations. While the beginning was a humble one, the organization's most important asset, the vision of what the Center was to become, was firmly in place.

NOAA wanted a technological catalyst for its entire organization, an organization that looked to the customer to set its agenda. Prior to the opening of the Center, representatives from the coastal management community were consulted to uncover their primary issues. Representatives from across NOAA and other federal agencies were interviewed to ascertain their organizations' capabilities. This information was gathered through a series of meetings; one of the largest brought over 120 state and federal coastal resource managers to Charleston. It was here that the Center's initial priority areas were determined, including the emphasis on bringing new and under-utilized science and technology to the coastal resource management community.

In addition to being client driven, NOAA wanted the Center to focus on real, on-the-ground situations. To do this, the Center solicited project proposals and partnerships from its customers. A "national in scope, local in approach" theme became a cornerstone operating principal for the Center's efforts. By operating in this manner, issues have a greater chance of being resolved, and the tools and lessons learned from each project are more readily applied to other coastal states and communities.

To staff the Center, customer priorities were again considered. Experts in hazards, habitat, and data gathering and dissemination — the three important issue areas described by the coastal management community — were recruited. To secure institutional knowledge, employees with diverse backgrounds were sought. This unique organizational mix includes federal and contract employees who were previously employed by a variety of NOAA offices, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, universities, state coastal management programs, local emergency management agencies, private industry, and non-profit organizations.

Customer Input Continues to Guide the Center

"Linking people, information, and technology" has become the slogan of the NOAA Coastal Services Center. Customer input continues to guide the philosophy, areas of primary interest, and operating principles of the Center. All projects are customer focused and include appropriate partners. Evaluations are used to see if the product or service meets client expectations, as well as to improve succeeding efforts. Evaluations are also conducted in program areas to determine effectiveness and guide future efforts.

Each product or service is created in response to a specific local issue, but there is also a national component. Lessons learned and the technology harnessed or created for each effort are transferable to a larger audience. This "national in scope, local in approach" operating principle requires the Center to not only work with individual clients, but to have a good understanding of the national community as well.

One of the ways this is accomplished is via the Center-executed customer survey undertaken. Survey results help Center staff prioritize customer issues and create products compatible with the computer hardware and software programs favored by the majority of the coastal resource managers. The customer survey is repeated every three years. Survey results reveal where the customer base expects to be in the future in terms of management issues and technological capabilities. This information is shared with the rest of NOAA and the state coastal resource managers. The Center uses this information to help determine its future focus, products, and services.

Serving the Client Community

The NOAA Coastal Services Center is poised to help NOAA meet its coastal resource management goals by serving the client community. This is accomplished by linking the coastal resource management community with the people, information, and technology that can help them do their jobs. This Web site gives readers a snapshot of the assistance provided to coastal resource managers by the NOAA Coastal Services Center.