Research Projects

Localizing Hazard Mitigation: Recommendations for Westport's Comprehensive Plan Update

As the first community in North America to build a tsunami vertical evacuation structure (at the Ocosta
Elementary School), the Ocosta School District and larger Westport-South Beach community has
demonstrated extraordinary political will, community spirit, and long-term thinking. The City of
Westport is considering additional vertical evacuation structures within the city limits, as necessary for
the safety of its residents, visitors and employees. To ensure that these structures are cost-effective,
function in a variety of possible emergencies, and also enhance daily life in the community, the City has
partnered with the University of Washington’s Department of Urban Design and Planning (UW Team) in
a Coastal Resilience Project. Project goals were established in a Memorandum of Understanding signed
in September 2018 by Westport Mayor Robin Bearden and Prof. Abramson on behalf of the UW Team:

  • Engage a broad range of local community members as well as municipal and agency stakeholders,
    including residents, the City of Westport, Shoalwater Bay Tribe, Grays Harbor County, Pacific County,
    State and local emergency management agencies, Federal representatives, and other stakeholders
    representing coastal ecology, transportation, public health, education, local businesses and historic
    resources.
  • Support ongoing efforts to improve community resilience in the City of Westport and surrounding
    areas, including collaborative efforts among multiple coastal communities.
  • Identify opportunities for integrating equitable and just localized hazards planning with general
    community development planning, urban design and public health via the City’s Comprehensive Plan
    update and other infrastructural improvements, including transportation and telecommunications.
  • Learn from the successes won and challenges faced by the City of Westport and its residents to inform
    ongoing policy decisions around hazard planning and to share lessons learned with other communities
    both within our region and beyond.

In accordance with these goals, the full report (linked below) provides detailed recommendations for
integrating hazard mitigation strategies (from the Grays Harbor County Multi-Jurisdiction Hazard
Mitigation Plan) into the City of Westport’s Comprehensive Plan (Comprehensive Plan). Although the
scope of the Comprehensive Plan is broader than hazard mitigation, the recommendations focus on
opportunities to incorporate hazard mitigation into the plan and highlight potential co-benefits of these
strategies. The recommendations should be viewed as possible answers to the question: How can
mitigating coastal hazards in Westport also help the community achieve its everyday goals for
development? Westport will need to complement these recommendations with other considerations
related to community development and resilience when updating the Comprehensive Plan.

Executive Summary

Full Report

Appendix

Tsunami Construction Manual

Washington State Emergency Management Division (EMD) felt that it was important to provide
coastal communities with a manual that could help them navigate this process and protect their
communities. The Institute for Hazards Mitigation Planning and Research (IHMP) was asked to
prepare such a manual.

Washington State has the second-highest earthquake risk in the United States. Western
Washington has several active faults that impact communities along its coastlines. The Cascadia
Subduction Zone (CSZ), just off the Pacific Ocean coastline, runs from Northern California up to
Canada and is capable of generating a magnitude 9 earthquake. Earthquakes are a major source
for tsunamis in Washington State. A local CSZ tsunami will leave some coastal communities with
as little as 15 to 20 minutes to evacuate and is estimated to cause over 8,000 fatalities. Distant
tsunamis, coming from as far away as Alaska and Japan, allow for significantly more warning
time.

Coastal communities that lack sufficient natural or artificial high ground are particularly
vulnerable. Residents, employees, and visitors will have limited time to evacuate to safety. For
at-risk communities, tsunami vertical evacuation structures are a way to save lives. Evacuation
structures are designed to withstand an earthquake, aftershocks, liquefaction, and multiple
tsunami waves. They can be included as part of a new building or be a standalone tower or
berm. Evacuation structures have performed successfully in Japan and have also been built in
New Zealand. In 2016, the Ocosta Elementary School was completed with an evacuation area
above the gymnasium. This school, located near Westport, Washington, is the first tsunami
vertical evacuation structure to be built in North America.

Communities on Washington State’s Pacific Ocean coastline have limited resources. Unlike
California and Oregon, Washington State’s major ports, infrastructure and associated funding
resources are concentrated in the Puget Sound and along the Columbia River and not along the
Washington coast. Tsunami vertical evacuation structures are complex and relatively new.
Building these high-performance structures requires a variety of partners and expertise.
Communities also have to administer a robust public engagement process to build support,
plan, and determine funding options. Given all these factors, Washington State Emergency
Management Division (EMD) felt that it was important to provide coastal communities with a
manual that could help them navigate this process and protect their communities.

FEMA Region X Volcano Risk Workshop 2017

Volcano Risk Workshop 2017

Cascades Volcano Observatory
1300 S.E. Cardinal Ct
Vancouver, Washington
May 31st (9:00 am – 4:00pm)

Download Workshop Material Here

Upload your Comments Here

FEMA Region X, and the UW Institute for Hazards Mitigation Planning and Research, with support from the USGS Volcano Hazards Program, are producing an updated assessment to help local stakeholders plan for and educate their communities about their risk of losses from volcanic eruptions and what can be done to mitigate that risk. Attendees will receive the latest volcanic hazards information from USGS Scientists and review information collected on local communities at risk. The UW team will integrate information contributed by participants into its final report to FEMA and will produce products useful to communities built near volcano. These will include volcano hazards and risk summaries for each volcano in the study. An index of and links to scientific papers and digital mapping data will also be produced. Contact Himanshu Grover (groverh@uw.edu) or Bill Steele (wsteele@uw.edu) for more details about the workshop, and follow up outcomes.

Expected Outcomes from the Workshop

  1. An Assessment of the state of the science
  2. Ranking/Comparative assessment of risks associated with the various volcanoes
  3. Identification of gaps and recommendations for future research and study
    needs (in general and specifically for each volcano)
  4. Recommendations for risk communication to experts and non-expert stakeholders
  5. Any other issues identified by the participants

FEMA Region X Volcano Risk Information Portal

Scenario-based Flood Risk Mapping

PI – Dr. Himanshu Grover; Co PI- Robert Freitag | Funded by: Department of Homeland Security

There is significant scientific evidence to confirm that anticipated changes in the climatic system are likely to influence future risks from a number of weather related hazards including floods. There exists a clear and direct relationship between global warming and changes in the precipitation patterns. With increasing temperatures, the water holding capacity of air will increase proportional (almost 7% increase for every increase in 1 deg. C) resulting in increased amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. Consequently, precipitation events that occur are very likely to produce more intense precipitation even in places where there may be a decrease in mean annual precipitation. This in turn increases the risk of flooding in most parts of the country. The problem is further magnified by decrease in snowfall, and increasing rates of snow melting during the next 50 years to global warming. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that there is a high likelihood of increasing risks from flooding events, which are presently not captured in the existing flood risk maps. Traditionally, to prevent flood damage the community of architects, planners and Homeland Security Enterprise (HSE) practitioners, have relied on historic flow information to determining flood frequency and magnitude, including the development of Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs).  These estimates have driven infrastructure design, building and repair, and have facilitated protected development in flood prone regions. However, changing climatic conditions are already starting to highlight the limitations of this approach. Traditional flood risk analysis assumes stationarity in flood magnitude and stage.  In terms of flood magnitude, it assumes that there is no long-term trend in the distribution of flood discharge over time. The 100-year (or 1%) flood in 1970 is the same as the 100-year flood in 2000 and is the same as the 100-year flood in 2030.  Stationarity also includes the assumption that changes in land cover/land use and development do not significantly alter flood stage. A number of researchers have questioned this assumption of stationarity with ongoing changes in climate, and land cover (Milly et al. 2008).  This sentiment is echoed by the National Research Council’s 2011 report Global Change and Extreme Hydrology: Testing Conventional Wisdom: “Assumptions on the occurrence of major hydrologic events to analyze extremes are based on the notion of stationarity, yet observational evidence increasingly shows that this assumption is untenable.”

This research project focuses on meeting the following operational needs of the HSE:

  1. Providing timely, accurate and actionable risk information to guide future infrastructure development and management decisions;
  2. Determine tolerable levels of risk with respect to various community infrastructure assets (for example a trauma care facility versus an electric sub-station); Allow for realistic cost-benefit analysis of future investments;
  3. Identify future needs for undertaking actions and measures that enhance resilience prior to any extreme hazard event;
  4. Formulate emergency response and training scenarios based on the enhanced assessment of flooding risks, so that they are not caught off guard by extreme hazard events;
  5. Coordinate with other owners, operators, and stakeholders to build networked capacities that will minimize local infrastructure failures and avoid cascading effects.

Tsunami Construction Manual

Washington State Emergency Management Division (EMD) felt that it was important to provide
coastal communities with a manual that could help them navigate this process and protect their
communities. The Institute for Hazards Mitigation Planning and Research (IHMP) was asked to
prepare such a manual.

Washington State has the second-highest earthquake risk in the United States. Western
Washington has several active faults that impact communities along its coastlines. The Cascadia
Subduction Zone (CSZ), just off the Pacific Ocean coastline, runs from Northern California up to
Canada and is capable of generating a magnitude 9 earthquake. Earthquakes are a major source
for tsunamis in Washington State. A local CSZ tsunami will leave some coastal communities with
as little as 15 to 20 minutes to evacuate and is estimated to cause over 8,000 fatalities. Distant
tsunamis, coming from as far away as Alaska and Japan, allow for significantly more warning
time.

Coastal communities that lack sufficient natural or artificial high ground are particularly
vulnerable. Residents, employees, and visitors will have limited time to evacuate to safety. For
at-risk communities, tsunami vertical evacuation structures are a way to save lives. Evacuation
structures are designed to withstand an earthquake, aftershocks, liquefaction, and multiple
tsunami waves. They can be included as part of a new building or be a standalone tower or
berm. Evacuation structures have performed successfully in Japan and have also been built in
New Zealand. In 2016, the Ocosta Elementary School was completed with an evacuation area
above the gymnasium. This school, located near Westport, Washington, is the first tsunami
vertical evacuation structure to be built in North America.

Communities on Washington State’s Pacific Ocean coastline have limited resources. Unlike
California and Oregon, Washington State’s major ports, infrastructure and associated funding
resources are concentrated in the Puget Sound and along the Columbia River and not along the
Washington coast. Tsunami vertical evacuation structures are complex and relatively new.
Building these high-performance structures requires a variety of partners and expertise.
Communities also have to administer a robust public engagement process to build support,
plan, and determine funding options. Given all these factors, Washington State Emergency
Management Division (EMD) felt that it was important to provide coastal communities with a
manual that could help them navigate this process and protect their communities.

Scenario-based Flood Risk Mapping

PI – Dr. Himanshu Grover; Co PI- Robert Freitag | Funded by: Department of Homeland Security

There is significant scientific evidence to confirm that anticipated changes in the climatic system are likely to influence future risks from a number of weather related hazards including floods. There exists a clear and direct relationship between global warming and changes in the precipitation patterns. With increasing temperatures, the water holding capacity of air will increase proportional (almost 7% increase for every increase in 1 deg. C) resulting in increased amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. Consequently, precipitation events that occur are very likely to produce more intense precipitation even in places where there may be a decrease in mean annual precipitation. This in turn increases the risk of flooding in most parts of the country. The problem is further magnified by decrease in snowfall, and increasing rates of snow melting during the next 50 years to global warming. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that there is a high likelihood of increasing risks from flooding events, which are presently not captured in the existing flood risk maps. Traditionally, to prevent flood damage the community of architects, planners and Homeland Security Enterprise (HSE) practitioners, have relied on historic flow information to determining flood frequency and magnitude, including the development of Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs).  These estimates have driven infrastructure design, building and repair, and have facilitated protected development in flood prone regions. However, changing climatic conditions are already starting to highlight the limitations of this approach. Traditional flood risk analysis assumes stationarity in flood magnitude and stage.  In terms of flood magnitude, it assumes that there is no long-term trend in the distribution of flood discharge over time. The 100-year (or 1%) flood in 1970 is the same as the 100-year flood in 2000 and is the same as the 100-year flood in 2030.  Stationarity also includes the assumption that changes in land cover/land use and development do not significantly alter flood stage. A number of researchers have questioned this assumption of stationarity with ongoing changes in climate, and land cover (Milly et al. 2008).  This sentiment is echoed by the National Research Council’s 2011 report Global Change and Extreme Hydrology: Testing Conventional Wisdom: “Assumptions on the occurrence of major hydrologic events to analyze extremes are based on the notion of stationarity, yet observational evidence increasingly shows that this assumption is untenable.”

This research project focuses on meeting the following operational needs of the HSE:

  1. Providing timely, accurate and actionable risk information to guide future infrastructure development and management decisions;
  2. Determine tolerable levels of risk with respect to various community infrastructure assets (for example a trauma care facility versus an electric sub-station); Allow for realistic cost-benefit analysis of future investments;
  3. Identify future needs for undertaking actions and measures that enhance resilience prior to any extreme hazard event;
  4. Formulate emergency response and training scenarios based on the enhanced assessment of flooding risks, so that they are not caught off guard by extreme hazard events;
  5. Coordinate with other owners, operators, and stakeholders to build networked capacities that will minimize local infrastructure failures and avoid cascading effects.

Policy Dialogue during the Response-Recovery Transition Phase and its Implications for Long-term Recovery: Case Study, Katmandu (Nepal)

PI – Dr. Himanshu Grover | Funded by: National Science Foundation

Community recovery activities start while emergency response actions are in progress. While the priority actions are different, policy decisions made during the response phase have a direct influence on the subsequent community recovery. Unlike the response phase of an emergency, where all efforts tend to have a singular focus on rescuing and saving lives, the function of recovery is characterized by a complex set of issues that can have long lasting effects on the community. The recovery policy making starts to shape up during the later part of the response phase of a disaster, at which time the political landscape is fragmented and polarized by presence of a number of external aid organizations, specifically in developing countries. Undoubtedly, recovery is best achieved when the affected community exercises a high degree of self- determination. However, presence of multiple agencies, and organizations results in a contested political space wherein each of the actors’ try to influence the policy making process. This research proposal seeks to map the policy dialogue and identify political factors that are likely to influence community recovery in Katmandu one of the urban settlements impacted by the recent Nepal earthquakes. This data collection effort seeks to fill this gap in disaster research through systematic data collection during the response-recovery transitional phase, wherein these political factors are likely to be at their zenith.

Some of the key issues that this data collection effort seeks to explore include: 1) How do the external aid agencies influence emergence of local recovery policy and organizational framework during response-recovery transition; 2) How can the external aid agencies ensure meaningful national ownership of recovery planning frameworks during the period of response-recovery transition; 3) To what extent does pre-disaster planning and organizational frameworks influence policy formulation during response-recovery transition; 4) What are the challenges that local governments face to ensure that response aid is transitioned into development-focused assistance with local policy support while funding and international attention is sustained; and, 5) How can we ensure that local voices are heard in formulation of a recovery agenda during this transitional phase? Data gathering at this critical stage of disaster response will enable us to map the ongoing process of recovery policy formulation during the response-recovery transition, and help identify specific obstacles, and challenges that influence subsequent community recovery actions.

The Adoption and Utilization of Hazard Mitigation Practices by Jurisdictions along Gulf and Atlantic Coasts

Co-PI – Dr. Himanshu Grover; PI- Dr. Walter G Peacock | Funded by: National Science Foundation

The Disaster Mitigation Act (2000) requires state and local governments to develop hazard mitigation plans to receive post-disaster assistance. Over 10,000 local jurisdictions have participated in developing local mitigation plans, while 1,696 out of the 3,141 counties in the nation took part in the planning process (FEMA, 2011).  Yet the increasing numbers of jurisdictions participating in hazard mitigation planning activities has not guaranteed the implementation of mitigation strategies and practices at the local level. Several studies suggest a disconnect between mitigation planning and practice; further, most existing studies depend upon an assessment of planned actions, not mitigation practice. As a result, little is known about the actual adoption of mitigation practice by local jurisdictions. The last broad assessment of mitigation practices was undertaken in 1984 and much of the literature still depends upon these findings. Furthermore, we know little about the factors that influence the actual adoption of mitigation practices at the local level. The objective of this study is to empirically investigate mitigation policy practices at the local level.  The study specifically seeks to examine the adoption and the usage of mitigation policies, practices and strategies that can enhance hazard resilience among local jurisdictions (counties and municipalities). The study specifically seeks to:

  • Examine the adoption and the implementation of broad-based hazard mitigation policies paying primary attention to land use and development regulations and practices that can enhance hazard mitigation within local jurisdictions (counties and municipalities) in Atlantic and Gulf coastal zone;
  • Assess the influence of local capacity and commitment in the adoption and extent of hazard mitigation regulations, policies, and strategies that can enhance hazard mitigation; and
  • Focus on the broader socio-political ecology for planning practice by examining the consequences of factors including the state legal planning environment for the adoption and usage of mitigation practices, the jurisdiction type, the hazard experience and vulnerability of the community, and the demographic profile of the community.

Plain Study

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PI – Robert Freitag

The Institute for Hazards Mitigation Planning and Research researched the probable changes in the wildland fire and flood risks over the long term for the Chelan County community of Plain, Washington.  The objective of the research is to determine if the approaches to risk reduction can be improved by taking into account long-term expected changes.

The key finding is that preserving what Plain stakeholders value and reducing future risks are not solely dependent on surviving high /low intensity, large, and severe wildland fires and associated flooding, but in preserving the forest soil.  Forest regeneration depends on reducing the mobilization of forest sediment and preventing high intensity fires which make soils unproductive.

Conserving current values can only be achieved if Plain remains safe from wildland fires and residents embrace Fire Adaptive Communities (FAC) and FireWise practices thereby allowing attention to be diverted from protecting human settlements to protecting forests and the ecosystem services these forests provide.

Hazards Mitigation plan for the City of Everett

PI – Robert Freitag

This Hazard Mitigation Plan is designed to reduce risks while supporting and advancing the values of Everett stakeholders. In developing this plan, the City of Everett recognized its engaged residents and community organizations, trusted local government, and successful business community. The planning process recognized the Waterfront and Port as a global trade hub, home to the US Navy and a marina, with planned new development. It recognized the value of Everett’s location on Possession Bay and the Snohomish River and how residents and visitors enjoy its shorelines, parks, and forests. The public planning process was built on preserving and advancing these expressed values.

Whatcom County --- Resilience Scenarios

PI – Robert Freitag

This report is to provides presents four possible resilience strategies and to give specific examples for potential implementation. It was developed to offer a catalog of possible risk reduction approaches for  three Whatcom County communities

The three case studies examine coastal flooding in Sandy Point, earthquake and lahar risk in Ferndale, and coastal bluff erosion in Point Whitehorn. Each case study profiles existing hazards, identifies related community regulations and goals, creates scenarios to explore alternative futures, and finally, recommends risk reduction strategies based on the scenarios.

The case studies use scenario planning to provide a framework for making decisions about the future. Scenario planning recognizes that the future is uncertain, and alternative scenarios characterize different plausible outcomes. Scenarios that provide possible future baseline conditions can be used to evaluate alternative strategies, determine which strategies are common to a range of scenarios, determine which approaches and tools could limit future flexibility and courses of action, and create trajectories or drivers of change. More simply, scenarios are stories about possible futures, created by intersecting two or more drivers of change. This is typically accomplished with the support of a wide variety of stakeholders. Unfortunately, this was not possible for this exercise, so the project team used trajectories identified through the Puget Sound Future Scenarios project (University of Washington Urban Ecology Research Lab 2008). The team also assumed the role of community stakeholders.

The case study scenarios were created using two drivers. The first driver represents the intensity of hazard impact, which could be at a high level or low level of change. The second driver represents the responsibility of risk reduction, which can either fall to the property owner (internalized) or the larger community (externalized). Four scenarios are created by combining the two drivers, as demonstrated in the figure below:

Fire line Intensity – The rate of heat energy release per unit time per unit length of fire front.  High intensity fires can cause major negative impacts on soil including erosion, productivity and hydrophobicity.