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Research Projects

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.