Eric Tate: Floods and Community Resilience


(Eric Tate) I’m gonna talk to you about floods today
and their impacts on society, with the major focus on people. I used to be a
civil engineer and so I focused on what’s happening with water and its
impacts on buildings until Hurricane Katrina hit. And it really made me
realize that why we care about floods and flood disasters is because of the
impacts on people. So we’re going to drill down a little bit today about
vulnerabilities, human vulnerabilities as drivers and outcomes of floods. And how
we can start to plan, to measure these vulnerabilities and use them in
decision-making. Alright, so here’s a brief outline. I’m going to hit on three
themes that are related to flood and social vulnerabilities.
First, a little bit of a broader overview about some of the major impacts of flood
disasters. Then I’m going to talk about how specifically this one dimension of
vulnerability, social vulnerability is really important. And then talk about,
expand that a little bit in the end, to flood resilience and how we might, we
might use social vulnerability measures to achieve more resilient communities,
right. So these are some images of some major flood disasters over the last 15
years. I didn’t realize until about an hour ago, that each one of these has had
some major, you know, intersection with my life. The first is Hurricane Katrina
in the top left. That was the event that made me you know, switch from being an
engineer to going to get my PhD in geography because I wanted to study the
human dimensions. To the right is a flooding in the state of South Carolina
in 2015. And actually that photo was probably about a mile from where I used
to live. So it has some special importance for me. The one in the bottom left is
Hurricane Harvey. I went to undergraduate school at Rice University in Houston.
And I worked there for about 5 or 6 years after. So I lived in Houston for a
long time. And so the amount of rain that’s shown
in this, in these maps, you know, these 45 inches, 43 inches… this
is about as much rain as they normally get in an entire year, okay, in Houston. And
then it dropped in four days. So you can imagine, you know, it helps put that
particular disaster in perspective. And then finally in the bottom right, this is
just from a few days ago or a couple weeks ago I think. So I live in Iowa now
and there’s been some major flooding along our western border with Nebraska
along the Missouri River. It’s causing a lot of angst to farmers who typically
have been planting their crops around the beginning of May and so many of these
fields are still damaged or too waterlogged to continue. Natural disasters are prolific. We hear
about them from time to time, but they’re going on all the time.
I put the word natural in quotes because as a social scientist, we have the
perspective that most disasters aren’t, are not purely natural. We have a lot
of influence in causing them, amplifying them and governing their effects. This is
some data from an international research center in Belgium. It’s funded by the
World Health Organization and they collect information on disaster
mortality and economic impacts. And what you can see on the bottom here, is
showing the number of disasters over this 20-year period. And each one of
these icons on the bottom is a different type of hazard. And on the left, you can
see that it’s dominated by floods. So, within this whole paradigm of disasters,
floods are dominant in terms of how often they happen, how frequently they
occur. So I just used the word hazard. I used the word disaster.
I’m just going to take a quick detour so we’re all on the same page when I use
these terms in this talk. So hazard is a threat to you know, something we care
about. Hazards can be chemical hazards, but for natural disasters, we’re talking
about floods and droughts and heat waves and these kinds of things. It’s different
from a disaster. Disaster is a particular instantiation
of a Hazard. Not all floods are major. Some are minor. A disaster is something
that really overwhelms a local capacity to deal with it. You need to call an extra
aid; Maybe its financial, maybe it’s logistical, maybe it’s human, to get
assistance with them. And then finally, vulnerability. So this is
susceptibility to harm. And so we can think about physical vulnerability. Maybe
a mobile home is more susceptible to damage from a wind event than a brick
house, right? Thinking like the three pigs when we were kids. [Audience laughter] But likewise people, certain
populations might be more vulnerable to impacts and others depending on where
you live or what kind of resources you have. So this is something that can apply
to both physical and social or human domains. So hazard, disaster and
vulnerability. I’m going to be saying these words a lot over the next half hour. So I
showed you how floods happen a lot. Well, they also, they cost a lot. Okay, in the
trillions of dollars over this 20-year period. And so the the floods here are
again shown in the dark blue. It’s showing as 23%, 656 billion. What we’re missing here is actually the gray , which looks like the
biggest part of the pie chart. This is for these big storms, so these
giant tropical storms, hurricanes. Localized major thunderstorms can also
cause a lot of flooding as well. So there’s some flooding
impacts that are embedded in there. You add it all together and it’s huge
in terms of the economic impacts from floods. But they also affect a lot of
people in this state. A particular database, this is from cred. This database is
called MDT. Affected means, essentially people that need short-term help. The
flood has occurred. They need food, they need water, medical care, sanitation. These
kinds of things. And so it’s sort of a real, short-term, a high need type of thing.
And so floods dominant in terms of who’s mostly affected in the billions. So
hopefully I’ve made the point that floods are a big deal.
That’s something worthy of focusing on and studying. But it’s in the news a
lot because the impacts are getting worse. It’s not as if there’s never been
floods in the past. But, there’s two things that are occurring that are
increasing the impacts. One of them has to do with how we’re changing
landscapes in particular, rates of urbanization. So this is a watershed in
the city of Houston, Brays Bayou Watershed. And so you’ve got two maps here.
One is showing the land use in the 1970s and the bottom one is showing in 2010. So the flow of water, the slope of the terrain, here is from West to Ea,st
or left-to-right on the map. And you can see as the years, you know, went by, the
western parts of the watershed became, you know, went from open fields to
residential neighborhoods and strip malls and streets, okay. And what has
ended up happening is people that live on the eastern edge near the end, you
know, downtown Houston, they may have bought their house in the 50s or 60s, didn’t
flood all that much. But over time, the flood plain found them. Because as water’s
hitting the ground, when it’s a field, it’s just infiltrating. It may be going
into the groundwater, it may be moving slowly into streams. With pavement, it’s
just gonna go very quickly, okay. And then here come the engineers. Their job, I
know as a former civil engineer, designing storm water systems, sewer
systems, our job is to get the water off the surface as quickly as possible, right?
We want to get it into pipes and into channels as quickly as possible. And so
with all this urbanization, you have a lot of water that’s all hitting these
streams at the same time, okay. So you’ve got higher velocities, short amounts of
time between rainfall and runoff that’s occurring, okay. And so this couldn’t help
account for you know, you put the same storm on the surface in 1970, as in 2010.
And you’re going to have maybe perhaps catastrophic damage in 2010, where in
1970, it was just a big rain event. Okay, coincidentally, we’re doing the exact
same thing in agricultural areas as well.
So there’s many places in the United States that, you know, there’s a big
continuing to push for intensification of agriculture. And so farming more and
more these marginal lands, where maybe it’s clay soils, water rains and ponds, it
saturates the roots of the plants. We don’t want that, right? So they
build these storm, sewer systems underneath the agricultural
parcels, these tile drainage. And so you’re not only having this rapid
movement of water through storm systems in urban areas. You’re having it occur in
rural areas as well. And so this idea of intensification of flooding, has
a lot to do with how we’re changing landscapes. But of course, climate change
is a big deal as well, okay. So one is changing what happens to the water when
it hits the ground. Climate change is intensifying the
hydrologic cycle. So we’re getting two things. A) There’s more moisture in the
atmosphere, so you’re getting more rain events. And the map on
the left is showing change in precipitation over time. And you know, we
talk a lot in climate change, there’s all these arguments about future projections
and what the uncertainties are, but this is, this has already happened. This is
historical data, okay. So climate change is occurring. And this
is just one form – more rain. But it’s also, more of the rain is happening in very
intense storms as well, okay. And so, you put these two together so you’ve got more
intense rainfall coming on the landscape and it’s going quicker off the landscape
into you know, into streams and it’s flooding homes and causing destructions.
Going forward in time, now on the right, climate change is expected to affect
many many more millions of people in terms of adverse flood impacts. So it’s a
serious problem. Okay, but what I want to press upon is that there’s multiple
dimensions to this, right? So this is a… this is a picture of
University of Iowa in 2008. We had some massive floods that
inundated the campus. Upstream in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
they had a massive amount of damage as well. And so I put this sort of
rhetorical question out there. Well you know, what do you see? And I gotta admit, what I
see in that picture has changed over the course of my career. As an engineer, I
look at this and I’m thinking about, “Wow, “How deep is that water? And how fast is
it going? And what’s the scour? And you “know, What’s the damage to this building?
Is it 50% damage? You know, what’s the “recovery time for this structure?” Now, as
I start to looking more at human impacts I’m thinking about, “Wow, who may
have lost their job, right? Who’s been “displaced from their home? How long is it
going to take? You know, this part of town “to recover versus that part of town?”
Alright, so it’s just multiple dimensions. So the first is how we
generally think about these things in terms of the physical dimensions. When
we’re, you know, looking at imagery or watching videos of flood disaster in
some other part of the country or around the world, where it’s okay, “What about the
water? What about the impacts to buildings?” Another dimension is sort of
this, you know, this management dimension. Like, what are we doing about this? And so
have these people, in this picture, that are living there, “have they been
evacuated? Were they warned in time? What’s going on with the streets? Are the
hospitals set up for this?” Okay, this management of the flood. But really, you
need to know all three dimensions to understand flood disasters. And the third
dimension is the social dimension. Okay, so process the social processes that are
just ongoing every day in the United States, have impact on who is affected
most by disasters and how much. So poverty, exclusion, discrimination
property ownership, right? These are the different levels of social
stratification that come with different sets of impacts from flood disasters. And
so if we really want to understand the impact of flood disasters, you kind of need to know all
of it, right? And this is why, you know, understanding and working with floods is
inherently interdisciplinary, okay. It’s complex as well. So like I said,
for me, Hurricane Katrina really highlighted the need to look at this
social dimension. There’s so much focus on like probability and modeling and
risk. What’s the Army Corps of Engineers doing with these levees? And why did they
fail? And how can they build these stronger? And all the stuff about the
levee, levee, levee. But, you turned on the TV, right and you see these pictures of
people. The floodwaters have risen so quickly that they’ve you know, they’ve
got axes and they’re trying to hack through their roof so they can sit on their
roof and maybe be rescued a day later, right. That was the story for me, you
know. It’s seeing these photos of someone who can look like my grandmother,
sitting in a wheelchair on the freeway for a day or two, waiting to be
rescued, right? So, if we want to think about people, people are part of a
disaster. Which I certainly think they are. We need to ask some different
questions or thinking about floods that are extending beyond the physical and
the management dimensions. So, just a brief synopsis, unlike where we are in
terms of impacts, these flood disasters have certainly major impacts and they’re
increasing, okay. With climate change and land use change. The way we tend
to measure how bad floods are and how we portray them, tend to be based on these
physical and financial measures. What’s the, you know, there’s 2 million dollars
of loss from this this flood disaster but it really just looks at one
piece of the pie in terms of impacts. I’ve put a little, you know, squares here
where where we tend to focus on these direct tangible impacts. What happened to
building? What happened to crops? What happened to infrastructure? Okay, where
there’s all these intangible losses too about disruptions and tourism and our
indirect losses, intangible impacts on health and mortality. Or just, you know,
indirect intangibles about you know what if I just lost all my photos in my house,
right? And I’m stressed. These are meaningful things as well. Despite
all these massive impacts, we really have no idea how bad flood disasters are
because it’s this nobody’s job to track impacts. There’s no government agency
that’s tasked doing that. I just came off a
two-year study with National Academy of Sciences where FEMA asked us, how bad
is the urban flooding in the United States? We did… we worked on this for
a year and a half. And in the end, we’re just like, “Well, we we don’t have enough
information to tell you that.” Okay, so these massive impacts, we don’t know how
bad it is. And yet we still look at them as uncontrollable. Oh, the flood just
happened right? No, discounting all of these years of development like in Brays Bayou, there’s unchecked development. We just want the developers
to come in, we’re gonna give the tax receipts, we’re going to move forward and
this, that, and the other. We had a big hand in the impacts of
these disasters. So yes, there’s this physical dimensions. But the social
dimensions are also important as well. I would pause it. And so there’s this idea
of social vulnerability to floods, with it based on the general idea that
certain populations, now I’m going to talk about populations here, this does
not go down to the level of individuals. Okay, so these are groups of people that so, tend to be more impacted than others, okay.
Due to you know, baseline economic and social, institutional and political
factors and processes that go on in our country and in other places as well. And
so, some groups depend you know, whether it’s poverty or race and ethnicity,
renters, disability, right? Can all have lots of different manifestations in
terms of greater impacts, while the flood is impending, trying to evacuate, while
it’s actually happening, but also in the recovery stage. I know it’s kind of small
on here but I put in green, a few of the categories of populations that came up
really high in terms of our study with the National Academies. We ended up going to four – Chicago, Houston, Baltimore and Phoenix and talked to political leaders, consumer advocates, residents, emergency managers to
understand what’s driving flooding in their communities and these ones in green, about poverty, about race, about age,
homeownership and English proficiency in recent immigrants came
up repeatedly as among the most vulnerable, when it comes to floods, okay.
So keep this snapshot in your mind because I’m going to come back to this.
Like, we have a decent understanding of who, what types of people tend to be
more vulnerable or what types of populations tend to be more vulnerable.
So, what can we do with that understanding? So, but pause here. Why
should we even focus on the vulnerable? What’s the point? I think there’s a
number of both moral reasons and monetary reasons for doing so. You know,
these things that are accelerating climate change, these greenhouse gas
emissions, it’s not being done by those without you know, with limited resources.
It’s mostly being done by those with middle amounts of resources and
lots of resources. They tend to be at greatest risk. Low-lying areas don’t tend
to be the most valuable and so these become flooded earlier. And maybe they
don’t have as great housing quality as well, or coping capacities. But it’s also
cost-effective because many low resource communities, you can put a certain amount
of money in and help many more people more substantively than in a higher income
area, where those dollars may not be spread as well. Okay, and they may not
have as great as needs either. So, what I was happy to see, in the last few years,
was some greater attention to social dimensions of disasters in media reports.
This is something that I hadn’t really seen, even though I’ve been studying this
for a while. To a large degree, in the coverage of Hurricane Maria in Puerto
Rico, Hurricane Harvey in Houston and other case studies around the world,
these disasters. So it’s it’s given me hope that we’re going in the right
direction, a little bit. So what I do as a researcher is try and translate this
broad understanding of this idea of like, you know, certain
populations may be more vulnerable into something that we can measure and use.
And so I use indicators – spatial indicators. And all y’all are familiar
with indicators, even though you may not know it. Okay, so every time you open
up, you go to the web and you see, you know, “The Top 25 Best Places to Live” or
“The Top 50 Undergraduate Schools” or the “FIFA Rankings of the Top Soccer Teams in the World”, these are all indicators, right? We’re taking multi-dimensional
information, so in the FIFA rankings, things like well, what was the prestige
of the match? What was the score? Was it a home or away game? How recent was it? All
of these things go into determining what your FIFA ranking is for the World Cup. The
Women’s World Cup is starting like right now [Audience noises] and I hope y’all get to see some of that. And so we can do the same thing for looking at the system, instead of soccer.
The system of disasters, particularly social, and we can build these indicators
using some of these variables that I showed you in the previous chart, right?
Renters, age, these kinds of things we can collect data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
We can represent these constructs with variables. We can build statistical
models with these variables to come up with a single number, like you know the FIFA
ranking of Spain is 3, right? Likewise, we can say in this particular county, this
is the 15th most vulnerable county and now we can map this as well. So we can
get a, you know spatial representation of vulnerability. Okay,
this is the leading measure of social vulnerability. This is done for the
United States at the U.S. county scale. The red is showing the places that are
in the top standard deviation or half a standard deviation roughly the top 15-17%
of observations. The blue, or the the lowest, okay. And so at a national
scale, if you’re trying to identify trouble spots and maybe set funding
priorities to invest money or programs where they’re most vulnerable, you can
see how something like this might be useful, okay. So, this is the general
idea about social vulnerability indicators and helping to measure this
abstract construct. Then, we can start to do something about it. We can start to
manage this, this challenge. And so in social vulnerability, there’s several
broad research questions that I’m always interested in. So in
terms of identifying trouble spots, which places are most vulnerable? If you
identify these places, who are the most vulnerable people in these places? Once
you have this, this surface that you can map, you can also compare with physical
hazards like flood depth, for example. Oh how do these two compare? And then also
if you have this measure of social vulnerability, one of the things I’ve
been doing a lot more recently over the last years, and now we can start to use
this to evaluate the equity in existing programs. So after a disaster, there’s, you
know, disbursement of resources. Well, how equitable is this disbursement of
resources, is actually going to the people that need it the most?
Open question. So here’s an example of looking at the comparison between social
vulnerability and physical flood hazards. So this is a, these are flood maps on the
left. You see where there are available FEMA flood maps for the United States. So
there’s this thing called the National Flood Insurance Program where you can
buy flood insurance. so if you have damage to your house from a flood you
can get, you can submit a claim and get reimbursed. Well in order to do this, to
set actuarial rates, they need to know where the most hazardous places are. So
they build these flood maps. But as you can see from this map, there’s big gaps
in the United States where these exist and even where they do exist, they’re
highly varying quality. We’ve been working with a collaborator out of
University of Bristol in England. Now, they’ve spun off a company called Fathom.
And they developed this procedure to build a flood map for the interfer at
the continental scale. And so you have one on the left, as the county maps this
is Pima. The one on the right is this flood map which is, you can see, it’s much
higher resolution. Alright, so now we have the surface this landscape of flood
depth, an extent for the entire country. So, this
is this physical dimension that’s represented here. We can then build the
social dimension using some of these variables. Like I was saying, using some
statistical techniques we take these large set of variables and reduce them.
In this case, into 6 different factors, okay.
Income and wealth, socioeconomic status, the, you know, gender and race, dependency
combine these and we build a social vulnerability measure. this one is at a
Geographic scale that’s actually smaller than a U.S. county. So the U.S.
county in terms of size, then you might have zip codes that are smaller than
counties and then you have this thing called census tracts, which are a bit
smaller than zip codes. Okay, that’s the scale that we did the analysis here. But
you see some similar patterns to the map that I showed you before. the Rio Grande
Valley, Southwest United States, along the Mississippi, lower Mississippi Basin, you
have areas of higher vulnerability that are depicted here in brown, okay. So now, I
have a surface of physical vulnerability from flood depths. Now I also have a
surface of social vulnerability and we can combine these in a geographic
information system, or a GIS. Okay to love geographers and also kind of do some
fancy sort of spatial clustering approaches. So this is… I kind of geek out
on this map. My graduate students made it a month or two ago and for me it’s super
interesting. So what you have is, you have 2 variables, right? Flood ducked and
social vulnerability and we’re combining them into these spatial clusters, where
you know, the social vulnerability of this area is very similar to the social
vulnerability around it. This forms a spatial cluster. So in red,
what we have is clusters that are both high in social vulnerability and high in
flood hazard. Okay, if I’m FEMA at a national scale, this is where I want to
focus my resources. If I want indeed one a reduce vulnerability, right? So,
identifying trouble spots and setting priorities about these spatial
indicators, doing analysis, might say look, “I want to focus on these areas.” The
orange is where you have low flood hazard, but high social vulnerability.
Now, what happens if, with continuing climate change, in the future if these
places start to become high flood hazard? Now you have both high, you have high in
both, so these might be areas of concern in the future, okay.
The dark blue is places of high flood hazard, but low social vulnerability. But
we’ve had many times and places where we’ve had rapid demographic change in
small areas in the United States. And so, a place that’s slow in social
vulnerability now, ten years from now, could be high, okay.
And so with rapid demographic change, these also could be areas of concern in
the future. But combining these two different, you know, forms of
vulnerability, gives you a deeper understanding of the multidimensionality
of flood disasters, okay. And this impacts, now. Ao we’ve created these high, high
clusters. I’m going to focus on this. So what’s going on in these high, high clusters?
And how many people live there? Okay, so we did this analysis. What I showed here
in the map is a 1% chance flood, also known as the 100 year flood, okay. And so,
we did the analysis for the 100 year flood and the 500 year flood as well. And
so you have the orange bars the 100 year, the red the 500 year. It’s showing these
high, high clusters. About 15 million people are living in these, right. There’s a lot
of people that are in these really hot, hazardous areas in the United States.
That you know, when flood disaster hits, they’re gonna be highly vulnerable. And
likewise, you can see how many people live in the high/low clusters of the
low/high but for me, I was also then was interested in not only how many people
live there, but what kinds of characteristics are dominating in those
places. And so what we found, we were able to compare you know, what are the, you
know the demographic characteristics in the high high clusters
versus everywhere else, okay. So for example, median house value in the high high clusters, around 106 thousand dollars. The median house value everywhere else,
more than twice that, okay. So you can see these big disparities, economically here.
And that’s a wealth indicator and income indicator. You’re seeing these big gaps.
Race just came up in a big way. In terms of percentages, family structure
and households and poverty it’s essentially saying in this story that in
these places, where it’s both high flood vulnerability and high social
vulnerability, it’s these intersections of low second
socioeconomic status and race okay, which is the story of our country, right? It’s
been going on for forever. We have all these systems that maintain, perpetuate
this. So it’s maybe not so, you know surprising that we see it here again.
Awesome disaster vulnerability, but with identifying these places, then maybe we
can start to do something about it, okay. So another way that we can use these
social vulnerability measures… Something I’ve been interested in, I talked, I
showed you that picture of the South Carolina flood in 2015. One of my
colleagues, he used to work with FEMA. So he’s the data guy, right? I’m like, my
head’s all in the clouds. I’ve come up with all these, spinning up these ideas
she goes and gets the data and then we have another collaborator, she’s like the
stats guru. so we all work together in these studies. This is looking at four
different programs that help people after a disaster. Okay, this FEMA
individual assistance or FEMA IA. It helps the most number of people. You see
in this map, here it’s n of a hundred one thousand after the South Carolina flood.
Challenge with the FEMA IA, it’s really fast, but it’s not, doesn’t give a whole
lot of money, okay. It’s capped and the average amount is just under $1,000, okay, for damage to homes and properties, okay. So you hear a lot of, you
know, after the disaster about people getting FEMA assistance. But it’s not
gonna make them whole. It’s barely gonna you know do anything, okay.
The thing with FEMA individual assistance, is it has some income
thresholds. It’s really trying to get at people that are below a certain income
threshold. If you have more, if you can pass a credit check, they’re gonna push
you into the SBA to get these low-interest loans. So this is an OLE,
another set of people and geographies that are getting resources from SBA. I
talked earlier about the National Flood Insurance Program. So homeowners that
live in flood prone areas, or maybe they think they do, they may
have bought a flood insurance policy. And so that is a far lower number of people.
In this case, 5,000. But these, the amount of money you can get that for,
that is up to $250,000. So a lot more resources compared to FEMA. The fourth
is the CDBG, this Community Development Block Grant program from the Department
of Housing and Urban Development. This one’s completely different and it only
tends to happen with really big disasters that Congress comes and says
we’re gonna pass a bill that’s gonna fund this. So you get it after like
Hurricane Sandy. And a few men following the news, Congress and the president have been fighting about this, these big disaster
allocations. For Puerto Rico, the Midwest floods and Harvey, a lot of that’s going
to be going into the CDBG. So these dollars are quite high, but you can see
there’s only 8,000 here so it’s serving fewer people. and it tends to
come far later. You know, maybe even a year later, because it’s got to go
through Congress, right? And so all the infighting there. So what do we know
about social vulnerability? Well there’s some massive inequalities that manifest
in terms of adverse disaster outcomes. But we can take this abstract idea and
model with social indicators to build these measures that we can do something
with them to identify trouble spots and maybe measure the equity in disaster
programs. Alright, having this measure, we can do something about it. And so I’m
going to transition to the third part; Thinking about this idea of flood
resilience. It’s it’s been all the rage, at least in the research area. But I’m
hearing this when it comes to like health and all these other dimensions.
Like, we want to be resilient, right? Do you want to try to reduce
your vulnerability? Or do you want to increase resilience, right? Who’s not on
board with increasing resilience, right? But what is it, right? These buzzwords
everybody can get on board because maybe we don’t have a shared definition. It’s
this idea of a community’s available ability to absorb these impacts from a
flood, okay, adapt to make different changes and
and withstand disruption – two core functions of the community. Okay, so I
like to use this spring analogy. So you can imagine this flood is hitting this
town and it’s pulling this spring. Alright, so on the left one, the flood is
so severe that the spring just breaks. Alright, this community has ruptured.
There’s some massive problems and the other one, the string, is busy. The spring is
being pulled and then after the disaster, goes back to its original shape. I would
actually say that’s not so good either because if it got all that stressed in
the first place, then it’s probably pretty vulnerable. So the deal with
resilience is not only can you withstand? But you want to come back and you want
to be different, right? Better, stronger, okay. And so the National Academy of
Sciences, one of the things they say is like one of the ways we can help build
resilience is to actually, we need to have an understanding. the baseline of
where we stand. And so, use of spatial indicators is really important for that.
As well, right, as measures, okay. Climate change is creating urgency for flood
resilience. So this is a, there’s a diagram of the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers. I almost want to, I’m not gonna say it’s propaganda, but so what you
have on the left is like basically they’re trying to say without us, doing
all this flood risk is super high. Alright, but then there’s all these
activities we can have zoning activities and building codes and build levees and
floodwalls and dams and all this stuff. And in the end, boy this flood risk way
down here, there’s nothing left almost, right? All these technocratic
interventions, right? We’re going to put people in the room and draw these plans
and Creek you know compute all these numbers and we’re gonna get it right.
There no one know we’re in here. That was looking at sort of these social
differentiation well all of these activities benefit everybody, okay. Or
maybe even they should benefit the neediest even more, right? If you’re
taking the social vulnerability perspective, so this is the traditional
technocratic view, but you know thinking about social vulnerability is not done
nearly as much. So I’m going to show you this picture this is
Cedar Rapids, Iowa where you have a street, okay. One side, they put these
Hesco barriers to stop the water. So one side of the street was dry and one was
wet. On the dry side, more valuable buildings, okay,
central business, district higher incomes people are participating in
decision-making processes they may know their city councilperson, or you know
donated to the mayor infrastructure, is more protected. On the wet side, the
opposite, okay. People not being able to participate, fewer resources and this is
what we see time after time. This is the manifestation of social vulnerability,
okay. One of the major findings from this National Academy studies is that we need to
do more… we need to do, you know, develop interventions that you
know, really look at these social impacts. Put a bit much bigger focus on it. So
they’re saying look FEMA HUD, you know, Army Corps of Engineers. All these
agencies that are involved with, you know flood disasters. You need to start
thinking about social impacts as well, okay. So maybe after doing so we have a different diagram that has something
about, that recognizes the importance and the impacts to socially vulnerable populations and ideally actually encourages them to
participate in. So it’s not just being things done for socially vulnerable
populations, but with to reduce vulnerability. And so what resilience,
what some way people think about is… see these sets of capitals, right? We want to
build these capitals of natural capital, right? Maybe we want to build
more wetlands, more physical capital, more levees and dams, okay. But people don’t
always have a good understanding about how to build social capital. And so these
social resources are these community characteristics that are going to help
build trust so that people work together. And so maybe a good start would be
through using these indicators to identify vulnerability places so
people can leave and start to build some trust and
collective action that can be to boost resilience.
There’s an example of this in Iowa. This is the Bray Bayou watershed. They’re
putting 8 million dollars into flood proofing homes. And so to be eligible, you
have to be below a certain income threshold and they got a big grant and
they’ll go and you know some repairs to these homes. And so these
people were getting frequently flooded, okay? And so they had mold in their homes
and people with kids had asthma and you know they’re stressed out and
missing work from time to time, you know. You could go and do you know 5 or 6
thousand dollars of repairs to their homes. Maybe raising some appliances off
the floor in the basements, doing some physical rehabilitation. You can reduce
these vulnerabilities and have this one set of money gonna help 325 different
households. So if you’re looking at the social perspective, you start to ask some
different questions. So you see this Dam this is a quarry oval dam that protects
Iowa City, okay. Who gets protected? We’re gonna build dams and levees as we like,
building stuff right? We’re masters of nature and science,
okay, but who’s actually going to get protected from this dam? They built this
in the 60s. This downstream community here, which has nothing there’s, called
mosquito flats because no one would ever want to live there, even go there. Now,
it’s declared safe, a huge subdivision goes in and then 2008 hits and it’s all
flooded, okay. So this giant intervention of millions and millions of dollars to
protect this area that was basically the only one that benefitted were the
developers that built the homes. And then they just took off. Who bears the
greatest financial impact? Maybe we shouldn’t be looking at the value of
damaged homes maybe we should be looking at what the value of the damaged home is
to the person who’s living there, right? I have $50,000 in my house and maybe my
house is worth 250 grand you know, first to someone who has
$50,000 damage to their house and their houses were $60,000, right? It’s not the
same, okay. So we can’t just look at these absolute financial indicators to measure
plenty impact, okay. Maybe, we should be looking at things
same with benefit/cost ratios. This is… what, let’s see, don’t see the rapids on
the right to say the Army Corps of Engineers say, “Yes, we will support
building a dam, a levee that will protect “the central business district on the one
side of the river, but we won’t build on “the other side of the river with this
work force housing.” Okay, it’s the economic dimension that’s dominating. But, you know, if social metrics are a part of the decision-making process, maybe we’ll
arrive at different, you know outcomes. Who can about access evacuation shelters? Is it really… do we want to focus on total shelter capacity? Or maybe think
about who can get there. What happens if you have a pet? What if you’re in a
wheelchair? What if you’re on insulin and your medication needs to be refrigerated?
What if you have a baby and you need diapers? And you know maybe you can’t go
to the shelter these are important things to understand if we want to
reduce vulnerability. It’s not just the number of people displaced, but who among
the population. Asking some deeper questions about the social fabric, how
that’s being disrupted by disasters. Oh, a big thing these days is after a flood
disaster, we’re just gonna buy out these homes, knock them down. They’ll never be
damaged again, okay. But this is a, there’s a tremendous amount of resources are
being devoted to this, right? Who’s benefiting from these resources, right? So
we can use these social vulnerability metrics to engage the equity of these
massive transfers of money post-disaster. So, in conclusion, I looked at you know, I
tried to bring you through this path. Through you know, what are the
impacts of floods, their major their increasing climate change is gonna keep pushing them forward social vulnerability. Floods is something
that we have the capacity to analyze, okay. Taking this abstract construct,
putting two measures and then we can use these measures to help assess resilience
and social equity in interventions, okay. So that’s all I had. (Audience Member) I wanted to say
thank you I first I wanted to acknowledge some people and
organizations you know I’m up here talking about my research but I’m I do a
lot of work collaboratively okay so on the bottom or to my
PhD students a thief in Iran day and Craig is a faculty colleague in mine at
Iowa and these are some of the organization’s nature conservancy
National Science Foundation that has helped provide data or funding for my
work so at this time I’d be happy to entertain any questions. [Audience clapping] (Sunshine Menezes) Thank you very much Dr. Tate. So we have 2 folks here who can run microphones up and down the stairs if you have a
question. Just a reminder, that this is being recorded for our public media
partner The Public’s Radio. And so if you have a question please just speak right
into the microphone, thank you. And just raise your hand if you have a question. (Audience Member 1) I just happened to have gone to the movie The Biggest Little Farm last night. And
one of the things that happened to this farm, North of Los Angeles, was that
there was a huge flood and all the farms around them, all their topsoil got washed
down into the wherever and was useless to them – all the monoculture farms. And
there’s because of their insistence on ground cover and diversity, all it really
did was get absorbed into the ground and recharged their aquifer which had gone
dry in the drought. So, you know, is there any way that we can kind of push this
concept that seems so strange to people? (Eric Tate) I mean we can certainly push it. [Audience laughter] Farmers, I mean, farmers do understand their land. I mean
if anybody in terms of understanding the land its farmers because they’re dealing
with it all the time. The problem is the economic incentives just aren’t there to
do it, okay. Everything is pushing – I mean just drive through Iowa just like
the size of its a… our landscape is a factory, you know. You need to think
about is as like a manufacturing center. It’s a factory. These enormous farms, we
need intensification of agriculture, these giant scales and to be competitive
in economic markets. So if we want to change these incentives, we’ve got to
change regulations and subsidies and incentives for people to do this. There’s
this Conservation Reserve Program that you know incentivizes farmers to take
areas out of production. But it’s not very well-funded and
oftentimes people aren’t going to do it. So there needs to be a lot more even if
people recognize the value of doing it. If it doesn’t make sense economically,
they’re not gonna lose their farm over it. So I agree with you. (Audience Member 2) Hi, that was an awesome talk. Thank you very very much. Quick question- you’ve probably seen a
lot of the work Rockefeller fund 100 resilient cities, sort of big cities
being able to grind away at these multi-stakeholder processes. Deep
engagement, sort of emerging awareness of all the issues you’ve talked about. A lot
of data localized data work, geospatial data sort of defining those issues. But
it seems to me that doesn’t transect down to the smaller communities, the
cities across America that are depopulating or globalization’s hit them
hard. Is this an area that you’re looking at? And do you see these differences
between the more prosperous communities who may have communities and
some of the factors you talk about, but actually have assets to do
things like they’re doing in Boston or Norfolk or other places. (Eric Tate) Yes, so
Rockefeller, they put in this giant a pot of money and they
allowed cities to compete and the winners were able to hire resilience
director or something for their city. That’s not the only thing they did. They
combined with Department of Housing and Urban Development. There’s some leftover money from Sandy. (Audience Member 2) Right. (Eric) Billions and they put in a statewide competition, so
states could apply. Iowa was one of them, we were one of the winners. We
were funded at $97 million dollars and so I showed you this example
from the Bee Branch Watershed where they were flood proofing these houses.
This is part from money from the Rockefeller Foundation. The city of
Dubuque on the Mississippi River is 100,000 people and this is one small
area. But we’re also doing stuff in rural watersheds as
well. Some towns that may be 10,000 okay. But these are all pilot
projects still, right. The funding isn’t there. People, there’s a broad agreement
about desire to be resilient but the funding’s not there. So maybe these
pilot projects develop some information and best practices and show pathways
forward. HUD is really experimenting saying, “Here’s the money, you guys are
creative let’s see what you can do.” So ask me again in a few years. [Audience laughter] (Audience Member 3) Thank you, that was a great talk. I was curious, you brought up some social aspects that have
been problems across the U.S. for a number of different aspects. You know,
flood being just one of them. I was curious, solving poverty and race
issues is certainly a longer term community building aspect. In the kind of
more immediate short-term, would simple aspects like enforcing flood zones and
codes and not allowing people to build in certain places, as well as improving
natural infrastructure. Would those be some of the short-term
solutions you’d propose? Or are there other aspects you might? (Eric) I think these
kinds of approaches… I mean there’s there’s some disincentives built into
this system. I mean we built this thing called the National Flood Insurance
Program because insurance companies were pulling out of, you know, providing
insurance for projects near rivers. Because they’re like, “This is gonna flood
and it’s gonna cause damage.” Right, it’s not like, you know tornado you’re not sure where it’s
going to hit. Where a river flood, you kind of know where it’s going to hit, right. [Audience laughter] So the government steps in and they say, “we’re going to provide insurance”, which
then sort of incentivizes building in these hazardous areas and now we’ve got
more losses than we would have had if we weren’t insured in the first place. So
I’m a little bit skeptical of some of these big programmatic approaches. Plus I
also think they’re too broad brush. Like we got some serious needs and I think we
need more targeted interventions. They’re going to benefit the socially vulnerable
populations and places, okay. There’s been several studies that have been
coming out over the last year or two that are showing that disasters are making things… you have a trajectory of, you know, we have all this
inequality, right? We have the halves and the you know less fortunate, right? And
the disaster hits and it just goes like that, okay. So disasters are opportunities they’re windows of opportunities where
there’s attention, there’s funding streams available. But I think there
needs to be more targeted, a focus on building resilience so that communities
can be whole and not these pockets of you know disadvantage. (Audience Member 4) Thank you for being here. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about
interventions. But even preliminary interventions and metrics and some of
the challenges and inherent tensions in those. For example, if you’re looking to lessen the number of low-income people
or minorities in near flood prone areas but that tension in terms of
housing costs. So if you could talk a little bit about that, I’d be I’d be
really interested in what you have to share. (Eric) Yeah, it’s a real challenge. But
continuing my theme, I think there needs to be more resources that are put in these
places. And these may not all be financial resources. I think there’s a
real role… so you have community members, they know they’re getting hit but
then you’ve got decision makers that are technical, maybe financial. And
they’re not talking to each other because the professionals don’t
really think about focusing on these groups and these groups don’t really
know how to talk in the jargon, in the language and get access. I think there’s
a real role in the middle for these connector groups, nonprofit groups.
There’s an organization in the in city of Chicago called the Center for
Neighborhood Technology and what they do, they’re nonprofit. And essentially they
work with community groups that are trying to come together
but they don’t know how to move forward, right. But CNT, they know
how to speak to, they have access to the decision-makers and know how to speak in
the language of hydrology and speak in the language of insurance programs, right.
So they’re this intermediary that can be sort of this glue to get things done. And
so what I think, is that, that’s that level needs to be strengthened to move
forward. And so there’s lots of really capable nonprofits that are doing great
stuff like Habitat for Humanity, Catholic charities. And so they know the ins and
outs of these disaster programs, but they also really know what’s going on at the
household level with the daily challenges people are facing. So they
have all the knowledge, right. They just don’t have the power in this
National Academy study, that we went to Houston, it was the weirdest one of the
4. So we’d have these tables like these 4 themes to report.
Like one was data, one was like physical, one was social. So I was part of this
social group and there was all these like advocates and nonprofit folks. And
then you had this, like the flood czar for Houston was talking and all these
city officials. And the people at the social table were just steaming. They had
been trying to get access to these folks for a long time, they were just getting
shut out, right. And so there needs to be more pathways for these connectivity
between decision makers and the impacted and I think if we can hit this
middle middle level I think that would be useful.

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