Flood Mitigation on the Raritan River: A FEMA Region II Project at CCICADA and the NTSCOE

"flood4" by Vik Nanda from Flickr.com. Used under Creative Commons 2.0 License.

An overwhelming majority of the emergency response efforts addressed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency involve flood related issues. Therefore, understanding flood risk and the possible risk mitigation strategies that can be implemented are of great importance to FEMA in meeting its mission responsibilities.

In seeking information and assistance in this regard, FEMA has awarded $158,000 to two DHS University Centers of Excellence (COEs), the Command, Control and Interoperability Center for Advanced Data Analysis (CCICADA) and the National Transportation Security Center of Excellence (NTSCOE) for a project on Flood Mitigation on the Raritan River, the river running by Rutgers University. The project also has additional involvement from a third COE, the Center for Risk and Economic Analyses of Terrorism Events (CREATE). The project is based at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers.

In general, the project will take the ‘collaboratorium’ approach: the evaluation of the question via collectively generated ideas from various stakeholders, experts and constituents. The study will look to understand the political, environmental, social and engineering perspectives of flooding and its mitigation in the Raritan River Basin watershed as well as the economic and risk models that can help define best mitigation strategies. Within this framework, the project has three specific tasks that will inform the outcome. These are described in-turn below:

Task One: Community Assessment

The Rutgers team led by the NTSCOE team at the Bloustein School, working with FEMA and its partners, will seek to get an understanding of the watershed region and the demographic and other economic characteristics of the identified communities to obtain profiles of those within the area that would be most impacted by flood events. The team will review census data, the political climate, social issues (crime, development, recreation, schools, etc.), flood history and general geography.

Interviews with municipal officials, focus groups with key citizen leaders and surveys of residents will be conducted to get a broad picture of the perception of the flood issue and identify the level of community engagement and cooperation in flood mitigation as a shared community approach.

Task Two: Economic Modeling

The economic approach, led by expertise at the Bloustein School, first seeks to estimate the economic benefits of investing in various flood mitigation strategies. Economic benefit here refers to costs saved by the mitigation versus the cost of the mitigation strategy.   Then two conceptual economic loss models will be developed. In historical cases where data is available on the costs of a flood event for a specific community (including property loss, costs of emergency response, business loss, lost tax revenues, etc.) the team will identify and model these costs. Against these will be the potential benefits of mitigation policy, e.g., the positive effects of new open space, increased recreation, etc.

In those cases where no flood data is available for communities of interest, the literature will be reviewed to find the appropriate method of estimating expected costs based on relationships derived from data and modeling for those areas with such flood data.

Task Three: Risk Analysis Modeling

This task, based at CCICADA, begins the first stage development of a risk analysis model incorporating all identified hazards as obtained from data and elicitation of content area expertise. At a background briefing for CCICADA and FEMA, our partners at CREATE presented the risk assessment methodology they have used in similar projects for FEMA and other agencies.

This project involves risk assessment methods unique to CCICADA’s expertise in measurement and data analysis, for example, on the limitations of risk assessments when only ordinal data is available about the key risk components of vulnerability, threat and consequence. The model to be developed will focus on both mathematical and public policy perspectives.

The information obtained from both Tasks One and Two also provides information about the three risk elements. For example, economic loss is a clear measure of event consequence. However, we will also seek ways to measure costs of psychological impacts of flooding.

We will be working with the New Jersey State climatologist, a Rutgers faculty member, in identifying and ranking relevant weather scenarios and flood threats. In addition to developing an initial risk model, a goal of this task is to document the methodology to build such a model to provide field knowledge and benefit of the approach. Anticipated supplementary funding will allow model enhancement and preliminary implementation.

At the end of the six month project duration, the full project team will present a comprehensive collective summary report on the task findings and accomplishments. It is believed that this report will be the basis of broader application of the flood mitigation concept to other regions of concern within FEMA Region II and throughout the FEMA system.

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