Urban planners eye value of
flood prediction standards

Three Texas A&M urban planning researchers have garnered a two-year, $313,000 National Science Foundation grant to study the effectiveness of using 100-year floodplains in predicting property damages from floods, and to develop improved criteria for assessing the risk of inundation in low-lying coastal areas.

“An improved understanding of flood risk will enable localities to better protect themselves against loss of property and lives in coastal areas,” said researchers Sam Brody and Michael Lindell, professors of urban planning, and Wes Highfield, a research scientist at Texas A&M University at Galveston’s Center for Texas Beaches and Shores, in their project abstract. Brody is the project’s principal investigator and Lindell and Highfield are the project’s co-P.I.s.

The 100-year floodplain, which designates land where there is a one percent chance of flooding every year, is the longstanding metric for determining and acting upon the risk of an area being inundated by a flood event. 

“Increasing evidence suggests that the 100-year floodplain is neither accurate nor sufficient in guiding communities and household decisions to mitigate the adverse impacts of floods,” states the research abstract. “The inability of the floodplain designation to effectively capture the likelihood of property loss, and possibly human lives, has left potentially millions of property owners unaware of their flood risk and made it more difficult for local decision makers to ensure community development occurs in a resilient manner.”

The researcher team will address this problem by offering empirical insights into the predictive value of the 100-year floodplain and suggest improved criteria for assessing risk of inundation in the three-phase project, which will include:

  • A spatial examination of the record of insured property damage at the household level from 2000-2009, based on a sample of coastal counties along the Gulf of Mexico;
  • An analysis of models used to predict flood damage of insured property with proximity and built environment measures not traditionally used to determine floodplain boundaries, while controlling for hydrological and socioeconomic variables; and
  • A representative survey of households claiming losses both in and out of the floodplain to understand the perceptions of flood risks and motivations to mitigate potential adverse impacts in relation to physical risks.   

“This research will not only ascertain the effectiveness of the 100-year floodplain in predicting observed damage and human response, but will also generate results that will lead to more precise spatial criteria of risk in rapidly developing coastal areas,” said the researchers.  

The study’s findings will be delivered in an accessible, easy-to-understand format for use by public officials and costal residents, as well as by households that may be outside the floodplain but still at high risk for flood losses.

Data from the study will be available online in the Texas Coastal Communities Planning Atlas, where users will be able to identify and visualize information on flood risk in their neighborhoods.

The research team also plans to deliver information — through partnerships with neighborhood associations and other stakeholder groups — to residents of vulnerable neighborhoods, many of whose residents belong to underrepresented groups that do not traditionally have easy access to flood risk information.

Results from the study will also be made available in graduate and undergraduate classes at Texas A&M’s College Station and Galveston campuses using the coastal communities atlas, case studies, field trips and other pedagogical methods. Students in these classes will also have an opportunity to collect and analyze data associated with the project so that learning and knowledge generation occurs in a reciprocal fashion.

See related Galveston Daily News report:
"TAMUG to look at floodplain perception"

— Posted: Sep. 12, 2011 —

— the end —

Contact:   Phillip Rollfing, prollfing@archone.tamu.edu or 979.458.0442.


Sam Brody

Michael Lindell

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