Floods are the most common and expensive natural disaster in the United States, with 90 percent of all national disasters involving some sort of flooding and flash floods causing approximately 200 deaths each year. Flash flooding typically occurs within the first six hours of a heavy rainstorm or after a dam or levee breaks causing a sudden release of water, leaving community leaders and emergency managers with very little time to evaluate. This limited time before an immediate flood threat is why communities must train and prepare prior to the storms and flooding, and why the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is developing a variety of tools responders could use to enhance community resilience.
Part of the mission of National Preparedness Month is to foster conversations and share information on what S&T has learned. Currently, S&T is holding a National Conversation on Flood Resilience to gather firsthand testimonies and best practices from those who have lived through the worst of floods. Details that can assist future flood response preparation include answers to questions such as the following:
- What type of data and information do first responders need to have at their fingertips to create and maintain effective flood response plans with emergency management partners and why?
- Where do emergency managers currently find this data, how do they maintain and share it, with whom and how often is it exchanged?
- When emergency managers are certain a flood emergency will occur, what type of support do they need, when and how do they implement their plan? Road conditions, weather predictions, power status, and the state of communications are top-tier essential elements of information for any hazard.
- How can responding agencies motivate community residents to either evacuate or take protective action as a flood emergency nears? To what extent are emergency managers currently able to obtain this information during the evacuation preparation phase and how do they receive it? How can emergency managers most effectively communicate information to residents?
S&T is working with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Weather Service to help communities mitigate harm and bolster resilience. While S&T cannot control the weather, it can develop the tools needed by responders on the front lines to help stand up to the challenges floods present, including evacuation of community residents, providing support services, and restoring infrastructure.
Through its five-year Flood Apex Program, S&T is honing in on how to best serve first responders and others who have specific data and information needs related to flood preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery.
“The goals of the Flood Apex Program are to save lives, decrease uninsured losses and reduce property damage,” said S&T Director Daniel Cotter. “S&T hopes to achieve this by increasing access to community, regional, and national data and information sources; analytical tools; and other resources that may help everyone make better flood resilience decisions.”
“We’re working directly with partners who have experience in all aspects of mitigating and responding to flood events,” Cotter continued. “We want to learn from those who have dedicated their careers to developing innovative approaches and solutions, and for community practitioners tasked with implementing local solutions.”
Currently, the Flood Apex program is working towards a concept of a National Flood Decision Support Toolbox (NFDST), which aims to serve everyone involved in flood resilience: first responders, emergency management, public works, critical infrastructure experts, real estate agents, insurance agents, home builders, and individual community residents.
“The Flood Apex Program envisions three phases with each informing and enabling future projects. It will culminate in the development of the NFDST, translating science into actions that reduce risk exposure in high-risk communities,” said S&T Program Manager Denis Gusty. “When developed, the NFDST will be transitioned to FEMA to assist federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial users in making investment decisions related to floods.”
Knowing what type of support first responders need from the NFDST is crucial. Help S&T make the right research and development decisions on flood response by using the National Conversation on Homeland Security Technology to answer the questions posed in this article. In this particular situation, less is not more! Feedback from those in flood-prone areas is essential to guiding S&T’s work.