Funded Projects

Mitigation Matters Research Program

Call 1: 2019 Research Projects

Reducing Disparity in Disaster Recovery by Modeling Social Vulnerabilities

Maura Allaire, University of California, Irvine
Romeo Ignacio, University of California, Irvine
Aishwarya Borate, University of California, Irvine

Flood losses continue to rise dramatically and can deepen wealth inequality caused by the uneven distribution of impacts and recovery aid. Crucial adaptation decisions must often be made without adequate understanding of social vulnerability. While a variety of vulnerability indices have been created, they are rarely validated. This study will develop validated metrics for social vulnerability using high-resolution datasets. By assessing temporal and spatial variation in these metrics, we can determine why some communities are more vulnerable than others. This can enable integrated risk analysis nationwide, reduce inequities in disaster recovery, and improve public investment decisions for adaptation to evolving hazards.

Playing Strategically or Following Suit? Interdependence and Social Norms in Wildfire Mitigation

Hilary Byerly, University of Colorado Boulder
Hannah Brenkert-Smith, University of Colorado Boulder
Patty Champ, U.S. Forest Service
James Meldrum, U.S. Geological Survey

In the wildland-urban interface, wildfire risk is interdependent—determined by both a household’s mitigation and that of neighboring properties. Risk mitigation may also be influenced by neighbors through social norms or reciprocity. Yet, how households consider neighboring parcels in their perceptions and mitigation behavior is unclear. Through semi-structured interviews with homeowners, we explore perceptions of their parcel’s surrounding landscape—both biophysical and social—and its effect wildfire risk. We identify which neighbors’ behaviors and expectations are salient and their association with mitigation actions. Results will inform the design of a large-scale field experiment with a local practitioner to increase engagement in wildfire mitigation.

Safhaus: Affordable, Disaster-Resistant Housing

George Elvin, North Carolina State University
Reide Corbett, Coastal Studies Institute
Robert McClendon, Coastal Studies Institute
David Hill, North Carolina State University

Socially vulnerable households often live in low-quality, light-weight wood frame housing that is easily damaged during disasters. The Safhaus re-envisions light-weight wood framing in a way that maintains the benefits of affordability, sustainability, and familiarity, while significantly increasing its resilience in disaster. It offers protection from hurricane- and tornado-force winds, elevation levels that avoid flooding, and an enclosure system that reduces damage from wind and wildfire. This research will deploy and monitor a sensor network in prototype construction to determine if the Safhaus can provide enhanced hazard mitigation without increasing construction costs.

Where to Prepare? Data-Driven Approaches to Hospital Mitigation in the Dominican Republic

Amber S. Khan, University of Washington
Ashley Morales-Cartagena, Pontificia University Católica Madre y Maestra
Jamie Vickery, University of Washington
Pedro Iván Marquez, Oficina Nacional de Evaluación Sísmica y Vulnerabilidad de Infraestructura y Edificaciones
Nicole Errett, University of Washington

Mitigation practices can minimize hospital service disruption in the event of a disaster. Yet, absent formal requirements, it remains unknown how or why mitigation practices are implemented in hospitals worldwide. We will use the Dominican Republic—a disaster hot spot—as a case study to understand the factors associated with hospital implementation of mitigation practices, as outlined in the World Health Organization Safe Hospital Framework. Guided by the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research, we will conduct semi-structured interviews with hospital administrators in Santo Domingo and Punta Cana-Bavaro. Findings can guide policy development to facilitate hospital disaster mitigation practice implementation.

Pre-Disaster Recovery Planning for Public Housing in Salt Lake County, Utah

Sayma Khajehei, Towson University
Divya Chandrasekhar, University of Utah

Public housing residents and subsidized housing renters face serious challenges in terms of housing in the aftermath of disasters, but cities with little experience of major disasters may have limited plans for how to house these socially vulnerable residents. Using Salt Lake County UT as a case study, this research will look for pre-disaster policies to provide post-disaster housing to public housing residents. Findings will improve our understanding of whether cities are prepared to provide housing to public housing residents after disasters and how to help these socially vulnerable populations to recover in the long run.

Rebuilding after a Tornado: The Role of Homeowners Insurance in Recovery

Ji Yun Lee, Washington State University
Guirong Yan, Missouri University of Science and Technology

The objectives of this research are to determine if sufficiently insured houses positively impact community resilience and to quantify the impact of insurance on tornado-impacted community resilience. An online survey containing in-depth, semi-structured interviews will be conducted with residents in Jefferson City, Missouri, which was struck by an EF-3 tornado in May 2019. The survey will investigate the explicit relationship between insurance policy and house recovery. The results will provide guidance on how insurance can be used broadly in resilience planning to achieve both short- and long-term community resilience goals.

From the Ashes: Mitigation Policy After Wildfire in California

Ronald Schumann, University of North Texas
Miranda Mockrin, U.S. Forest Service
Sherri Brokopp Binder, BrokoppBinder Research & Consulting
Alex Greer, State University of New York at Albany

This study investigates policy and practice barriers to wildfire mitigation in three California communities. How does recent wildfire experience affect housing recovery programming, land use planning, and requirements for household-level mitigation? We will address this question via stakeholder interviews, neighborhood tours, and policy document review. Wildfires that destroy whole communities are increasingly prevalent, yet there is need for more wildfire-centric research. California communities are struggling to facilitate an expeditious recovery that reduces future wildfire vulnerability. Absent federal wildfire risk governance standards, interactions between state and local policies become crucial to understanding how communities navigate this challenge.

What Drives Hazard Mitigation Policy Adoption? FEMA’s Property Buyout Program in Virginia Counties

Qiong Wang, Virginia Tech
Yang Zhang, Virginia Tech
Kristin Owen, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

What are the drivers and barriers to adopting the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s property buyout program in flood-prone communities in Virginia? Available data includes an online survey of approximately 296 local floodplain managers in Virginia, American Community Survey census data, and FEMA’s buyout database. Qualitative and quantitative methods will be applied to identify four categories of factors. Most hazard mitigation actions are subnational, therefore, understanding factors of hazard mitigation policy adoption at the local level will advance local policy innovation within a federally defined framework. This knowledge will help maximize opportunities for hazard mitigation and offer insights for federal program improvement.

The Effect of Federal Recovery Funds on Mitigation Behavior

Maria Watson, Texas A&M University
Siyu Yu, Texas A&M University

Research and practice have increasingly acknowledged the importance of moving development out of hazardous areas. This research examines whether disaster recovery loans encourage or discourage residential or business mobility. We will employ a mixed-methods research design using quantitative data from local and federal agencies, as well as semi-structured interviews. Deeper knowledge on how recovery funding influences adaptive behavior can inform more effective approaches as practitioners reevaluate how federal assistance can conflict with local initiatives. This work can foster a more coordinated strategy between federal agencies and local communities.

Call 2: 2020 Research Projects

Assessing the Influence of Active Learning on Perceptions and Household Wildfire Mitigation Behavior

Brittany D. Brand, Boise State University
Carson MacPherson-Krutsky, Boise State University

Our study examines how knowledge, perceptions, and attitudes toward wildfire mitigation influence the mitigation behavior of residents of Boise’s Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). We further examine the effectiveness of active-learning-based outreach in shifting perceptions and attitudes, and positively influencing mitigation behavior. Methods include a questionnaire implemented before and after an education workshop designed to help participants better understand WUI hazards, personalize household risk, and develop positive attitudes toward taking mitigation and preparedness actions. Our research will demonstrate the efficacy of active-learning to engage homeowners in a way that helps them personalize risk and develop positive attitudes toward preparing.

The Art of Getting By: Ad Hoc Adaptations to Climate Change in Coastal Communities

Brianna Castro, Harvard University

Climate change disproportionately impacts coastal residents in the United States. Prior studies document institutional efforts to adapt to sea level rise through projects like seawalls, beach nourishment, and property acquisitions to protect communities from rising seas. Existing research examining adaptation in North Carolina finds these measures disproportionately protect wealthy coastal communities and buyout and relocate lower-income residents in communities with high racial diversity. Such studies capture institutional adaptations, but do not include ad hoc adaptations by homeowners impacted by sea level rise. This research examines how homeowners are adapting to climate hazards by analyzing ethnographic and interview data from 50 households in two coastal counties in North Carolina, a state with one of the most climate-vulnerable shorelines in the country.

Valuing Reef Ecosystem Services: Centering Community Voices to Mitigate Hazards

Kelly Dunning, Auburn University

Coral reef conservation is a pathway to hazard mitigation that ensures coastal protection of vulnerable communities from hurricanes and provides livelihoods and cultural services. Despite synergistic benefits to their well-being, often referred to as ecosystem services, reefs are experiencing global decline from human causes such as development and climate stress (bleaching). This research examines how we assess policy trade-offs between reef conservation and linked hazard mitigation and unchecked coastal development. Through a systematic review of the literature, it seems that policy trade-offs between development and low-regrets conservation policy (which synergistically mitigates hazards), uses the perspectives of coastal communities only 52% of the time. Often tourists and visitors are the ones who are asked to value coral reefs, not local stakeholders.

Reducing Health Disparities of Natural Hazards: Evidence from Building Codes

Ausmita Ghosh, East Carolina University
Jamie Kruse, East Carolina University

The objective of this research is to improve understanding of the health benefits of community-level built environment resilience in the face of hurricanes. Our quasi-empirical empirical strategy will exploit spatial and temporal variation in implementation of hazard mitigation legislation to estimate their impact on health. While a growing literature has sought to quantify property losses averted by stricter building codes, an assessment of health impacts will shed light on the broader benefits of such mitigation programs which is critical to formulating an effective policy response.

Behavior Analysis of Socially Vulnerable Households Responding to Planned Power Shutoffs

Youngjib Ham, Texas A&M University
Seulbi Lee, Texas A&M University

How can we assess the impact of planned power shutoffs for preventing wildfires to community members, especially for socially vulnerable populations? This project will survey to empirically characterize what and how social factors would affect residents’ behavior responding to planned power shutoffs. Based on the survey results, we will develop the agent-based model to examine what factors make socially vulnerable populations more fragile to utility service disruptions. Analyzing the relationships between households' social vulnerability and their behavioral response to planned power shutoffs will inform policy decisions for both preventing wildfire risk and minimizing the adverse impact by utility service disruptions.

The Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Mitigation Nexus: The Pamunkey Indian Reservation

Nicole S. Hutton, Old Dominion University
Tom R. Allen, Old Dominion University

Land use change since colonial times, recent sprawl, and sea level rise have caused extensive changes in Chesapeake Bay tributary streams, such as the Pamunkey River, on which the Pamunkey Indian Reservation is located. This pilot study assesses the human-water relationship of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe using GIS in a participatory research process. Our objectives were three-fold: (1) assess how sea level rise has and will alter the Pamunkey Indian Tribe’s human-water relationship, (2) spatially reference mitigation and adaption priorities, and (3) identify the role of traditional ecological knowledge in flood management. Flooding has altered access to culturally relevant livelihoods and the capacity to preserve artifacts on the reservation. Findings could inform resilience-building strategies for other coastal tribes and integration of tribal input into planning efforts.

Does Post-Disaster Recovery Funding Promote Mitigation in Small Businesses?

Sua Kim, University of Utah
Divya Chandrasekhar, University of Utah

Small businesses are critical stakeholders of community recovery, but they are often less attended to in the aftermath of disasters, which leaves them vulnerable to the next event. Policymakers could use this recovery moment to promote mitigation, but do they? This study uses a case study approach to examine whether and how small business recovery programs promoted mitigation planning after three recent disasters (2012 Hurricane Sandy, 2016 Hurricane Matthew, and 2017 Hurricane Harvey). The findings of this study will help assess whether post-disaster recovery programs are promoting mitigation planning among small businesses as well as identify areas of policy improvement.

Risk Communication to Motivate Flood and Hurricane Risk Mitigation: Developing and Testing Social Norms and Self-Efficacy Messages

JungKyu Rhys Lim, University of Maryland

Hurricanes and wildfires are the two most federally-declared disasters in the United States. Self-efficacy and social norms messages may help at-risk individuals adopt hurricane and wildfire mitigation behaviors. However, most studies have not yet developed and tested communication messages that can motivate the public’s mitigation behaviors using randomized experiments, yet took exploratory approaches based on surveys and correlations. This study simultaneously tests mitigation messages (self-efficacy, social norms) through 4 X 3 online between-subject experiments with U.S. adults in disaster-prone states (California, Florida, Texas). This study identifies what and how messages (self-efficacy, social norms) motivate at-risk individuals to take mitigation behaviors.

Understanding the Impacts of Managed Retreat and Resettlement on Informal Communities

Monique A. Lorenzo Pérez, Ohio State University
Santina Contreras, Ohio State University

Planned retreat and relocation are frequently discussed in hazard mitigation planning as approaches useful for improving the livelihoods of communities living in hazardous environments. However, in environments with highly vulnerable areas, such as informal communities, the relocation process may inadvertently uncover new risks, such as exposure to new types of hazards and disruption of community networks. This research explores these issues through a case study analysis of the resettlement of an informal community in Puerto Rico. By assessing the process of managed retreat and resettlement, this project aims to contribute to the implementation of hazard mitigation efforts in vulnerable communities.

Disaster Risk Communication and Digital Vulnerability Among Subsidized Housing Residents

Yan Wang, University of Florida
Haiyan Hao, University of Florida
Seungbeom Kang, Yonsei University

Despite the increasing role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in disaster mitigation work, little is known about the influence of the digital divide (DD) on disaster risk reduction. Focusing on the flood-prone neighborhoods in Florida, this project intends to quantify DD considering its different levels and to disentangle the relationship between DD and flood vulnerability among subsidized housing residents by using multiple quantitative methods. The research will be among the first to examine the digital inequality in the flood-prone neighborhoods and will add another critical layer to their vulnerability: “digital” vulnerability.

Call 3: 2024 Research Projects

Developing a New Interdisciplinary Model for Mapping Flood Impacts for Risk Mitigation

Noah Bezanson, Colorado School of Mines
Elizabeth Reddy, Colorado School of Mines
Sarah Kelly, Dartmouth College
Charis Boke, Dartmouth College

In July of 2023, severe flooding impacted the northeastern United States. Ludlow, Vermont was hit with over six inches of rain. As climate change continues to shift hydrological systems, there will be more floods and more disasters in this area. Previous studies indicate that people in rural areas may face conditions that present challenges for disaster response and recovery. This research will produce findings relevant to this problem and investigate how new kinds of flood risk mapping might adequately address social factors and be more useful for flood mitigation efforts.

Investigating Drivers of Flood Mitigation Action Among Property Owners in Waterbury, Vermont

Luke Briccetti, University of Vermont
Kimberly Coleman, State University of New York at Plattsburgh

Vermont has experienced major flooding due to both Tropical Storm Irene (August 2011) and the Vermont floods of July 2023. We seek to understand which factors led flood-vulnerable homeowners to take action that mitigates flood risk and damage on their property. This project will use mixed methods—grounded in Protection Motivation Theory and the Transtheoretical Model of Behavioral Change—to assess the drivers of adopting flood mitigation practices among FEMA relief claimants in Waterbury, Vermont. Our research will provide planners with tools to understand drivers of past flood mitigation action and strategies to increase future adoption of these actions.

Elevation Choices: An Analysis of Houston's Homeowner Assistance Program Participants

Ivis Garcia, Texas A&M University
Zhihan Tao, Texas A&M University
Julia Orduna, Texas Housers

The main objective of this study is to examine the factors that influence homeowners' decisions when participating in the Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP) in Houston, Texas regarding the elevation of their homes. We will consider factors such as age, race, income level, and awareness of options for elevated housing. We will employ data collection methods such as GIS data analysis, surveys, interviews, field visits, and focused conversations. By analyzing the relationship between HAP participants' decisions, socio-economic status, and risk characteristics we aim to gain insights that can be used to develop policies and programs for mitigating flood risks.

Understanding Flood Mitigation Implementation Activity in Minnesota's Red River Basin

Sarah Kirkpatrick, North Dakota State University

The combination of climate-driven increases in extreme precipitation events and demographic shifts suggests that the risks posed by flooding will only increase as the 21st-century progresses. The factors that influence the implementation of mitigation strategies—and how to manipulate those factors towards sustainable and positive outcomes—is more important than ever. This research intends to improve our understanding of the factors that contribute to successful local flood mitigation implementation in rural settings by taking an in-depth look at local flood mitigation in Minnesota's Red River Valley, where mitigation efforts have been ongoing for over a quarter of a century. This study will use semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders at the local, state, and federal level, as well as private and non-profit entities in Minnesota's Red River Basin.

Equity-Aware Resilience Planning of Transportation Networks for Disaster Mitigation

Min Li, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

This research introduces an AI-driven, equity-focused framework to enhance the resilience of transportation networks against natural disasters. Centered in South California, it seeks to integrate social equity into disaster mitigation strategies, ensuring equitable mobility for all communities, especially those that are underserved. By developing advanced AI algorithms and optimization techniques, this research aims to identify and prioritize bridge retrofit strategies within constrained budgets for large-scale transportation networks. This innovative approach not only addresses the technical aspects of disaster resilience but also emphasizes the importance of equitable access and inclusion in transportation planning, setting a new standard for disaster mitigation efforts.

Place and Process: A Case Study on Earthquake Mitigation in Portland, Oregon

Sarah Mercurio, Portland State University

Earthquake mitigation processes that encounter tension and impasse may benefit from consideration of the place-based implications of proposed mitigation interventions. Using the interdisciplinary concept of sense of place, this research examines the extent to which place attachment and place meanings can bring common ground and awareness to the impacts of the choices being made. The case study examines a fraught mitigation planning process in Portland, Oregon (2015-2017). Semi-structured interviews with decision-makers and property owners impacted by the process will inform recommendations for practice as well as shed light on the nexus of disaster management, participatory planning, and sense of place.

A Decision Framework for Equitable Use of Federal Residential Property Acquisition Funds

Farinaz Motlagh, Stony Brook University
Sara Hamideh, Stony Brook University

Coastal areas are commonly inundated with flooding and hurricanes, urgently requiring effective mitigation strategies such as voluntary buyout programs. Despite various advantages of buyouts, these programs are sometimes inadequately launched and administered, highlighting the potential for inequitable project implementation. Through a convergence approach, this study aims to develop a decision framework for supporting local practitioners in the equitable selection and prioritization of households for program participation. Based on the community's resilience goals, this framework identifies candidate properties for buyout and allows practitioners to evaluate the potential equity outcomes of their selection with research-supported evidence.

Colorado's Marshall Fire: Hazard Mitigation Through the Lens of Social Equity

Hannah Walters, Colorado School of Public Health
Katherine Dickinson, Colorado School of Public Health
Molly Kadota, Colorado School of Public Health

The Marshall Fire destroyed 1,084 homes and damaged hundreds more in the communities of Louisville, Superior, and Boulder County. In the aftermath of the fire, our research group coordinated an interdisciplinary, national team of researchers to survey residents of communities affected by the Marshall Fire. By collecting and analyzing a third wave of survey data following the two-year anniversary of the Marshall Fire, this project will collect invaluable longitudinal data on post-disaster decision making and evaluate key questions related to hazard and climate resilient building code adoption and implementation, as well as equitable mitigation practices.

Waste-Derived, Environment-Adaptive, and Fire-Resistant Fungi-Based Materials: Towards Disaster-Mitigating Housing

Xijin Zhang, George Mason University

House fires have posed an increasing risk to people's lives and caused property damage. To mitigate fire hazards in homes and enhance resilience and sustainability, this project proposes innovative fungi-based materials naturally grown from agricultural wastes. The growth rate of fungi-based materials will be investigated, and the fire resistance and environmental adaptation of using these innovative materials will be evaluated through experiments and numerical simulations. Utilizing fungi-based materials brings the benefits of fire-disaster mitigation, environmental adaptation, and cost-effectiveness. This project will also offer new insights to improve building codes and standards, especially in fire-susceptible areas and low-income regions.

Zoning for Flood Risk Reduction

Yang Zhang, Virginia Tech

This study examines how and to what extent municipalities use zoning codes to mitigate flood risk, the effectiveness of the current zoning measures, and the barriers to using zoning for flood risk reduction. Guided by the flood risk reduction (FRR) framework, I analyze the zoning codes concerning flood hazards in selected municipalities in Virginia, which face increasing flood hazards from different sources. The expected results include the identification of zoning measures for limiting hazard exposure, reducing hazard, reducing vulnerability, and the gaps, barriers, and directions for improvement in current zoning measures and standards for flood risk reduction.

The Mitigation Matters Research Award program is based on work supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency through supplemental funding to the National Science Foundation (NSF Award #1635593). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of FEMA, NSF, or the Natural Hazards Center.