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How Demographics Impact Who Is Most Vulnerable to Flooding

Christian Guzman and Cielo Sharkus

Christian Guzman & Cielo Sharkus

Assistant Professor Christian D. Guzman and graduate student Cielo Sharkus of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department are spearheading a project that was awarded a $12,000 grant from the Institute of Diversity Sciences (IDS) to study the vulnerability of communities to flooding based on their various demographic characteristics. The goal of the IDS grants is to advance equity through multidisciplinary and socially impactful STEM research and to provide mentored research experience for students.

Guzman and Sharkus are collaborating on the IDS research with Seda Salap-Ayça, Christine Hatch, and Eve Vogel of the UMass Department of Geosciences.

“A flood’s consequences on a community,” the research team writes, “depend not only on its geography, but on socio-economic status, cultural dynamics, and other features of community demographics.”

According to the researchers, "Our research team of engineers, geoscientists, and geographers, including faculty and graduate students, will analyze U.S. census demographic data and produce maps that show who is vulnerable to floods. We will then quantitatively compare the risks to residents living in the same municipality, depending on demographic differences. Our focus is on the case of Massachusetts.”

The researchers note that research into social vulnerability has revealed that various biophysical and social conditions such as socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, age/gender, family/household structure, and disability play a role in the capacity of a community to rebound from a disaster event.

The researchers say they are interested in taking their findings about those populations most vulnerable to flooding and comparing them with the populations targeted in proposed Massachusetts flood-risk-protection policies.

As the researchers explain, “Our findings will be shared with policymakers so that they may better assess the flood vulnerability risk of different groups and develop targeted policies and programs which would increase the likelihood of recovery during a disaster – decreasing human suffering and reducing economic loss.”

The findings of this seed-grant project will form the basis of a larger proposal to an external funder.

As the researchers say, “In this larger project, we aim to develop methods to investigate human behavior and socio-cultural dynamics to assess community based environmental impacts and quantify ways in which post-flooding, water-quality hazards in vulnerable communities affect human and environmental health.” (June 2021)