LSU Professors to be Key Note Speakers at International Conference on Flood Awareness
By Paige Brown
At the end of January, 1953, one of the greatest storm surges on record devastated the coasts of England and the Netherlands. The 1953 North Sea Flood[p1] , accompanied by hurricane force winds and a high tide, caused massive storm surges and flooding that killed over 1,800 people in the Netherlands. With continued and growing threats of natural disasters caused by sea level rise and climate changes, government officials, academic researchers and citizens in the Netherlands are teaming up with researchers at LSU to fortify flood defenses and build community resilience in the face of disaster.
LSU faculty members Margaret Reams and Nina Lam will be key note speakers at the upcoming international conference ‘Flood awareness and raising community resilience’ [p2] organized by the Dutch HZ University of Applied Sciences and the European Project Flood Aware. The conference, to take place on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, exactly 60 years after the 1953 disaster, in Hotel Van der Valk in Middelburg, the Netherlands, will be an opportunity for government officials and professionals in crisis management and crisis communication to gain insight on the latest developments in flood protection strategies.
Reams, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, and Lam, professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, will share their knowledge and experiences in relation to flooding, community involvement and resilience at the conference. Government officials and researchers at the Dutch HZ University of Applied Sciences are interested in Lam and Reams’ research on community resilience, or the ability for communities to bounce back and resume normal activities after disasters, in the Gulf of Mexico.
“There is a lot of similarity between the Netherlands and New Orleans in this case,” Lam said. “They can apply our research on Gulf Coast disasters to improve community resilience in the Netherlands.”
The conference will bring together first responders, firemen, police, engineers, government planners and academic researchers from the Netherlands, England and Belgium to apply current research on community resilience in the face of natural disasters.
“With the growing threat of climate change and sea level rise, it is time to think, what if there is another disaster? How can people in the Netherlands prepare?” Lam said. With the last flooding disaster in the Netherlands dating back to 1953, the problem is one of engaging the public in preparation, Lam explained. “How do you engage people who haven’t experienced disaster to prepare?” she said.
According to Reams, researchers in the Netherlands are interested in learning from the Mississippi Delta, an area joining land, rivers and sea. Much of the Netherlands is also a low-lying delta prone to flooding, protected by a network of dams, levees and storm surge barriers. Researchers and government officials in the Netherlands are trying to help citizens become co-producers, instead of consumers, of flooding safety.
“They would like to see their public shift from assuming government help to sharing responsibility in producing safety and resilience,” Reams said. “They want to build a better public understanding of the science of environmental disasters and the risk factors of flood-prone areas.”
Lam and Reams will also be receiving a $100,000 grant from the HZ University of Applied Science to continue their research on measuring community resilience to natural disasters. Collaboration between LSU and the Delta Academy at HZ University will include a joint academic course and exchange student program to get students in the Netherlands involved in LSU research on community resilience.
“The problem with measuring resilience is that everyone has their own definition of the term,” Lam said. “But in order to know whether or not we are making progress in building community resilience to natural disasters, we have to be able to measure it.”
The problem becomes deciding on a common framework and measuring resilience in a quantitative fashion. According to Reams, many factors contribute to community resilience, including social capitol, social networks, communication networks and accumulation of scientific data. Lam and Reams have developed a new framework and model to quantify resilience, called the Resilience Inference Measurement (RIM) model. This model has been applied to develop indices of resilience in 534 counties within five Gulf states, helping planners identify activities that increase resilience in coastal communities facing threats of sea level rise and climate change. Lam and Reams’ new research project, funded by the $100,000 grant from HZ University, will focus on testing the RIM model in the Netherlands.
Lam and Reams’ work in measuring community resilience will also feed into another $1.5 million NSF-funded project[p3] with LSU collaborators Kam-biu Liu, Victor Rivera-Monroy, Yi Jun Xu, Kelley Pace and David Dismukes. The project looks beyond human and social systems alone, also factoring natural systems into resilience and sustainability.
“We are looking at the interaction between human and natural elements in sustainability,” Lam said.
For more information on the international conference ‘Flood Awareness and raising community resilience’ visit http://www.flood-aware.com/conference/.
For information on LSU’s School of Coast and Environment, visit http://www.sce.lsu.edu/.