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Analysis of SEMCOG’s Flooding Risk Tool: Incorporating Equity into Transportation Planning


Multiple flood risk tools are available that address problems for different economic sectors, institutions, and geographic domains. A common goal among the majority of these tools is assistance with identifying areas with specific types of vulnerability to assist with flood mitigation planning. One example of this type of tool in the Great Lakes region is the Southeast Michigan Council of Government’s (SEMCOG) Flooding Risk Tool. Launched in partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), the tool rates levels of risk for transportation assets (roads, culverts, bridges, pump stations). This ranking is determined by first quantifying each asset’s exposure and sensitivity to flooding to get vulnerability using factors such as past flooding experience and FEMA flood zone location. This number is combined with criticality (traffic volume, detour length, etc.) to get a final risk rating. However, the model lacks consideration of community and societal factors. The absence of an equity lens and its associated variables could lead to oversights in mitigation and adaptation planning. The current model highlights the association between high economic value with high risk, further undermining communities with existing limitations on resiliency. Applying an equity lens to the tool may reveal a disproportionate distribution of resources and could lead to a more comprehensive basis for flooding policy in the future.

The purpose of this work is to assist in improving SEMOG’s Flooding Risk Tool. Results from incorporating an equity lens into the model’s framework would allow for an analysis of whether the tool adequately identifies risk for equity-centered adaptation. Thorough examination of the tool’s methodologies and SEMCOG’s Climate Resiliency and Flooding Mitigation Study will help identify the best approach to integrating equity factors into the schema. The original study itself notes a limited vulnerability assessment due to gaps in exposure data. Focusing on this area of potential improvement, it would be logical to expand the definition of vulnerability to include social and community-based variables. An example of such a variable is examining the likelihood of resource-deprived ‘islands’ forming as populations are cut off from essential services during a flood event. Additionally, SEMCOG’s heat vulnerability analysis and coastal flooding scenario maps can be overlayed to provide further insights on overall climate equity in the area. Screening current priorities of the model can be completed by utilizing a range of equity-focused lenses, such as the Social Vulnerability Index and SEMCOG’s Equity Emphasis Areas tool. Findings from this research would be applicable to numerous other flood-prone areas, especially in the Great Lakes region, and has the potential to be adapted for other natural hazards. An improved, equity-based risk model would help better prioritize resources, form more holistic mitigation plans, and increase the resiliency of vulnerable communities.

Research Areas
Water Resources