RAND Gulf State Policy Institute Newsletter


Issue 11, June 2011

A periodic report on key public policy findings and activities of the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute

Gulf Region Tornadoes and Flooding Highlight Need for Strong Communities

FEMA and SBA reps take a boat to a home that has been flooded to determine the level of damage, photo courtesy of P. Lynch/FEMA

When disaster strikes, the burden to respond falls heavily on communities. They must attend quickly to the needs of their residents and then coordinate services with state and federal support once it arrives. State and federal governments can help by enacting policies and allocating resources that help communities build resilience; i.e., the ability to prepare for and recover from natural and man-made disasters. As part of its mission to improve the well-being of the region and its citizens, RAND Gulf States has engaged with federal, state, and local stakeholders to understand how to build community resilience and to identify appropriate policies.

Community resilience depends not just on the ability of communities to respond quickly. Communities whose schools, health care systems, infrastructure, and workforce are strong before disaster strikes bounce back faster. The work of RAND Gulf States in all of these areas supports communities and state and federal governments as they build resilience.

Related reports:

Read moreCommunity Resilience and Long-Term Recovery
Read moreBuilding Community Resilience to Disasters
Read moreThe Role of Nongovernmental Organizations in Long-Term Human Recovery After Disaster

Disaster Recovery Planning Should Consider Pre-Disaster Household Structure

Hurricane Katrina evacuees, photo courtesy of M. Rieger/FEMA

The composition of households in New Orleans made the city's families more vulnerable to breakup during the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina. Two-thirds of the city's households at that time saw at least one family member move away, an unusually high number even given the tremendous destruction of the hurricane. The study suggests that planners should take into account the structure of households before the disaster to provide appropriate post-disaster services that get people back on their feet and communities healthy and productive again.

Read moreNews Release
Read moreJournal Article
Read moreResearch Brief


Water Resources Management is Key to Flood Prevention

Debra S. Knopman

Debra S. Knopman is a RAND vice president and the director of RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment, the RAND division that is home to the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute. Her research background is in hydrology, environmental and natural resources policy, systems analysis, and public administration. From 1984 to 1992, she served as a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, and from 1993 to 1995, she was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at the Department of the Interior. From 1997 to 2003, she was a member of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, and chaired the Board's Site Characterization Panel. Knopman holds a Ph.D. from the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

What is the current state of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers? Are we back to "normal?"

Flood waters are subsiding along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's latest reports, but communities along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers remain at some risk as levees protecting them are still subjected to the pressure of higher than normal waters. For many of the communities that have endured flooding where river and streamflows were more than double normal levels, it will be a long time before they will be feeling "normal."

Why are we seeing this serious flooding now?

Flooding on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers has been going on for as long as those rivers have existed. Streamflows in the spring time are usually higher than the annual average levels that residents see at other times of the year, and this year particularly so. The upper Midwest endured one huge snowstorm after another last winter. The snow that accumulates over the winter melts, and with the addition of spring rains, the excess water cannot simply be absorbed by the land. The water runs off into streams and rivers. The more we restrict the flow of water through stream and river channels by building levees and other barriers to keep water from spilling into communities along the riverbank, the more prone those areas—and those further downstream—are to flooding conditions.

Are there immediate next steps that are necessary in the wake of the flooding?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and many state agencies in the Mississippi Valley did a good job of handling the May floods. I think most experts agree that we need an even greater ability to spread flood waters into floodplains upstream to avoid having Louisiana, as the state furthest downstream at the mouth of the river, bear the brunt of all the excess (and expected) spring flows. That means working with communities all along the river to "give back to the river" some of the land that is clearly in the flood plain and that has been used for development. Strengthening flood insurance requirements for property in floodplains is another important mechanism.

What makes water resources management particularly challenging in the Gulf States?

While Alabama and Mississippi face both river flooding and flooding from storm surges from the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana has historically borne the brunt of the double threat of coastal and river flooding. After the 1927 floods, Congress gave the Corps of Engineers the authority to manage the Mississippi River as a system. Because Louisiana is at the mouth of the river, it must live with decisions made by the upstream states on how to manage river flows. It is always easier to send the water downstream than to deal with it in one's own backyard. At the same time, as Louisiana's coastal wetlands have been rapidly diminishing over the last several decades, coastal communities are increasingly vulnerable to coastal flooding as well.

How serious is coastal wetland erosion in Louisiana?

About 1.2 million acres of Louisiana's coastal wetlands have been lost to the sea since 1932. Without changes in how our water and coastal resources are managed, by 2100, New Orleans may essentially be sitting on a peninsula, with the Gulf of Mexico just to its south and Lake Ponchartrain to its north.

What are the consequences of this land loss?

The wetlands are the first line of defense for New Orleans and other metropolitan areas from hurricane-induced flood surges; thus, wetland loss will increase flood risk, which affects not only residential and commercial properties but also navigation and energy infrastructure and important commercial fisheries and ecosystems.

Have the recent floods taught us anything new about managing water resources?

We seem to learn the same lessons each time a new flooding disaster strikes: manage the river as a whole system, not individual segments; give the floodwaters someplace to go other than downstream to the next state; accept the fact that floodplains are called floodplains for a reason.

What is the long-term plan for water resources management in the Gulf States?

The State of Louisiana is developing the Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast for submission to its legislature in 2012. This is an extensive and thorough planning process that is looking at the many variables and uncertainties that factor into choices the state and Federal government will be making over the coming decades to reduce risks from flooding, improve ecological conditions, and protect the economic assets in the region that play a vital role in our national economy. At the regional level, the governors of the Gulf States have organized themselves to think about regional water management, and at the Federal level, an interagency group is considering these issues as well. There is no one plan and there is not, as yet, a consensus on what a long-term strategy should look like.

How has RAND been helping?

RAND has developed computer-based approaches to help decisionmakers consider actions to improve the long-term management of water in light of the many uncertainties that may affect implementation plans. We describe these approaches as "decision support tools" for "robust decisionmaking," which means that we try to help decisionmakers and stakeholders understand how to develop strategies that are likely to do well under a wide range of possible future conditions regardless of changing policies, economic circumstances, demography, and climate change.

How is that work progressing?

RAND has shown the analytic framework in a proof-of-concept analysis, which has been briefed extensively in the region and in Washington. Along with leading academic and consulting partners, RAND is now assisting the State as part of a multimillion-dollar planning effort to update the Comprehensive Master Plan—scheduled to be finalized at the end of 2011. We expect this work to provide support for a scientifically based plan for addressing Louisiana's and the nation's needs for reducing risks along the coast and the on-going land-loss crisis.

See related documents:

Commercial Wind Insurance in the Gulf States: Developments Since Hurricane Katrina and Challenges Moving Forward

Read moreFull Document

From Flood Control to Integrated Water Resource Management: Lessons for the Gulf Coast from Flooding in Other Places in the Last Sixty Years

Read moreFull Document | Research Brief

The Lender-Placed Flood Insurance Market for Residential Properties

Read moreTechnical Report | Research Brief

Managing New Orleans Flood Risk in an Uncertain Future Using Non-Structural Risk Mitigation

Read moreFull Document

The National Flood Insurance Program's Market Penetration Rate: Estimates and Policy Implications

Read moreTechnical Report | Research Brief

Residential Insurance on the U.S. Gulf Coast in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: A Framework for Evaluating Potential Reforms

Read moreFull Document | Research Brief

Storms Blow, But We Can Cut Losses

Read moreCommentary

Recent RAND Research

gas silos

Replacing Gas Tax with Crude Oil Tax Could Fund Nation's Transportation Needs

The federal government could fully fund its surface transportation infrastructure needs by levying a percentage tax on crude oil and imported refined petroleum products.

Read moreFull Document | News Release


Should Power Plants Consider Using Biomass Energy as an Alternative to Fossil Fuels?

U.S. power plants seek to diversify their fuel sources and biomass energy is a renewable resource that generally has lower life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions than fossil fuels. This model estimates the cost and availability of biomass energy resources from U.S. agricultural lands from the perspective of an individual power plant.

Read moreFull Document

students raise hands

Alternative Fuels Provisions in HR 909: The Roadmap for America's Energy Future

In testimony presented before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Power on June 3, 2011, James Bartis asserts that alternative fuels derived from oil shale and coal offer potential economic and national security benefits.

Read moreFull Document


Ricardo Sanchez

Ricardo Sanchez

Ricardo Sanchez has joined RAND Gulf States from RAND's Pittsburgh office. He is a Research Programmer whose recent research has focused on Air Force logistics and Department of Defense acquisition. He worked on an Analysis of Alternatives for the U.S. Coast Guard's Offshore Patrol Cutter and performed an evaluation of contract airlift within USCENTCOM. Ricardo recently completed an M.S. in industrial engineering, focusing on operations research. He also has an M.S. in electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and a B.S. in electrical and computer engineering form Rice University.

Visit us online at www.rand.org/gulf-states


Sally Sleeper, Director, RAND Gulf States Policy Institute



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