Reducing New Orleans Storm-Surge Flood Risk in an Uncertain Future

Flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, photo by imaginewithme/Getty Images

Photo by imaginewithme/Getty Images


Preparing for natural disasters is a long, multi-faceted process that requires years of planning, coordination, and direct action. Since 2005, Gulf Coast residents and planners, supported by the federal government, have taken important steps towards building hurricane resilience.

Adding storm shutters, elevating or flood-proofing homes and businesses, and restricting future development in the floodplain are the sorts of measures that are critical. But it is also important for local authorities to examine what areas are at greatest risk and how that risk can be mitigated.


In 2009, RAND researchers and collaborators from the Tulane University Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy and from Dillard University began a two-year research study, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sectoral Application Research Program (SARP). The purpose of the study was to develop a new approach for assessing hurricane flood risk in New Orleans under uncertainty and evaluating city-wide approaches for reducing this risk. This project received additional support and has been extended through 2012. It consists of three interrelated activities:

  1. Modeling of storm surge risk to New Orleans at the neighborhood level under a wide array of state- and city-supported and locally-managed risk mitigation programs
  2. Developing the decision-support information and tools needed by the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security to ensure that their risk mitigation programs achieve the desired goals
  3. Improving ways to communicate hurricane risk information to the public to support individual choices to participate in government-supported risk mitigation measures.

The project team worked directly with the Office of Homeland Security's Hazard Mitigation Branch to understand the risk mitigation options available to New Orleans and to identify the information to best support their objectives. In the second year of the project, team researchers engaged the public through interviews and workshops to understand the public perception of storm-surge flood risk, to provide recommendations for conveying information about risk mitigation programs.

Interim Findings

Research Team

David Groves, Principal Investigator
Henry Willis, Co-PI
Jordan Fischbach
Lauren Andrews
David R. Johnson, Pardee RAND Graduate School fellow