Producing and Communicating Coastal Flood Risk and Uncertainty in a Non-Stationary Climate: Lessons From New York City and Miami

Authors: Robert Hobbins*, Arizona State University School of Sustainability, Tischa Muñoz-Erickson, USDA Forest Service, International Institute of Tropical Forestry, Clark Millier, Arizona State University School for the Future of Innovation in Society
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Global Change, Coastal and Marine
Keywords: Flood Mapping, Risk & Uncertainty, Resilience, Knowledge Systems
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Grand Chenier, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Hurricanes Sandy and Irma exposed critical failures in the flood risk knowledge systems being used for
decision-making in New York City and Miami respectively. Knowledge systems are the social and
institutional routines and practices that produce, communicate and use knowledge for decision-making.
The principal flood risk knowledge system in the United States is the Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA)’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) produced by the National Flood Insurance
Program (NFIP). The NFIP is responsible for generating knowledge about flood risk for determining
flood zones which affects where and how we build and flood insurance rates. FIRMs do not consider
future climate conditions due to climate change (non-stationarity), do not take into consideration the
additional flood risks due to storm surge and high tides, and must be updated frequently in order to
account for land-use change. The damage due to Hurricane Sandy was primarily the result of
unprecedented and unanticipated storm surges of up to fourteen feet during high tide that inundated areas
well beyond the FEMA-delineated flood zones. The limitations and uncertainties associated with the
FEMA FIRMs were not characterized and communicated properly to users of this information resulting in
communities underestimating their vulnerability to flooding. Using case studies of FEMA’s flood risk
knowledge system failures in New York City and Miami, this paper argues for the need to transform our
flood risk knowledge systems to better anticipate future risk and to create more effective ways of
communicating the uncertainties associated with flood risk mapping.

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