Quantifying fairness: race, class, and the United States’ federal response to floods

Authors: Ellen Kujawa*, Gulf Research Program
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Environmental Justice, Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: floods, equity, justice, natural hazards
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 7
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Vaulted into public consciousness by Hurricanes Katrina, Maria, and Harvey, racial and socioeconomic bias has been documented in several case studies of U.S. federal responses to floods. However, no national-scale, multi-year analysis of flood events and the government’s subsequent responses has occurred. Here, I combine a novel dataset of federal flood response, sourced from a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with community demographic data from the U.S. Census to examine the relationships between U.S. flood response and the demographic composition of flood-affected communities. The results suggest that the immediate federal response to floods is, indeed, unfair: communities with higher proportions of white residents receive more emergency personnel and associated funding, while communities with higher proportions of Black residents receive fewer and less. This result does not hold true for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s allocation of longer-term flood recovery funding, however, suggesting that increased oversight and bureaucratic process decreases bias inherent in the allocation of immediate, emergency aid.

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