Floods can be devastating to anyone who experiences one. However, the impacts of floods can be even more intense for vulnerable populations. This includes people who live in poor housing conditions, lack transportation options, or have limited English skills that could hinder their understanding of emergency messages.
With funding announced last month by the National Sea Grant Office (NSGO), Wisconsin Sea Grant is working with nine communities in northeastern Wisconsin to build their flood resilience by examining who lives in the most flood-prone areas of ‘a town. These communities are Sturgeon Bay, Manitowoc, Two Rivers, Green Bay, Algoma, Sheboygan, Kewaunee, Oconto and Marinette.
Work on the new project, which begins this month and will continue through the summer of 2024, builds on previous work funded by Sea Grant using the Flood Resilience Dashboard: a comprehensive tool that helps communities review and assess their level of flood preparedness on a variety of dimensions.
Jackson Parr, a Sea Grant staff member who was a J. Philip Keillor Flood Resilience–Wisconsin Sea Grant Fellow from April 2021 to May 2022, will be a key player in this new effort. He worked extensively with the Flood Resilience Scorecard and Wisconsin communities during his fellowship, building on his dual master’s degrees in public affairs and water resource management.
While Parr’s fellowship work includes both the state’s coastal and inland communities, the new project will focus more specifically on the Lake Michigan coast from Sheboygan County northward.
Wisconsin Sea Grant is partnering with the Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission and Wisconsin Emergency Management in this effort. Parr will work with David A. Hart, assistant director of Wisconsin Sea Grant for the extension; Adam Bechle, Coastal Engineering Specialist; and Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission staff, including environmental planner Adam Christensen.
“Over the past year, I’ve worked with 16 communities,” Parr said, “and we’ve identified common gaps across all communities in terms of flood preparedness and resilience.”
He found that no community had used spatial GIS (geographic information system) technology to determine where priority populations – those most vulnerable to flooding – live.
This kind of detailed and granular analysis can lay the foundation for better life safety, especially because two places very close to each other can have very different flood risks. Yet doing this GIS work can be difficult for communities for various reasons, such as a lack of resources or administrative capacity.
“These communities are doing a lot of good work addressing some of the disparities — but not specifically related to flooding, because it’s getting into a narrower area than most communities have the capacity to do,” Parr said.
In addition to GIS work, other aspects of the funded project include running the Extreme Event game – developed by the National Academy of Sciences – in communities.
“It’s a storyline of a storm event, and random things happen throughout the storyline, and the participants have to think about how they would react,” Parr said. “Then they think upstream about this process.”
Game participants will include local officials and emergency management personnel, but they can also be residents who want to learn more about disaster preparedness and resilience in their community.
“We will support communities to participate in gambling awareness efforts, select underrepresented communities in these areas, reach out to necessary stakeholders, obtain extreme event facilitator certification to facilitate gambling, and provide local knowledge and skills. mapping services to the team,” says Christensen.
Wisconsin Emergency Management staff will also receive training on how to run the games so they can do them in any Wisconsin community, giving the project reach beyond the nine cities that are its primary focus.
A third outcome of the project will be the implementation of a Resilience Plan Integration Dashboard for participating communities. This assessment analyzes the variety of plans a community might have – for transportation, downtown revitalization, or parks and recreation, for example – and helps it create cohesive recommendations for floodplain management and disaster preparedness.
This integrated approach avoids situations such as having a plan indicating that an emergency shelter must be located in a particular neighborhood, while another document prohibits that shelter location from a zoning angle, a said Parr, as an example.
Together, the three main components of the project will help communities in northeastern Wisconsin be better prepared to deal with the challenges that may arise, especially during a “perfect storm” event in which the levels of Great Lakes high waters and extreme precipitation combine to cause major flooding. .
Asked about the biggest benefit of this project, Christensen said it was the word “preparation”.
“Preparation so that when an extreme event occurs, participating communities are ready to respond in an effective and efficient way that saves lives,” he said.
To learn more about the project, email Jackson Parr at [email protected].