April 22, 2014

This past year, AAWRE Past-Presidents Rob Traver, Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, F.ASCE and Kay Whitlock, P.E., D.WRE, F.ASCE, along with Gerald Galloway, Ph.D., P.E., Hon.D.WRE, Dist.M.ASCE led the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Task Committee on Flood Safety Policies and Practices—a committee established by ASCE’s Board of Direction in January 2012 to examine the findings put forth in the 2007 report of the External Review Panel entitled The New Orleans Hurricane Protection System: What Went Wrong and Why—to examine the response to the call for action issued in the report.

The Task Committee on Flood Safety Policies and Practices recently completed its report which had several distinct findings in its report. The report concludes that currently, there is no unified vision of how the U.S. should organize and coordinate to reduce flood risk; the U.S. lacks a dependable analysis of the potential risk to the nation from flooding; a large percentage of the nation’s dams and levees remains in marginal or near-failing condition; and changing climate effects and population growth will heighten the risks to the nation from flooding.

The report also keys in on several short-term actions that can reduce the nation’s vulnerability to devastating consequences to floods. These include development of a sustainable funding strategy for infrastructure maintenance and for related nonstructural flood risk management activities at the local, state, and federal levels; the development and implementation of a 21st century national program for floodplain management; the provision of congressional funding to conduct a national flood vulnerability study; the development of flood risk management strategies at the local, state, and federal levels; the consideration of climate change, sea level rise, population growth, and infrastructure renewal in the planning of flood risk management strategies at all levels; the development of guidelines to support implementation of federal principles and requirements that provide a basis for including public safety and ecosystem values in decision making for water resources investments; and multi-agency support of the development of a coalition to carry out a coordinated communication campaign to educate the public on flood risk and flood risk management.

The committee includes members of the External Review Panel, ASCE members involved in local flood policy, flood safety experts and chair of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET).

In April 2013, the committee hosted a summit entitled “Building a Framework for Flood Risk Management: Goals, Roles and Responsibilities, Resources, and Systems,” which was held in Herndon, Virginia. About 70 key local and federal government officials, leaders of nongovernmental organizations, practicing engineers, and other professionals interested in flood safety issues from across the country and abroad participated in the summit.

Summit participants focused on the creation of a shared framework for resilient flood risk management that requires a systems approach that targets the hazard and facilitates the consideration of all aspects of reducing risk and balancing resources and then communicates the risk to the stakeholders.

AAWRE 2013 President Rob Traver, who served as chair of the committee and is a professor and director of the Villanova Center for the Advancement of Sustainability in Engineering and the Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University stated:

“There have been hundreds of studies done on the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and in many cases nothing has really been implemented. The committee basically wanted to look at what has been learned, what has changed, what has been working and also what have we not gotten to in relation to Hurricane Katrina and some of the other major floods. We wanted to take ASCE’s mission to protect life and property, and do everything we can to make sure that we reduce the risk from extreme events. Unfortunately, one of the things that we discovered is we are not always getting the best engineered solution(s). We cannot continue to address flood risk management in the U.S. the way that we are doing it. I think we all concluded it has to be solutions that are integrated into everything from the federal, state, regional, county, local, and individual levels.”

AAWRE 2011 President Kay Whitlock, Vice President at Christopher B. Burke Engineering in Chicago, who served on the committee stated what is needed for a comprehensive report and plan on flood safety policies and practices:

“We need to include (in our conversations) not just government - different levels of government with different responsibilities, but also the public and other stake-holders in order to move this report forward.  A shared understanding of flood risk is a key component of communication that does not exist now, especially at local levels of government.”

Gerald Galloway, who is the Glenn L. Martin Institute Professor of Engineering at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Maryland and a retired U.S. Army brigadier general stated:

“Basically communication and understanding what is said are very important. As a way of example, we as engineers use the term ‘100-year flood’ way too often, so people think [after having a flood] the next time there will be one is in 99 years; probabilities don’t work that way.”

The final report from the Task Committee on Flood Safety Policies and Practices is slated to be completed by June 2014.


To read ASCE’s Civil Engineering April 2014 article Flood Risk Management: The Need for Sound Policies and Practices

To view interviews and videos on work of Task Committee on Flood Safety Policies and Practices

For more on the April 2013 Summit Explores Public Policies and Practice of Flood Risk Management