Risk Communication Starts with the Right Questions

A few weeks ago, Pat Skinner, Steve Cain and I attended the fifth National Floodproofing Conference and Exposition. The meeting was a new venue for me, so I learned a lot about the floodproofing world from engineers’ perspectives. “How do we better communicate the risk to flooding?” was a recurring theme.  Most of the conference audience was comprised of US Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, private industry, city engineers, and a sprinkling of university faculty. Steve, Pat and I were the only Extension representatives.

For those of us in Extension, I think “how do we better communicate ______?” is a perennial question. The answer may lie in first understanding what our specific audiences know about the topic and how that pertains to them.

A few questions you might ask your homeowner/rental audiences:

  • Have you ever experienced a flood? If yes, you might then ask: What happened? Viewing one or more of these flood risk scenarios may be useful in starting or continuing the discussion.
  • Do you know where your property lies on the floodplain map? You can access flood plain maps and learn how to read them from Flooding & Flood Risks: Understanding Flood Maps. These maps are for rating flood insurance; you can learn a lot about flood risk by visiting the local floodplain manager or public works department.
  • Do you know what your community officials have done or are planning to do to protect the community from flooding? Check with the public works department to learn about community drainage improvements and stormwater management. You can also check with city/county/parish government to learn how flooding is accounted for in zoning and land development policies.
  • How do you fit in the hazard mitigation plan (HMP)? These plans are usually housed with the local Emergency Management Agency.  A hazard mitigation plan must be in place and approved through the state EMA in order for communities to qualify for hazard mitigation grants from the state or federal government.  Check with EMA to learn more about flood mitigation plans in your area.
  • Do you know what you can do to protect your home and property from flooding? The EDEN resource catalog (“flood mitigation” search) includes videos and fact sheets from LSU on preventing flood damage. These include information on elevating buildings, raising appliances and utilities, and construction finishing materials that water won’t hurt. The eXtension Floods community also provides relevant videos and articles.
  • Do you have a flood disaster plan for your family? Developing a family disaster plan is an action everyone should take. It is not difficult, but it helps to know what should be included in such a plan. The ready.gov site includes information homeowners can use to build their disaster plans. The NOAA Hurricane Preparedness site helps visitors understand what they should include to be prepared for hurricane storm surge, flooding and wind. Be sure to check out the Inland Flooding page. The EDEN delegate-produced Family Preparedness course is available for online or face-to-face training.

Regardless of location, your counties/parishes are at risk of flooding. Understanding that is the first step in taking responsibility for protecting lives and homes from flood.