Community Flood Risk Assessment from Rising/Surging Seas Project

Kevin Kupietz, Elizabeth City State University

Location: North Carolina


Globally, 634 million people, or 10% of the world's population, live in coastal areas less than 10 meters above sea level. According to 2010 census data, 123 million people, 39% of the United States population, live in coastal counties with an estimated 8% increase in this number in the 2020 census. As natural disasters have increased in frequency and severity over the past five years, along with sea rises from climate change, it is important that anyone involved with the safety and resiliency planning of their organization or community have an understanding of how to scientifically assess risk from flooding in order to mitigate and recover from the effects. This project enables students to develop skills related to computer modeling as well as data application in real world communities by examining risk to structures and to different groups in the community.

Student Goals

  1. Use computer modeling system such as Surging Seas to obtain surge/flood data about different communities.
  2. Assess data to come to logical conclusions or solutions to problems or questions concerning surge flooding.
  3. Communicate orally and in writing about community flood risks to various audiences.

Research Goals

  1. Assess the flood hazard of local coastal community at different flood stages.
  2. Determine the amount damage and consequences to vulnerable groups in coastal community due to climate change and sea rise.


This CURE was designed to give students the understanding of how to research a community's resiliency to emergencies or disasters. The CURE has been taught three times during standard 16-week semesters with classes ranging in size from 4 to 30 students. It has been offered successfully in both face-to-face and asynchronous, online formats. The CURE is currently designed for a 16 week course but mini-CUREs could be designed from based on particular research tasks, tools, and assignments. We do offer this class as a 400-level Emergency Management course, but we have students with no emergency management coursework complete the CURE successfully. Comfort with basic computer and internet skills are helpful.

Target Audience:Major, Non-major, Upper Division
CURE Duration:A full term

CURE Design

As our climate continues to change, communities are more at risk of storms and rising water than ever before. These conditions are dynamic and they need to be monitored to be able to provide the best mitigation techniques possible. This project allows the student to see how focused research on a specific community can help to better tailor mitigation strategies to specific needs of the community. The students are answering questions for their chosen community about the relevant hazards and risks, including the frequency and severity of each hazard. This ultimately leads to consideration of how hazards might be mitigated to reduce the risk. Although the work is done in the classroom, it is done with the idea of equipping communities with knowledge and data they may not have and that they may find useful as they make decisions. The hope is that students will develop career-relevant knowledge and skills while producing results that have real world use.

Core Competencies: Analyzing and interpreting data, Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering), Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering), Developing and using models, Planning and carrying out investigations, Using mathematics and computational thinking
Nature of Research:Applied Research

Tasks that Align Student and Research Goals

Research Goals →
Student Goals ↓
Research Goal 1: Assess the flood hazard of local coastal community at different flood stages.
Research Goal 2: Determine the amount damage and consequences to vulnerable groups in coastal community due to climate change and sea rise.

Student Goal 1: Use computer modeling system such as Surging Seas to obtain surge/flood data about different communities

- Choose at least two computer models to use in research from a provided list
- Pull data from the models at 2', 5', and 10' storm surges for a chosen community 
- Define triangulation of data 
- Compare by triangulating data
- Record data in an appropriate format for analysis

- Determine property type and damage from computer models
- Identify and prioritize most at-risk groups in each flooded area at different level of sea rise

Student Goal 2: Assess data to come to logical conclusions or solutions to problems or questions concerning surge flooding.

- Identify areas of flooding at different flooding increases 
- Assess risk of flooding to a chosen community
- Assess risk to evacuation routes from flooding

- Identify and rank vulnerable groups affected by flooding
- Identify types of structures affected by flooding
- Estimate monetary losses from flooding 
- Identify potential infrastructure issues from flooding

Student Goal 3: Communicate orally and in writing about community flood risks to various audiences

- Communicate risk to a community in written report
- Communicate risk from flooding in an oral presentation

- Identify projected damage including to vulnerable groups in written form 
- Identify projected damage including to vulnerable groups in oral presentation

Instructional Materials

Here are the weekly assignments that help students build the final project.

Week 2 Writing Assignment Community Choice 

Choose a US Coastal Community that you will utilize through this course gathering information on to create your final project of a hazard analysis with risk reduction recommendations. For this assignment you will tell the reader about the community that you chose in a 1-2 page paper. The paper should be APA formatted including double spaced (see APA help file for more on APA). The paper at a minimum should discuss the demographics of the community (i.e. elevation, population (numbers & types), average house hold income, vulnerable groups etc. Your paper should also include at least three things that you think would be hazards for this community. You will find a an EM paper template in APA format in the resource section of the course.

Week 2 Discussion Board 

This week's writing assignment asked you to choose a town in the USA and research the demographics of that town for use later in your final project. Share some basic information you found about your town with the class. What town did you choose, what were some interesting things you found about it? What are some of the hazards you think exist in that town, include things such as population, median income, major employers, etc. Remember for consideration for full credit initial post should be done by Thursday midnight, and respond to at least two peers and any questions asked of your initial post by Sunday midnight.

Week 5 Writing Assignment 

Using the tools provided to you in this week's resource - tool folder write a report that predicts the flooding risk and the risk to vulnerable populations to the area you have been assigned city /county. This report should be 1 - 2 pages long, discuss the flood plain, surge areas, vulnerable groups as well as income and other demographics. Include at least two inserted figures to help make your report clear. Make sure to describe the figures to your reader so that they understand what they are looking at. Use APA writing format. These reports will be utilized in the completion of your final project.

Week 5 Discussion Board 

In the town that you chose for your final report discuss some of the vulnerabilities that you found in that town from the tool(s) used this week. What does that mean in consideration to risk to the community? Remember for consideration for full credit initial post should be done by Thursday midnight, and respond to at least two peers and any questions asked of your initial post by Sunday midnight and I will be asking questions.

Week 6 Discussion Board 

After looking at this week's reading of Emergency Action Plan (EAP) also called an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) and looking at your chosen community's power vulnerability talk about some of the risk your community would have with a power outage including how many people in your area rely on electric dependent medical devices. Remember to keep this information about your community as it will be utilized in your final project. Remember for full point consideration initial posts need to be in by Thursday midnight and answers to peers and questions by Sunday midnight.

Week 9 Discussion Board 

Why is local data important to look at when determining the risk of a hazard in relationship to vulnerabilities? Discuss something about your local community that you feel makes it different from other areas in terms of risk. Do you think this is properly considered in planning for response or overlooked? Remember for consideration for full credit your initial response should be posted by Thursday midnight and answer at least two peers and any questions asked of your initial post by Sunday midnight.

Week 10 Discussion Board 

All disasters are local. To best mitigate risk of disasters local data has to be used. Fire departments use the National Fire Incident Reporting system (NFIRS) to record their data. This is an example of of being able to obtain and track local data. Fire departments send this data to the United States Fire Administration (USFA) where it is added to other departments to develop national reports. Pick a report from the NFIRS statistical data web site and report on what you found interesting about the data and conclusions and how this might be relative to the community that you chose to look at this semester.

Week 11 Discussion Board 

Now that you have learned the vast amount of things that we can use GIS and Hazus for consider your community and project. What two or three things would you make as priorities for using GIS/Hazus for and why? what would this due to reduce the risks to the community ?

Week 12 Discussion Board 

After examining and playing with the NOAA Severe weather tool (see written resource folder) discuss one interesting aspect that you discovered about the tool. And discuss how the tool can be utilized by your community and organization to minimize risk.

Week 13 Discussion Board 

History is often a great indicator as to what future risks are. For your chosen community look back in its history and report back on a natural disaster that had an effect on the community. Did the community take any actions to lesson future disasters. Do you think that the community is now more or less at risk than it was then?

Final Assignment Directions 

For your final project you will use the information that you have been collecting about your chosen community to develop a hazard and risk assessment for them. In this assignment you are trying to make the community safer with your research and trying to sell your risk reduction ideas to them. In past assignments some of these reports have been good enough to send to the communities and I would encourage you to inquire about submitting a version of your final into the ECSU research week poster contest as this is good local research. If you have questions please do ask. A draft of final project Draft will be collected at the end of week 13 where the instructor will review and make comments for your final submission at the end of week 15. Please turn in your Hazard analysis and Risk Reduction plan for your chosen community. This plan should include:

  • An introduction of you community with demographic breakdown
  • Disaster history of the community
  • Template - All of this will be documented concisely in a poster format. the template is attached. The idea here is that you will share your information quickly and concisely with people in one poster. You may see examples of past posters on the ECUS EM Facebook page in the pictures.
  • Vulnerabilities of the community
  • A numerical breakdown of hazards to quantify the risk for various hazards. (How did you quantify the risk to determine the most significant)
  • A list the top 5 risks and why they rate the highest.
  • Risk reduction recommendations for 3 of the top risks you chose. with a minimum of three citations to support your recommendations

This paper has no page requirements except to get the information in that you need for your point to be made and understood. The only part of this paper I will hold to APA is the citation, otherwise you have artistic freedom with it to get your message across to your audience. The plan should incorporate and cite at least 3 of the computer modeling tools used in class one of them needs to be the HHS EM power tool.

Example sections to model your paper after:

  • Introduction - this section should detail the area where it is, demographics, economic factors etc.
  • History - this section should discuss a little about the emergency and disaster history of the area.
  • Hazards and risk - description of hazards of the area and discussion of which hazards have the great risk and how you quantified the hazards to determine the risk
  • Vulnerabilities - discuss the vulnerabilities of the area, those things that make it more prone to the hazards raising the risk
  • Visuals and description of prediction tools (at least three, one has to be the HHS EM power tool) explain how this ties into your discussion above of hazard, risk and vulnerability
  • Three examples of risks with suggestions to reduce the risks
  • Conclusion, including "selling" your idea to your audience
  • Reference page that has at least three citations APA format


For this course, we utilize the same program rubrics that are used in all of our courses. We have developed specific rubric for writing, presentations, and forums/participation. Many of the assignments are pieces of the final project, which seems to keep students more engaged and on track with their weekly work. When students get to the end, if they have done everything through the course, all they have to do is put the pieces together in the form of the poster.

Instructional Staffing

I have been the sole instructor of this research course. I have experience in disaster mitigation and response as well as teaching a variety of Emergency Management courses. A variety of dedicated instructors could make this project work though. To  facilitate this project, the instructor needs an understanding of emergency/disaster risk analysis and risk mitigation as well as moderate computer skills. Most of the computer modeling programs have good tutorials that helps users learn. This is good for the instructor and for the students to improve their abilities to retrieve the needed data.

Author Experience

Kevin Kupietz, Elizabeth City State University 

I am the Chair for the Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) Department of Aviation and Emergency Management. I am also a NC certified Firefighter/Paramedic with over 20 years of emergency response experience with local, state, and federal agencies. I have a diverse emergency response and educational background with teaching certifications in a variety of emergency service topics. I have been in Emergency Services higher education for 20 years teaching initial courses for job certifications, specialized fire/rescue classes as well as graduate and undergraduate programs, literally having taught thousands of students. My academic interests have included emergency responder safety, autism victims in disasters, preparedness education, business resiliency, emergency service leadership, and other related topics. I am asked to speak in local, state and national venues about public safety and I am a big believer in the power of education to make communities safer through cooperative ventures. I also believe that knowledge is power and that, if you are not having fun, you are not doing it right. I try to apply this in everything that I do.

Advice for Implementation

This is a fun class for me as an instructor and for students because they work through the project as they learn about hazard assessment and risk analysis. I have been able to teach it in both face-to-face and online formats; the face-to-face allows us to actually visit some of the sites. Students love the fact that they are learning the material while contributing to the safety of others through applied research. The biggest challenge is that some of students coming into the class do not have confidence in their computer skills and are intimidated by the programs that we use. This passes with time as they work more with the programs. The project is feasible with larger numbers of students, but I find that a 1:10 ratio of instructor to students seems to work best. When more students were enrolled, I did away with the final paper. Students were only expected to prepare and present a poster, which went so well that I am considering doing this again in future iterations.


This class has been taught in online and face-to-face formats. It can be done in either context but the troubleshooting is done a little differently. In face-to-face offerings, the students present many of the discussion posts and engage their peers in real time dialog as they ask each other questions, offer advice, and look for flaws in their classmates' methodology or logic. In an asynchronous online format, this is done through discussion board posts. Sometimes the tools can be hard to navigate and we have found that offering virtual review and discussion sessions has worked well. In both cases, as students find weaknesses in their plans, they go back and focus their research to build stronger plans.

The first offering of the CURE worked well but it was harder to coordinate all of the pieces and not all of the students were involved as much as I would have liked. In the next offerings, groups of 2-3 students were allowed if they were working with a community stakeholder for their chosen community. If the projects was being done entirely with online resources, each student had their own community. This has become my preference to ensure each student is doing each piece of the project to learn the skills needed to do similar research later on their own.

Using CURE Data

The data from the projects that we have done are used both as a teaching tool for the students and as community education tools. In each class offering, students  choose a different community and they assess the flood risks, damage, and potential mitigation techniques in each community. The data are then shared through social media to help educate the  public as well as to share with community partners for them to better understand the risk as they make decisions for their organizations and community.


  • Surging Seas Modeling System: Surging Seas is a modeling program to predict damage at different surge levels.
  • Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA®) The Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA®) is an online mapping tool that integrates both static and real-time data.
  • US Army Corps of Engineers Dam and Levee finder: National Levee Safety Program and National Levee Database
  • See the following site for toll on finding information about area dams and levees. this toll can be used to predict risk to local areas.
  • HHS emPOWER Map 3.0: Use the job aide and other information below to work through this tool at the website below to examine hazards and risk to those with electrically powered medical devices.
    • Over 2.5 million Medicare beneficiaries rely on electricity-dependent medical equipment, such as ventilators, to live independently in their homes. Severe weather and other emergencies, especially those with long power outages, can be life-threatening for these individuals.
    • The HHS emPOWER Map is updated monthly and displays the total number of at-risk electricity-dependent Medicare beneficiaries in a geographic area, down to the ZIP Code.
    • The HHS emPOWER Map gives every public health official, emergency manager, hospital, first responder, electric company, and community member the power to discover the electricity-dependent Medicare population in their state, territory, county, and ZIP Code. When combined with real-time severe weather and hazard maps, communities can easily anticipate and plan for the needs of this population during an emergency.
    • For more information on when and how to use the HHS emPOWER Map please see the resources section.
  • Fire Cares Data Base: Data of fire and EMS calls for local communities
  • National Fire Incident Reporting System: The National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) is a reporting standard that fire departments use to uniformly report on the full range of their activities, from fire to Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to severe weather and natural disasters.
  • Local County Health Department Webpage: The State Center for Health Statistics is committed to supplying health statistics that can inform state and county health policies and programs. Many of our annual publications contain statistics at the county level. In addition, we frequently generate special studies and reports which feature county-level estimates. This address will vary on your community search the internet for yours.