Flooding, flood risks, and what populations are impacted

Kaatje Kraft, Whatcom Community College
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Initial Publication Date: May 14, 2021 | Reviewed: August 4, 2022


In this lab, students learn about four different types of flood: flash floods, regional floods, storm surges, and tsunami. They then explore the human experience of flooding and who is impacted the most by flooding in general and locally in the state of WA.

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This assignment is from an online introductory geology course entitled "Natural Disasters."

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the weekly lab assignment for week 4 of a 12 week online course (it is taught asynchronously, but could be easily modified for a synchronous online space and/or face to face). It follows the same format as previous lab assignments where there are both group-based components and individual aspects to negotiate the content both collectively and individually.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

By the end of this lab, you will be able to describe the features associated with ocean- and land-based floods and how these floods impact humans.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

By the end of this lab, you will be able to

  • Examine data from local river and stream systems and determine risks to local populations.
  • Consider how mitigation efforts might help to lower the risk to different flood types.

Other skills goals for this activity

By the end of this lab, you will be able to engage in negotiating content about flood types with your peers in an online space.

Description and Teaching Materials

Part 1. First person narratives and class co-development of content
Each student is assigned to a group page they can edit, about one type of flood event. When they access that page, the student chooses ONE of 6 questions, "claims" it by putting their name next to that question, and then researches the answer. They write a short answer to the question in the group page, based on the reading assignment for that flood type.

Groups and assigned readings:

Questions on each type of flood -- each student answers ONE question on their assigned type of flood:

  1. What are some general properties and events associated with this flood type? Provide examples from the text to support your analysis.
  2. What is the source of this flood type and how long does it last? Provide examples from the text to support your analysis.
  3. What are the factors that contributed to the damage from this event? What are the hazards associated with your flood? Provide examples from the text to support your analysis.
  4. Find an image of this type of flood (it doesn't have to be from this specific event). Embed it on the page at the top of the descriptions already done by your peers and describe how it captures the "essence" of this type of flood and where it occurred.
  5. Compare and contrast this type of flood to the other types of floods, using the summary pages developed by your classmates. Find ways that these flood types are similar and ways that they are different. (For example: How is a flash flood similar to and different from a regional flood? A storm surge? A Tsunami?)
  6. Summarize the properties, factors that contribute to destruction, and comparison to other floods in 2-3 succinct sentences. Suggest one way that one could mitigate (minimize) the risk of this type of flooding.

Once all of the pages are complete, each student summarizes each of the flood types on the chart on the worksheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 169kB Mar26 21).

Part 2a. Examining statewide data
Each student chooses a river in WA (I give them this hint: "You can pick any stream with a station, but data will likely be more useful if you pick a major river like the Nooksack or Skagit rivers") and selects a gaging station to examine more closely. Watch this video for instructions on how to access the gauging station data.

Answer the questions on the worksheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 169kB Mar26 21).

Part 2b. Who is impacted?
Consider how vulnerable populations might be particularly impacted by flooding by first reading this article from Scientific American. Now consider a more local impact by examining the same river from part 2 with the risk of floods for vulnerable populations on this layered map of WA (the WA tracking network). Answer the prompts on the same worksheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 169kB Mar26 21).

Video explaining how to navigate the WA Tracking Network map

Teaching Notes and Tips

In the Desert Cries passage from the flash flood module, there is some graphic content in the description of flash floods. In the past I have alerted students to this and tell them that if they are concerned about reading it, please let me know and I'll switch them into one of the other groups. The recent switch to the NPR passage on Germany flooding provides multiple modalities for students to access the content (listen to or read), but there does appear to be a bit of a conflation between flash flood and urbanization.

I also tell students this: "Please note that while there is not a penalty for late submissions of the worksheet, because it is critical to complete the shared pages for your peers in a timely manner there is a penalty for late contributions to the shared pages."

Part of my motivation for this assignment is to address the common question of, "why don't people just move away from areas at risk," which comes at a lens of privelege and a bit of a victim-blaming perspective. I want students to appreciate the human voice of how flooding impacts individuals both from the first person narratives along with the perspective that there are reasons for why individuals end up in these high risk regions. In addition, in their lecture for the week, I talk about how the history of redlining practices results in people of color more likely to end up in high risk zones (this map by Joshua Poe and the resulting resources were one area of inspiration for that part of my lecture).

Many (all?) states have the data of vulnerability index available through their state agencies. Making this problem more place-based can make it more powerful for students. One possible example may be using the Environmental Justice Screening & Mapping Tool (EPA)

Readings for the initial parts of this assignment (defining different kinds of floods) were collected in collaboration with colleagues as part of the National Science Foundation grant, "Communication in Science Inquiry Project" (CISIP), (Award #: 353469)


I use a rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 15kB May13 21) to grade this assignment. I provide it to the students along with the assignment, as part of the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) approach I use. In addition, I try to minimize the judgements from the assignment, I'm primarily looking for completion or non-completion.

References and Resources

Cusick, Daniel. Flood Risks to Low-Income Homes to Triple by 2050. Scientific American. Available online at https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flood-risks-to-low-income-homes-to-triple-by-2050/.

Eyewitness accounts of flood events:

  • Flash Flood:
    • Flash Flood: The flooding in Germany is the worst in there in 60 years (NPR) 
    • In the past, I have used an excerpt from "The Desert Cries," by Craig Childs, pages 99-109, which is really powerful, but the NPR piece provides both a listen to and read option. If you're interested in the Desert Cries passage, contact me for the excerpt.
  • Regional Flood: The Expert as Evacuee: An Eyewitness Account of the Venezuelan Floods of '99. Available online at https://www.eird.org/eng/revista/No1_2001/pagina21.htm.
  • Storm Surge: Eyewitness accounts from the 1953 floods in Suffolk, England, collected by the BBC news. Read accounts from Wilfrid George and Janet Woods. Additional accounts available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/suffolk/dont_miss/floods/eye_witness_accounts/eye_witness_index.shtml.
  • Tsunami: Eyewitness account by Dave Lowe (Acrobat (PDF) 670kB Mar26 21). Available online at https://nctr.pmel.noaa.gov/indo20041226/Maldives_eyewitness.htm.


Carol Ormand provided assistance in publishing this activity online.