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SAFRR - Science Application for Risk Reduction

Wildfire & Debris Flow Simulation

DebrisFlow

Project Goals

Scientists provide expertise to emergency managers who put a great deal of effort into deciding whether and when to issue evacuation orders for neighborhoods at risk for flooding, landslides, debris flows, or other natural hazards. However, the people in those neighborhoods often do not heed those orders. Why do so many Southern Californians fail to evacuate when warned of an elevated risk to their neighborhood of hazards like debris flows? Have they not seen or heeded news coverage of past debris flow events? Are they unaware that recent fires made the hillsides above them more prone to gravity-driven processes? Or have they merely experienced too many "false alarms" in past years, and no longer put much stock in the judgment of public officials or the ability of scientists to judge debris flow risk?

This project will develop the content and theoretical structure of a virtual simulation experiment (a "serious game") that can be used both as (1) an academic tool to answer these types of questions and thereby improve evacuation messaging, and (2) as an educational tool to raise public awareness, help train local officials, and help all stakeholders make better informed decisions about evacuation in the face of debris flows. Although the current project is designed to focus specifically on debris flows, we anticipate that the structure, once developed, will be easily adapted to study other types of hazard preparation and evacuation behavior. The project will incorporate USGS debris flow expertise, and hazard and risk products, in order to create a simulation that accurately addresses both the physical science and social science elements of debris flow evacuations.

Personnel & Advisors

Working with the Columbia University Earth Institute (EI) and the Columbia Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED), graduate student Katherine Thompson and Professor Ben Orlove will develop a design for the simulation game that will allow us to answer both theoretical and practical questions about how people make debris-flow evacuation decisions. Orlove has led a successful effort to use similar simulations to study hurricane preparation behaviors: that product, Stormview, has produced results that match with field surveys during actual hurricane events. Thompson will create the content for the debris flow simulation, which will range from mock newspaper articles to National Weather Service advisories to television and radio broadcasts; the effects of different presentations of information in each of these media will be studied. Thompson and Orlove will be assisted by an undergraudate or post-baccalaureate research assistant.

Sue Perry, staff scientist in the Natural Hazards Mission Area on the SAFRR project, is the USGS project liason for this debris flow simulation project, ensuring that Thompson has access to appropriate USGS products and personnel, and connection with SAFRR external partners in emergency management. Sue Cannon, a researcher with the USGS Landslide Hazards program, will serve as technical advisor.

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Page Last Modified: Monday, August 05, 2013