Reducing the Vulnerability of Disadvantaged Communities to the Impacts of Cascading Hazards under a Changing Climate
Lead PI:
Farshid Vahedifard

Community resilience is frequently defined as the ability of a community to prepare, respond, and recover from natural and human-caused hazards. Preparedness is a vital aspect of community resilience, but our existing frameworks and emergency guidelines generally focus on response, rather than seeking to understand the connection between events and preparing for subsequent hazards. The majority of disasters involve a chain of events occurring in a cascading manner. The importance of preparedness against cascading hazards has been demonstrated by recent events, such as the Mendocino complex and Campfires in California, where all reports suggest that the lack of an integrated framework connecting decision-makers and residents exacerbated the devastating consequences of the fires. There is an urgent need for evaluating the vulnerability and preparedness of disadvantaged communities with access and functional needs (AFN) against cascading hazards. This Smart & Connected Communities (SCC) planning grant aims to reduce the vulnerability of disadvantaged communities to the impacts of cascading hazards in a changing climate. We seek to develop an effective warning system by integrating environmental-socio-technological monitoring and risk communications to serve disadvantaged communities. The overarching goal is to bridge the gap between the engineering, scientific, and social dimensions that have been striving to reduce the consequences of extreme events but are commonly evaluated in isolation of one another. The project will broaden the participation of local citizens in participatory risk management, as well as advance participatory, multi-scenario, multi-objective decision support that will make data and tradeoffs transparent and accessible.

Cascading hazards place disadvantaged communities at risk for disastrous outcomes, which are projected to worsen with climate variability and change. This project supports a multidisciplinary planning effort toward mitigating the impacts of cascading hazards from social science, climate, engineering, and decision-making perspectives. This project provides a capacity-building opportunity to better assess and quantify how the sequence of drought, wildfires, landslides, and flooding may drive one another and how the consequences of these cascading hazards may scale in both time and space. This project will provide insights into: (1) the science of cascading hazards and their tempo-spatial characteristics and impacts in a changing climate, (2) social and physical vulnerability in disadvantaged communities against the risk of cascading hazards, as opposed to a single hazard, and (3) an efficient strategy to communicate the risks of cascading hazards, which are inherently different in their devastation and scale. The project will also seek to build the capacity for advancing crisis communications by demonstrating how diverse sources of data (of disparate time scales, dimensionalities, and noise levels) can be integrated to improve decision-making and community engagement in remote and disconnected environments. The project involves collaboration with California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) and will focus on Lake County, CA, a disadvantaged community with dwindling resources and growing multi-hazard threats. While applied to a sequence of drought, wildfires, landslides, and flooding, this framework is directly translatable to any set of cascading hazards and will advance the state-of-knowledge to go beyond hazard evaluation that typically focuses on a single event.

Farshid Vahedifard
Geotechnical engineering; Analytical and numerical methods in geomechanics; Thermo-Hydro-Mechanical modeling of geo-materials, quantitative assessment of resilience of critical infrastructure to extreme events under a changing climate, geo-energy modeling (e.g., carbon sequestration, and CO2-EOR); Induced seismicity; Reinforced earth structures; Geosynthetics; Variably saturated earth structures; Remote sensing and GIS applications in natural and man-made hazard assessment and health monitoring of geo-systems (e.g., dams, levees); Micromechanical modeling of granular materials; Design of embankment dams and levee systems, mobility modeling in soil.
Performance Period: 09/01/2020 - 08/31/2022
Institution: Mississippi State University
Sponsor: NSF
Award Number: 2125610