Innovating Policymaking for Environmental Justice in Massachusetts

Photo of team of researchers: New study will advise MA policymakers on mitigating the impact of flooding and post-flood hazards on populations most at risk 

Research Team pictured above from left: Christian Guzman (Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering), Seda Salap-Ayça (Lecturer, Geosciences), Christine Hatch Associate Extension Professor (Geosciences), Eve Vogel (Associate Professor, Geosciences), and Cielo Sharkus (Graduate Student, Civil, and Environmental Engineering)

Natural disasters may hit rich and poor communities indiscriminately, but post-disaster impacts, such as flooding and related hazards, are far from equitably distributed. In this research project, an IDS-funded team will use innovative mapping and data analysis to show which communities are most vulnerable to flooding, ultimately providing Massachusetts policymakers with the information they need to ensure environmental justice in their flood mitigation efforts.

PIc of cars in flooded streetIt is commonly remarked that policy responses to climate change must advance in lockstep with efforts to advance equity. But what does this mean?

Natural disasters may hit rich and poor communities indiscriminately, but post-disaster impacts, such as flooding and related hazards, are far from equitably distributed.

As this team of faculty and graduate students at UMass Amherst are finding, low-income and minoritized communities are disproportionately at risk for flooding events and least equipped to bounce back from them. According to this team, a flood’s consequences for a community depend not only on its geography but on socioeconomic status and other features of its demographics.

With this in mind, how can policymakers ensure that their flood mitigation and protection efforts are going where they are most needed? This team has developed an innovative approach to this problem: vulnerability mapping.

Using data from the U.S. census, the team will create maps that show which communities are most vulnerable to flooding. They will also use a special technique to analyze the data and figure out which factors are most important in making certain areas prone to flooding.

The team plans to compare their findings with proposed flood mitigation and protection policies in Massachusetts. By doing this, they hope to help policymakers create programs that specifically help the communities most at risk. The ultimate goal is to reduce the suffering and economic loss that these communities face during floods.

By integrating data analysis, engineering, and geoscience insights directly into a key pillar of climate change response, this project will demonstrate the power of STEM to advance social and environmental justice.