LSC Researchers aid in the development of a Forecast-based Flood and Health Risk Management System

Over the past 20 years, extreme weather, such as hurricanes and flooding, made devastating impacts worldwide. With the help of satellites, meteorologists are able to predict when these storms hit and provide some warning to citizens, but it is still difficult to predict the intensity of the impact they will have on communities.

Most floods occur in developing or tropical regions where the impact on public health is substantial. There is a potential for death, injury, contaminated drinking water, endemic disease, and community disruption and displacement.  What if there was a more accurate way to predict the effects of these natural disasters?

Researchers at UW-Madison are currently working to develop a novel forecast-based interactive online flood and health risk management system to support advanced disaster preparedness. To accomplish this, the research team will couple global flood and health risk prediction models and establish proactive management strategies, plans, and alternatives.

The development of an actionable flood and health risk prediction framework has the potential to dramatically improve existing disaster management practices, save lives, and resources by providing advanced preparedness and response strategies.

Supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF)’s UW2020 Grant, this research is bringing together individuals from multiple departments across UW-Madison. Professors, researchers and graduate students from sociology, risk communication, public health, engineering, and weather and climate are all coming together to fundamentally transform a field of study.

LSC professor and chair Dominique Brossard and Ph.D. student Christopher Wirz with Wirz’s research poster.

Two researchers from LSC are involved with the project. LSC professor and chair Dominique Brossard and Ph.D. student Christopher Wirz. They are focusing on the science and risk communication components of the Grant’s research.

“UW2020 is taking risk communication to a whole new level,” said Wirz, “Instead of waiting for natural disasters to occur and reacting after the fact, we instead are changing the way we communicate and creating a plan of action before these bouts of extreme weather strike.”

As part of the grant, case studies will be conducted in two developing countries, Peru and Bangladesh, to indicate the factors of vulnerability. These factors vary within every country and are useful to pin-point in who in the community is most vulnerable, and have researchers better assist that community.

“It’s tricky because there are so many different aspects of disaster preparedness we need to focus on,” said Wirz, “Unfortunately, right now we can’t help every single person that will be affected by extreme weather, but this project puts us one step closer at getting there.”

Alfonso Del Rio of the Department of Horticulture, right, talks with poster presenter Christopher Wirz, at the 2019 Go Global Symposium at the Biochemistry Laboratories at UW–Madison in Madison, Wis., Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Photo by Michael P. King/UW–Madison CALS

Wirz recently received a couple of awards for LSC’s preliminary work with the project. Wirz was awarded the CALS Go-Global Symposium poster presentation award, Holtz Scholar Summer Research award, and another Holtz Center award to conduct field research.

LSC research team will travel to Peru at the end of May to lead a series of workshops. Here, they will conduct interviews with various stakeholders and high-level officials to hear about how floods have affected the area. The team will then determine the best plan of action to help these communities.

“This is a great opportunity for risk communication theory to meet practice,” said Brossard, “The UW2020 Grant will allow us to take our Wisconsin Idea mindset and expand it internationally, gaining a wider perspective and assurance that our research is making a valuable impact.”

Story by Madison Brunett. Madison is an undergraduate student majoring in LSC and the Department of Life Sciences Communication’s 2018-19 Lenore Landry Scholar.