LSU Sociology Professor Authors Article on Social Inequalities inside and outside the Floodplains during Hurricane Harvey

Image of Dr. Kevin Smiley

Dr. Kevin T. Smiley, assistant professor in the LSU Department of Sociology, recently authored an article about social inequalies and flood risk outside of conventional flood zones.

BATON ROUGE – LSU Department of Sociology Assistant Professor Kevin T. Smiley recently authored an article about social inequalities and flood risk outside of conventional flood zones that was published today by Environmental Research Letters.
The article titled, Social inequalities in flooding inside and outside of floodplains during Hurricane Harvey, discusses how flooding outside of the floodplain from extreme weather events impacts vulnerable groups in those areas.
Using Hurricane Harvey and Houston as a case study, Dr. Smiley’s research showed that Black and Hispanic neighborhoods tended to have higher levels of flooding, and that that flooding disproportionately occurred outside of the floodplain.
“While we know that flooding often occurs beyond risky floodplains, we don’t have much of a sense of who experience flood impacts in these places that aren’t typically conceived of as risky. The analysis of Hurricane Harvey shows clearly that it is Black and Hispanics in Houston that bear the brunt of these impacts,” said Smiley.
Increasingly, we see that flooding occurs outside of the risky flood zones, like 100-year floodplains determined by FEMA. This was the case during Hurricane Harvey, where the vast majority of flooding occurred outside of the 100-year floodplains. Dr. Smiley’s research asks: who are the residents that experience these flood impacts in places not listed as risky? This research finds that during Hurricane Harvey it is Black and Hispanic neighborhoods that experienced worse impacts outside of floodplains than white neighborhoods.
Understanding flood risk for populations in locations outside of the floodplain is important because no previous research has identified the social characteristics of who experiences these impacts outside of floodplains. Dr. Smiley’s work uncovers racial inequalities behind flooding in less risky zones, raising a critical environmental justice issue. Implications of this research are that uneven impacts may lead to unequal housing recoveries which can expand racial inequalities. The topic was recently highlighted in a New York Times article that revealed twice as many properties in the U.S. may be susceptible to flood damage than previously thought. What Dr. Smiley’s research adds to that work is a better understanding of who may be at risk as our understanding of flood risk becomes better refined and more closely accounts for climate change.
Dr. Yoshinori Kamo, chair of the LSU Department of Sociology, said, “Given an increasing number of hurricanes affecting our communities due to the long-term climate change and our heightened awareness of racial inequalities, Dr. Smiley’s article couldn’t be more timely. This is truly a groundbreaking article in the critical area of environmental sociology.”
Dr. Smiley’s areas of research interests include social inequalities in urban environments, especially as it relates to disasters, health, immigration, race, and social capital. His research on Hurricane Harvey is funded by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's Gulf Research Program.
Environmental Research Letters is a peer-reviewed journal that covers all of environmental science, providing a coherent and integrated approach including research articles, perspectives, and review articles.
The full article is available online


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