LSU Sociology Professor Authors Article on Social Inequalities inside and outside
the Floodplains during Hurricane Harvey
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
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
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
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
About the LSU Department of Sociology
The LSU Department of Sociology is dedicated to research and teaching, a tradition
that has carried on since its inception in 1928. The department serves both undergraduate
and graduate students and is making important contributions to LSU’s general education
mission. The department is also home to the only Ph.D. program in sociology in the
state of Louisiana. Learn more at lsu.edu/sociology.
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Contact Sarah Gaar Keller
LSU College of Humanities & Social Sciences
LSU Media Relations