Interview Results

When asked about drivers to flood risk management activities, interview respondents answered with a variety of factors consistent with the Expert Model. The respondents discussed, in particular, the drivers related to public safety and reducing risk to the public (55 %), which is a primary element of USACE’s core mission. Also frequently mentioned were Congressional mandate, funding, and politics (45 %) alongside historical events and reactive instead of proactive protection (45 %). Several suggested that Congressional mandate and politics were related to funding, where project funding is derived from Congressional approval. In this vein, respondents described an environment where it is sometimes difficult to get funding for projects (especially large projects) unless a catastrophe has occurred, even when USACE personnel feel the potential for such a catastrophe is an impending threat.

A sizeable fraction of respondents mentioned public interests in their responses, with 30 % speaking directly to local interest, support, sponsorship, and cost sharing. Economics, National Economic Development (NED), and economic efficiency (25 %) also served as a common theme of discussion of drivers that influenced the USACE flood risk management process. Respondents also noted the tendency for localities to absorb a disproportionate amount of flood risk management cost, where the cost/ben- efit ratio for project selection and adoption is determined on a national scale.

Overall, engineers tended to discuss the five themes related to flood risk management drivers more so than the planners did in their responses. Engineers, in particular, focused on Congressional mandates and political drivers (60 % of engineers versus 35 % of planners). Several engineers stated that Congressional mandates drive current USACE objectives, particularly for big projects with large budget requests and resource needs. Collectively, engineers and planners cited politics and congressional mandates (40 %), economic mandates (30 %), and response to weather and significant effects (25 %) as the most significant drivers behind flood risk management activity. A smaller number of respondents mentioned local interests, environmental protection/impact, and technological drivers, although to a lesser extent. Planners were significantly more likely to stress politics and congressional mandates, while engineers centered on economic development and responses to weather and significant events. Due to the organizational roles and differences between these two groups, this disparity is sensible, as planners are more likely to seek project financing while engineers directly conduct site visits and work within areas recently or currently affected by natural events and weather hazards.

Regarding areas of improvement, engineers especially noted the gap between public expectation and reality (90 % of engineers versus 40 % of planners) associated with flood risk management. This was particularly true for concerns associated with the degree of protection that a structure may offer from flood events over the longer time horizon. Planners and engineers collectively stressed a need for improved public education on flood risk, where they stated that simple misunderstandings of statistical terms and probabilistic events such as “the hundred-year flood” make the public less attuned to actual flood hazards. Engineers also suggested that existing project evaluation criteria were problematic (70 % of engineers). Some found NED to be an unfair scoring metric, as it calculates costs for both federal and local groups, but only focuses on national benefits. Others also focused on the uncertainty regarding how to use the variety of alternative metrics for project planning and assessment. In contrast, planners tended to focus on the need to improve collaboration internally within USACE and externally with partner organizations (40 %). Planners also emphasized the need to reduce long project timelines (35 %). Several planners stated that improved collaboration may result in an improvement in project timelines, although they recognized that this would be a significant regulatory and cultural barrier to overcome.

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