Flood Risk Management Program


2014 Interagency Flood Risk Characterization Workshop

Inter-Agency Flood Risk Characterization Workshop

Feb 25-27, 2014 (2.5 days)

Participants: 20-30 invited federal agency personnel

Location: USACE Institute for Water Resources
Casey Building, Alexandria, VA, IWR Classroom


Workshop Purpose

The purpose of this workshop is to explore with federal agency participants approaches being used to characterize existing and future flood risk, with emphasis on use at the national and regional levels as opposed to community and project levels, examining what they are able to tell us and what they are not able to tell us; to consider a possible risk classification approach, applicable both where risk is influenced by the presence of a structure as well as where it is not, potentially allowing comparisons among those differing scenarios; and to understand varying agencies' perspectives, interests, and concerns so that they can be taken into account in any further development of flood risk characterization approaches.

Flood risk is considered broadly, encompassing the flood hazard, infrastructure performance where applicable, exposure to the hazard, vulnerability, and consequences. Numerous federal agencies' missions directly affect or are affected by flood risk (whether through work with communities to take flood risks into account through zoning or building requirements, funding post-disaster recovery, building flood control structures or "green infrastructure", providing insurance, etc.), and their perspectives and information is important in characterizing flood risk. Flood risk characterization can provide a means by which particular agency concerns are integrated into a more broadly-shared whole, facilitating inter-agency understanding and potential inter-agency partnerships.

Discussion will be focused on approaches to characterizing flood risk, rather than specific tools or underlying data that may support or implement those approaches. However, tools may be used to illustrate the how the approaches are being put into practice, information regarding underlying data may be shared to ensure that existing basic national "building blocks" are known and available to all, and consideration may be given to identifying any gaps yet to be addressed.

The Corps of Engineers will use the discussions from the workshop to inform its further work on flood risk characterization and potential development of a risk classification system, recognizing that flood risk reduction and residua l risk management is a partnership effort. The workshop will also explore whether or not there may be interest in pursuing subsequent interagency collaborative efforts.

Workshop Goals

  • Assess the potential benefits and uses of national flood risk characterization approaches
  • Evaluate existing approaches, noting their supporting tools and datasets, for potential in further developing national flood risk characterization
  • Establish information-sharing and explore the potential for collaboration mechanisms to move toward a more consistent national flood risk characterization approach that can address USACE and other agency needs

Read Ahead Materials

Potential Questions for a National Flood Risk Characterization Method

  • What is the national and regional baseline risk against which we can begin measuring progress? 
  • What is the historical change in flood risk and what factors drove those changes?
  • What is the projected future change in flood risk and what are the driving factors of those changes?
  • What are the most significant gaps and uncertainties in our ability to characterize current and future flood risk?
  • To what level of precision do we need to characterize flood risk?
  • Where should we focus our resources and activities to reduce risk? (I.e., what regions?)
  • What policy and program changes can be implemented to reduce risk once we have identified the drivers of risk and the highest risk areas?
  • How would rising sea level impact risk? What policies and programs could be implemented to address risks associated with sea level rise?
  • What is USACE's contribution to reducing flood risk?
  • What opportunities exist for collaboration across federal agencies to reduce flood risk?  What opportunities exist for increased collaboration across all levels of government and with the non-profit or private sectors?
  • What would be the impact to flood risk if federal investments were tied to a requirement for first floor elevations to be at least one foot above the Base Flood Elevation?
  • How can a national flood risk characterization support decisions about appropriate Federal and non-Federal government activities to reduce risk?

Draft Agenda

DAY 1:  Tuesday, February 25



9:00 AM

Welcome and Introduction (pdf, 178 KB)

Participants introduce themselves

  • Facilitator reviews the agenda and design of the workshop
  • Jeff Jensen covers purpose, objectives, and anticipated outcomes
  • Opening discussion about expectations

9:45 AM

Opening remarks, USACE Senior Leadership

10:00 AM

Flood Risk Framework (pdf, 620 KB), Dave Moser, USACE

What is risk? And how would estimates of risk drive decisions?

  • What are the components of flood risk and the terminology? This will include discussion of how to assess flood hazard, performance, exposure, vulnerability, and consequences.

10:30 AM

USACE Needs for National Flood Risk Characterization (pdf, 225 KB), Jeff Jensen & Pete Rabbon, USACE

What is it?  What is the need?  How would it be used?

  • Q&A

11:15 AM

Facilitated Discussion

Perspectives on USACE's views and needs for National Flood Risk Characterization

  • How might FEMA, EPA, USGS, HUD, other federal agencies, and potentially states and others use National Flood Risk Characterization?  How would their work be reflected in National Flood Risk Characterization?
  • Should this be used for public information and communication? If so, when and how?

1:00 PM

Current Approaches Applicable to National Flood Risk Characterization

  • Presentations will cover impetus for and intended use of each approach, key concepts and principles, source data and modeling, and major outputs
  • Each should use the terminology presented earlier and cover how data/outputs address key aspects (e.g., flood hazards, performance, exposure, vulnerability, consequences)
  • Each should address questions posed in advance
  • Talks will be approximately 20 min each, plus 10-15 min for Q&A

3:30 PM

Current Approaches Applicable to National Flood Risk Characterization (cont.)

5:00 PM

Open Discussion: Closing Thoughts for Day 1

5:30 PM

End Day 1



DAY 2: Wednesday, February 26



9:00 AM

Welcome and Preview the Day

9:15 AM

Current Approaches Applicable to National Flood Risk Characterization (cont.)

10:15 AM

Presentations on climate change, life safety, and flood risk

11:15 AM

Potential for Extending USACE Safety Programs Classification System to a National Flood Risk Classification, Darryl Davis, USACE (pdf, 1.7 MB)

  • Brief revisit of components and definition of flood risk
  • Overview of USACE classification systems for dam and levee safety programs
  • Potential for extending levee safety classification system to national classification as a feature of flood risk characterization

1:00 PM

Breakout groups round 1: Review and Evaluate Existing Characterization approaches/tools

  1. Are there approaches/tools that were not included?  If so, what do they contribute?
  2. Are the approaches/tools consistent?  At odds? Redundant?  How so?  Provide specific examples to discuss.
  3. How well do they address major components of flood risk: hazard (flood probability, extent and depth), consequences (life safety, damages), vulnerability and resilience? 
  4. Is the spatial resolution sufficient for intended purposes?
  5. Do any of the approaches/tools adequately cover potential future changes?  Can we do better on this?  If so, how?

2:00 PM

Breakout round 1 report back

3:15 PM

Breakout groups round 2: Discuss potential for developing comprehensive national flood risk characterization that can address various agencies' interests/concerns

  1. What are pros and cons of extending USACE's classification system to create a national classification approach?  How is classification different from characterization and what are the implications of those differences? 
  2. Can a classification system meet the various agency needs discussed on day 1?  Could it be modified to meet different agencies' needs?
  3. What alternative to the classification system would you propose?  Would it be a completely new idea or a modification/variation of one of the approaches we heard about earlier?
  4. Do we collect sufficient data to create a comprehensive characterization?  What's missing?
  5. How would the approaches/tools we heard about contribute to a comprehensive approach?  What's missing?

4:15 PM

Breakout round 2 report back

5:15 PM

Open Discussion: Closing Thoughts for Day 2 and Expectations for Day 3

5:30 PM

End Day 2



Day 3: Thursday, February 27



9:00 AM

Welcome and Opening Thoughts

9:15 AM

Facilitated Discussion: Review Evolving Concepts for Flood Risk Characterization

This would be a review of what workshop organizers have heard so far (pdf, .5 MB) (will present a summary) and a discussion, all organized according to these themes:

  1. What is the purpose of national flood risk characterization and/or classification?
  2. How would or could it be used?
  3. Is consistency across agencies important?
  4. How can the presented tools and approaches contribute?
  5. Do we have the necessary data?  If not, how can gaps be filled?

11:00 AM

Facilitated Discussion: Charting a Path Forward

  1. What can we do in one year? Five years?  Ten years?
  2. How USACE might use some of the information and insights from the workshop to improve its tools and how it would be used?
  3. How might other agencies use the outcomes of the workshop in flood risk characterization?
  4. What are remaining needs and ways of addressing those needs (i.e., potential changes to data collections, possible new studies or new ways of using existing data, new data sharing platforms)?
  5. Are agencies interested in migrating from coordination to collaboration?


Recap and Agree on Future Directions


Open Discussion: Closing Thoughts for the Workshop


Workshop ends