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Measuring Flood Vulnerability

Posted on June 13th, 2017

By Mikael Mulugeta

Eric Tate became an IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering faculty affiliate in 2011.

Which factors affect a community’s vulnerability and resilience to flooding? Through his research, Eric Tate is working to answer this question.

Tate, an assistant professor in the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences, joined the Water Sustainability Initiative in 2011. He researches disaster vulnerability, water sustainability, and flood hazard mitigation.

The University of Iowa established the WSI in 2009 to advance research, education, and outreach activities regarding the stewardship and responsible management of water resources. Hailing from various disciplines, WSI faculty members combine their expertise to identify key challenges on a local, regional, and global scale regarding the availability, quality, reuse, and health impacts of water resources and their relationship to a changing climate. Tate also became an IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering faculty affiliate in 2011, with all WSI members joining in 2013.

While Tate’s research deals with disaster vulnerability of all types, his work with IIHR focuses on measuring social vulnerability to floods by building demographic indicators. These indicators, he explains, measure factors that influence a population’s ability to prepare for, withstand, and recover from a flood.

“I build maps so you can look at an area and understand which places are more likely to have populations that are highly susceptible to negative impacts from hazards,” says Tate. “If two homes located right next to each other suffer from equal levels of flooding, certain characteristics of the household residents may affect their vulnerability, including age, health, income, disability, level of education, and immigration status.”

Tate says taking a multi-disciplinary approach is crucial to addressing the physical, human, and ecological dimensions of complex problems such as flooding and water sustainability.

“I think that the WSI mission of trying to bring people from multiple disciplines and connecting them is a great model for dealing with large, societal challenges,” says Tate. “It’s been a really good group these first six years. I’m looking forward to the years ahead, because some of our best work may be in front of us.”

Tate was raised in Chicago and San Antonio, Texas. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Rice University in environmental engineering, a master’s in water resources engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, and a PhD in geography from the University of South Carolina.

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