Producing and Communicating Flood Risk: A Knowledge System Analysis of FEMA Flood Maps in New York City

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The burgeoning development of coastal cities coupled with increasing exposure to sea level rise and extreme weather events has exacerbated the vulnerability of coastal communities and infrastructure to floods. In order to make good flood risk reduction and resilience decisions, cities are interested in gaining better insights into what are perceived to be the “real” risks of floods. However, what counts as a good estimate of such risks is constructed through the design of a knowledge system that ratifies certain ideas and methods over others. We refer to knowledge systems as the organizational practices and routines that produce, validate and review, communicate, and use knowledge relevant to policy and decision-making. In this chapter, we conduct a knowledge system analysis of FEMA’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps in New York City. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy exposed in the national spotlight the shortcomings of how we calculate, map, and use knowledge about flood risk. Through this case study, we hope to demonstrate the value of knowledge systems analysis as a method to stress-test and identify the weaknesses of a knowledge system that warrant attention, as well as to inform potential methods ofupgrading or redesigning that system in support of building resilient cities.




Hobbins, R., Muñoz-Erickson, T. A., & Miller, C. (2021). Producing and Communicating Flood Risk: A Knowledge System Analysis of FEMA Flood Maps in New York City. In Urban Book Series (pp. 67–84). Springer Science and Business Media Deutschland GmbH.

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