|UND marks 10th anniversary of Flood of '97 with research symposium|
The University of North Dakota will observe the 10th anniversary of the Red River Valley’s worst water disaster with "the Flood of 1997 Research Symposium" Friday, April 20, 9:30 a.m. to noon in the Chester Fritz Library East Asian Room. The research symposium is free and open to the public.
"We wanted to commemorate the Flood of ’97 in a way that is connected to what the University is about: teaching, research, and service," said Peter Johnson, UND spokesman. "The flood provided a rich source for many faculty as teaching points in the classrooms, as ways to engage in service to the University, the community and the state, and as a source and stimulus for conducting research related to a host of issues that have local as well as national and even international applications."
The research symposium is intended to give the public a "sampler" of the kinds of flood-related research conducted in the past decade by UND faculty and researchers, said Johnson.
The schedule includes:
* 9:30 a.m. -- "The Politics of Disaster: Grand Forks/East Grand Forks in a Comparative Perspective," Robert Kweit and Mary Kweit, professors in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration.
Both Grand Forks and East Grand Forks have clearly emerged from the flood of 1997 with great success. That success is due to a number of elements. Some of the important factors were the aid supplied by the federal and state governments, the technical competence of local bureaucrats and FEMA (at the time), the public face of Mayor Pat Owens, and the network of intergovernmental actors who worked selflessly to first attempt to avert disaster, and then to repair the damage. The success in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks stands in marked contrast to the recent devastation in New Orleans. Although the disaster in New Orleans was much larger in scale, it should also have been better equipped to deal with many of their issues – but it was not.
Despite the success of both Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, the Kweits say it is noteworthy that the government in East Grand Forks has been relatively stable and the citizenry have been more positive toward their local government. In the wake of the flood, Grand Forks citizens have been less positive and have voted out Mayor Pat Owens, downsized the City Council, and replaced most City Council members. Research indicates that one reason for the disparity between the two cities was the way each used citizen participation in the rebuilding process.
* 10 a.m. -- "The Waffle Plan," Bethany Kurz, senior research manager at the Energy & Environmental Research Center.
The soon-to-be-published results regarding the EERC's Waffle storage plan indicate that had Waffle storage been in place during the 1997 flood, the peak flows in the Red River could have been reduced by up to five feet in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, enough to prevent the dikes from being overtopped. The decrease in peak flows could be further enhanced with minor changes to roads and other infrastructure.
Other points along the Red River would also have experienced significant reductions in peak flood crests as a result of Waffle storage. EERC results indicate that up to a 4.5-foot drop in peak flows could have occurred in Fargo. Waffle modeling results predict as high as a 59 percentage reduction in peak flows within various tributaries of the Red River.
"This would have saved many homes and businesses in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks and averted much of the $2 billion in flood-related damages accrued in 1997," said EERC Senior Research Manager Bethany Kurz. "Overall, the utilization of Waffle-type storage would have significantly reduced flood levels throughout the entire basin," Kurz said.
The Waffle project, which the EERC launched in 2002, is the largest, most comprehensive evaluation of an innovative, basinwide flood mitigation strategy ever conducted for the Red River Basin. The main goal of the project, initially funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), was to determine the feasibility of utilizing a basinwide system for temporary storage of floodwater in the basin to help mitigate large, springtime floods.
* 10:30 a.m. -- "The Impact of the Flood of 1997 on the Human Service Delivery System," Thomasine Heitkamp, professor and chair of Social Work.
Heitkamp looked at human service providers’ perceptions of the impact of the Flood of 1997 on the human service delivery system one year following the flood. Additionally, in a study two years following the flood, she examined consumers’ perceptions of human services they secured and what was most helpful in assisting with flood recovery. A summary of these research studies will be provided at this symposium.
Summarizing the effects of the flood, Heitkamp said that in late April of 1997, most of the residents and all of the residents of East Grand Forks were evacuated. The region had been struck by an unusual string of deadly blizzards and moisture-laden snowstorms. The storms and flood resulted in nearly $4 billion in damage and other economic losses.
Heitkamp’s study of the human service providers’ perceptions concluded that agency relationships improved as a result of this crisis, with more networking, more referrals, fewer "turf" issues, and greater teamwork. She also concluded that, all combined, the region’s social service agencies-both public and nonprofits-delivered more services in a context that meet the needs of consumers recovering from the disaster.
The bottom line: Heitkamp says in her research conclusions that the disaster improved the area’s human service delivery system. Moreover, she says, social workers enjoyed ignoring rigid rules and policies if they didn’t help clients.
In terms of consumers perceptions’ what was most helpful in their flood recovery was clearly assistance from family, friends and their church. Agencies that were singled out as most helpful included Salvation Army, Lutheran Disaster Response, VICTORY, and Catholic Families Services.
* 11 a.m. -- "Impact of the 1997 Flood on Cognitive Performance in the Elderly," F. Richard Ferraro, professor of psychology.
Big natural disasters such as the Flood of 1997 affect just about everyone, but the elderly -- especially those in rural areas -- are among the most vulnerable to such events. Among the extra challenges faced by the elderly in such situations are increased psychological trauma, greater risk for physical injury, economic loss, and accumulation of debt. Many of these effects last a long time after the immediate effects of the disaster, such as property damage, have passed.
A UND psychology team studied 68 elderly residents with a mean age of 71. They were recruited from the UND retired faculty club or from the local community. They filled out forms with information including pre-flood demographic info (age, gender, self-reported health condition, medications) and took psychological evaluation tests. Within 18 months following the flood, these individuals were called back to the lab to take the same tests. This study represents the first wave of annual studies of this type among older adults.
This exploratory research project revealed that older adults after the flood suffered increased levels of depression, more physical symptoms, slower reaction times, and increased use of medications.
Ferraro also looked at psychological resilience in older adults following the 1997 flood. This study is related to the previous research project; 37 older adults who experienced the 1997 Flood were tested at three times (1997, 1998, 2000) to determine the effects of the flood on their health and wellbeing and to see if prior experience with major natural disasters helped them to cope better with 1997 event.
Ferraro suggests that, based on his and previous research, prior experience with natural disasters helps older adults to cope with subsequent events such as the 1997 Flood. Ferraro tested this hypothesis by asking the 37 participants questions about self-rated health, number of medications, and how they performed on several psychological tests. What he found was that these adults consistently reported the same results across the four years following the flood.
This consistency indicates that post-disaster performance among the elderly is related to pre-disaster experience with similar disasters. Though Ferraro points out that this study was limited--only 37 people were tested--and it was not exhaustive, nevertheless, the results clearly indicate that, contrary to popular myth, "many older adults can survive a natural disaster and appear resilient to some of the more negative effects."
11:30 a.m. -- "Contamination of Building Materials (Wood and Concrete) by Chemicals as a Result of Catastrophic Floods and Novel Approaches to their Remediation," Evguenii Kozliak, associate professor of chemistry and Wayne Seames, associate professor of chemical engineering.
On the 10th anniversary of the great Red River Flood of 1997, faculty members Evguenii Kozliak and Wayne Seames explain how such floods can cause serious chemical contamination in buildings and suggest new approaches to cleaning up such problems.
A major contaminant in such events is fuel oil, which is absorbed deeply by materials such as basement concrete and wall studs. In the Grand Forks area during the Flood of 1997, structural elements in thousands of homes and buildings absorbed fuel oil, rendering them impervious to standard cleanup methods.
Decontamination of such materials is a big challenge. Physico-chemical reasons exist for a significant preference for contaminants to get into the building materials rather than out of them. Flood water makes the problem even worse by "sealing" the contaminant inside the building materials and pushing them deeper.
Kozliak and Seames researched this issue and came up with three novel methods of conducting decontamination: 1) bioremediation (using bacteria to "eat" the contaminants); 2) photoremediation (using ultraviolet light to ‘kill" the contaminants on the surface, thus forcing more contaminant to move toward the surface; and 3) sorption, using a suitable material to dry and "suck out" the contaminants.
-- Jan Orvik, Writer/Editor, University Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 777-3621