Minimizing economic impacts from post-fire debris flows in the western United States

Abstract

For individual burned drainage basins, existing hazard models and readily available data can be combined in a geographic information system to rapidly estimate debris-flow-related damages following a wildfire. The results can then be integrated into an optimization model, whose output guides allocation of emergency management funds and selection of cost-optimized debris-flow management strategies for burned areas consisting of multiple drainage basins. This paper describes methods to identify and value elements-at-risk from a range of possible post-fire debris-flow scenarios, methods to integrate these results with common debris-flow mitigation techniques and best management practices, and methods to apply this information to optimize the mitigation decisions for burned areas. Despite the potential to transform the way hazard managers approach debris-flow mitigation decisions following wildfires, natural hazard and social science management models have not previously been linked in the literature. Results from Santa Barbara (California), Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado), and Colfax/Las Animas Counties (Colorado, New Mexico) study sites indicate that optimization modeling can be used to select natural hazard management methods whose benefit for mitigation of post-fire debris flows can easily outweigh the cost of implementation.

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Acknowledgments

Funding for work described in this paper was provided by the Joint Fire Science Program, National Interagency Fire Center Project 12-2-01-35, and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Grant DGE-1057607. The authors would like to thank Joe Gartner, Dennis Staley, Sue Cannon, and John Michael of the United States Geological Survey for valuable input and guidance in the use of the debris-flow probability, volume, and runout models. The authors would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments, which improved this paper.

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Correspondence to Kevin McCoy.

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McCoy, K., Krasko, V., Santi, P. et al. Minimizing economic impacts from post-fire debris flows in the western United States. Nat Hazards 83, 149–176 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-016-2306-0

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Keywords

  • Debris flow
  • Natural hazard mitigation
  • Hazard management optimization
  • Economic risk
  • Optimal risk management
  • Wildfire