Laura Ferre, an undergraduate student in geography and environmental sciences at CU Denver, found the importance of her internship project — studying dam vulnerability — suddenly magnified amid last week’s torrential rains.
Multiple dams along Colorado’s Front Range overflowed during the flooding.
Ferre has been an intern in the Dam Safety branch of the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “My project is a spatial analysis of socially vulnerable populations within dam inundation areas,” she said. “The DWR would like to use this analysis to supplement internal decision making around a variety of issues from dam inspection prioritization to emergency action plan grant awards.”
Applying social vulnerability — such as areas with aging populations that may need extra assistance in an evacuation — gives a better idea of the consequence of dam failure, Ferre said. Her work includes critical infrastructure analysis, which includes emergency response, such as police and fire departments, and the built environment, such as roads and power lines. This analysis can help in temporary shelter placement, emergency management plans and future development.
“The rains this week highlight the significance of practical disaster research,” Ferre said. “Social vulnerability research is particularly useful for any level of government or decision makers during all phases of the emergency management cycle: preparedness, rescue, recovery and mitigation. Mapping potential consequences identifies specific neighborhoods that will need assistance the most.”
At CU Denver, Ferre is a research assistant for Deb Thomas and Peter Anthamatten in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences. She said Bill McCormick, chief of dam safety for the Division of Water Resources, believes strongly in interagency cooperation. “Thanks to him I have been very fortunate to discuss my analysis with other federal, state and county departments. Their feedback has been very helpful to make the analysis as meaningful as possible.”