Date of Award

January 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Geography & Geographic Information Science

First Advisor

Dr. Paul E. Todhunter


Floods are the most common natural hazard in the U.S.; each year they leave communities in destruction and despair. Despite the efforts of emergency managers, local government officials, and scientists, flood damages in the U.S. have increased significantly over the past 100 years. It is increasingly important to evaluate a community's risk and vulnerability to flooding in order to develop efficient emergency operation plans, and to improve upon flood management practices.

Communities in the Red River Valley of North Dakota have dealt with flood hazards for a very long time. In particular, Grand Forks, North Dakota, Fargo, North Dakota, Moorhead, Minnesota, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota have experienced extensive flooding for more than 100 years. The Grand Forks community experienced one of the worst floods in the Red River Valley in the spring of 1997. The purpose of this study is to evaluate flood risk and vulnerability at Grand Forks from 1990-2010 prior to and following completion of the $420 million levee system constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This study identifies the extent to which flood risk has actually been reduced over time. A place vulnerability approach is used as the organizing framework to provide a quantitative spatial assessment of flood risk. To date, few research studies have examined place vulnerability for non-coastal communities and for flood hazard applications. Existing place vulnerability studies have also been static and not considered changes in vulnerability over time. This study aims to fill multiple gaps in the literature by providing a quantitative and dynamic analysis of flood hazard risk and vulnerability over time in a community that has experienced catastrophic loss to flooding in the past.

Results show that there has been an increase in place vulnerability of flood risk from 1990-2000 but a slight decrease from 2000-2010. This suggests that various structural and non-structural strategies have been helpful in reducing flood hazards. However, there continues to be residual risk, and areas throughout Grand Forks are still at risk from flooding. As Grand Forks increases in population in the coming years, various social factors could increase social vulnerability and place vulnerability.