The objective of this Disaster Resilience for Rural Communities (DRRC) collaborative research project is to examine the obstacles to and opportunities for the use of seasonal climate forecasts in flood planning and management in U.S. rural areas, focusing on the 1) characteristics that make scientific and technical information likely to be used by rural practitioners; 2) structure and function of networks of rural users of forecast information and; 3) influence of group decision processes in decision making about how and whether to employ climate forecasts in rural flood management. The approach begins with four case studies of rural regions that have attempted to use seasonal climate information. After that, a national-level survey of stakeholders engaged in flood planning and emergency management in rural areas to investigate experiences with and factors affecting the use of climate information will be implemented. Finally, in-person simulations of local, regional, and state-level stakeholders in two US rural regions to investigate how network features, group biases, and decision structures influence climate forecast use in rural flood planning and management will be conducted. The chief intellectual merit of this project lies in enhancing understanding of the development of trust and collaboration in weak and strong network administrative organization and in extending the literature on emergency management decision-making in tightly-knit urban response networks to dispersed rural pre-disaster planning and mitigation. This work also advances approaches to capture and measure preferences related to characteristics of uncertain information and to compare individual-based stated preferences and group decision making.

Seasonal climate information such as forecasts of El Niño conditions months ahead of time can be used to improve planning and management of weather-related extreme events such as floods. Unfortunately, even when seasonal forecast information appears clear, putting knowledge about likely climate conditions into practice to improve planning for extreme events before they happen poses difficulties. Flood and other emergency managers typically work in situations with tight budgets, and they also must make decisions quickly. In addition, managers may find it difficult to clearly communicate to the public and policymakers the range of possible outcomes from events that are highly uncertain. This may be particularly the case in rural areas, where geographic distances complicate communication and technical expertise disperses more widely than in concentrated urban areas. This project examines whether the way in which forecast information is presented and the way in which those involved in emergency management in rural areas interact with each other influence the ability to use seasonal climate information to improve planning and management to reduce societal losses from floods.

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