Document Type


Date of Award



Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs (SOPA)

Degree Name

Ph.D. in Urban Planning and Environmental Policy

Committee Chairperson

Earthea Nance

Committee Member 1

Robert Bullard

Committee Member 2

Glenn Johnson

Committee Member 3

Sheryl McCurdy


Drivers, Flood Warning Systems, Flooding, Mitigation, Roadway Safety, Social Norms


From 1959 – 2009, Texas has annually led the nation in the number of flood fatalities. On average the number of deaths in Texas was three times the amount of the second leading state (Sharif, Hossain, Jackson & Bin-Shafique, 2012). Quantitative studies have attempted to construct the definition of when, how and the likelihood that a person dies in a flood event, why they made the fatal decision to drive, and who is particularly vulnerable to making this decision. This dissertation used a qualitative approach to explore this occurrence in a deeper and more meaningful context. This dissertation includes four research questions. What factors govern drivers’ decision-making during a flood? What social norms about driving and flooding contribute to the risk factor decision? What mitigation measures has the local government implemented to prevent driver fatalities during extreme flooding? What experiences from drivers are missing in current Flood Warning Systems (FWS)? This qualitative dissertation used a historical narrative approach to provide a critical case study of fatalities in Harris County, Texas. The selected storms were Great Flood of 1994, Tropical Storm Allison of 2001, Memorial Day Flood of 2015, Tax Day Flood of 2016, Hurricane Harvey of 2017, and Tropical Storm Imelda of 2019. Data was collected from live broadcasts, online and printed media sources, 97 semi-structured interviews, public government documents and reports as well as social media posts and comments from Twitter and Facebook. Street observations were conducted at the known locations where fatalities occurred for those that either died in their car or abandoned a car and died. This research resulted in the creation of a database of the victims demographics and reasons for driving as well as a database creation of street design characteristics at the fatality locations. All fatalities that occurred in Harris County were mapped, including non-vehicle related fatalities. This dissertation concludes that both driver error and road design error contribute to fatalities. Social norms influence the lack of adequate mitigation from local governments and better Flood Warning Systems could prevent deaths from occurring.


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