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Federal Grant Will Help KGS Researcher Develop Landslide Models, Risk Assessments in Eastern Kentucky

By Michael Lynch

Matt Crawford, a landslide researcher with the Kentucky Geological Survey, inspects landslide damage to a house in Boyd County, Kentucky.

A new, three-year project funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will allow the Kentucky Geological Survey (KGS), a research center within the University of Kentucky, to create landslide susceptibility models and risk assessments for communities in the Big Sandy Area Development District of Eastern Kentucky. Landslide researcher Matt Crawford, who will lead the project, will also use the funding to work with local officials in the five counties of the district, helping them adopt strategies for reducing landslide risks to buildings and infrastructure and improve response and recovery for landslide events.

“I was super excited when news about the grant came in. The timing was perfect,” said Crawford, who has spent the last few years compiling a statewide landslide inventory database, conducting site-specific monitoring projects and using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data sets to map landslides.

The $300,212 grant from FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation grant program came through Kentucky’s Division of Emergency Management. It will be matched by $100,196 from KGS. Crawford had updated the landslide assessment section of Kentucky’s statewide mitigation plan in a project completed by KGS earlier this year for the state agency. But this project will be much more detailed.

"We’ll be working with a smaller area, a different scale geology, higher resolution slope maps and other data sets," Crawford said. "We’ll also fine-tune the methodology with model inputs like slope, curvature and wetness indexes and all of these derivatives you can do with the LiDAR data. I hope we come up with some robust techniques that result in meaningful details of landslide susceptibility."

Crawford also plans to develop probabilistic landslide models to determine which models work for Kentucky with what is known about landslides and soil properties here.

His first task will be to meet the local officials to explain his project and ask for their input. Local officials have the responsibility to enact any mitigation practices or projects in their jurisdictions. Crawford, who recently completed his doctorate focusing on landslide processes and conditions that lead to slope movement, wants to help them recognize the costs and dangers of landslides in Kentucky, particularly on steep landscapes in Eastern Kentucky.

“Direct costs of landslides rival flood costs in Kentucky," he said. "We haven’t had a landslide fatality in the state in a long time, if ever, but we see damaged or destroyed homes all the time and near-injury situations. To do research work with innovative data sets, while also conducting outreach with communities, makes this the perfect project for the KGS and for the university."

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