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article imageUsing the IoT in flood management can save lives

By Karen Graham     Sep 22, 2017 in Technology
In the past month, we have seen multiple examples of the damage flooding can do to a community, regardless of its size. These events have fueled the drive to develop better technologies to predict and alert officials to flooding dangers.
Officials with the Homeland Security Department’s Science and Technology (S&T) First Responders Group (FRG) have been talking about the need for a better warning system for communities prone to floods and flash-flood events. It would have to be a system that could monitor water levels over the long term and also issue an alert when flood parameters were reached.
In 2016, the S&T partnered with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) on two flood management technologies projects. The first project focused on the use of new, less-expensive Internet of things (IoT) sensors, while the second project focused on geo-targeting alerts that aim to help first responders to better respond to flood events, resulting in saving more lives and property faster.
“Part of the project is to develop low-cost flood sensors that would let us collect more data from more places,” said John Miri, LCRA chief administrative officer. “The flood sensors we have now are great, but they’re very expensive, so that means we only have 270 of them and 600 miles of river."
Vehicles lie abandoned beside the Barker Reservoir after the Army Corp of Engineers started to relea...
Vehicles lie abandoned beside the Barker Reservoir after the Army Corp of Engineers started to release water into the Clodine district as Hurricane Harvey caused heavy flooding in Houston, Texas on August 29, 2017
IoT low-cost sensor Project
The LCRA is based in Austin, Texas and has a lot of experience in dealing with one of the riskiest flood areas in the nation, Central Texas, with its steep terrain, shallow soil and high rainfall rates. The LCRA had been using scientific-grade sensors that have full weather station capabilities -- the same kind the National Weather Service uses. They measure how fast water is moving and use hydrological models to figure out what the water may do based on their touch points.
However, the S&T project would use lower-cost sensors that measure changes in water level. “Those are a little less sophisticated of a metric, but if you can get a sensor for $1,000 instead of $25,000 or $50,000, that adds a lot to the picture of how you’re collecting data,” Miri said.
To that end, the IoT low-cost flood inundation sensors project is working on a sensor technology that monitors flood-prone areas in real-time and detects and alerts officials, industry, and citizens to potential threats. The FRG sought out three small business partners, Evigia Systems, Inc, Physical Optics Corporation, and Progeny Systems Corporation, to design a system of the low-cost sensors.
Visualization of section of Sierra Nevada  forest structure developed by the SNAMP  Spatial Team usi...
Visualization of section of Sierra Nevada forest structure developed by the SNAMP Spatial Team using Lidar data.
University of California Cooperative Extension Forestry
The geo-targeted smart alerts project
With geo-targeted alerts, it is easier for mayors or city emergency operations coordinators to plan evacuations in areas floods are most likely to hit without needing to physically assess the area. The project is developing a software technology to collect this data from flood sensors, analyze it and send it as geo-targeted alerts to the individuals who are affected by the event including the public, first responders, and emergency managers.
Folks often don't realize the full extent of what goes into analyzing and creating a situational awareness of flood threats. Not only are weather conditions a critical factor, but terrain contours and surface permeability, along with precise mapping and changes in land development also play a role.
The point is, traditional surveying is not only time-consuming but expensive. Today, we have technologies like Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) that drive down hazard mapping costs, increase accuracy and speed-up production.
Floodwaters on Telephone Road in Houston on August 30
Floodwaters on Telephone Road in Houston on August 30
Thomas B. Shea, AFP/File
The use of the newer technologies, along with historical satellite imagery all goes into the data banks to be analyzed in creating an up to date real-time flood alert. This part of the project will be in the hands of Physical Optics Corp. They will develop the platform for a real-time flood forecasting and reporting system.
“What we’re hoping -- if we can accomplish this vision of the geo-targeted alerting -- is that mayors or city officials don’t have to make an all-or-nothing decision,” Miri said. “They can use micro-targeting and a more sophisticated computer system to say, ‘What if we just started evacuating only the people who were really facing a high risk of danger and only 10,000 people every three hours so that the roads aren’t clogged up?"
More about IoT, Sensors, flood management, Dhs, geotargeted
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