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Currently showing: Climate/natural disasters > Climate change

16 Aug 18 19:10

Imagine you are sitting at home one night after dinner while a hurricane whips outside your door and rain pounds against your house.  You have the television turned on, watching for updates, but there's nothing useful or specific to your situation.  You pace around the house, checking all the bedrooms, making sure everything is in place and all the windows are closed. You head down to the basement, flip the light switch on, and are horrified at what you see! Water has completely overtaken the room, damaging dozens of items and is continuing to pour in at shocking speeds.  A laptop has been destroyed, your child's game console is soaked, and an iPad is saturated and unrecoverable.  You're left scrambling, wondering how this could happen.   "Wouldn't it be nice if I had more warning ahead of time?"  Well, we might not be too far away...

While many flood sensors already exist for homes or businesses, many of them are not able to give advanced warning. Sensors tend to be able to let an owner know when water has penetrated the structure, but can't always indicate how much flooding will take place.  However, Rice University's "SSPEED Center" has been operating a flood warning system on Brays Bayou (a river in Houston that is a major tributary of Buffalo Bayou) since 1997.  This system collects data from rainfall radar and uses computer generated models to continuously update predictions of future flood levels. During Hurricane Harvey, it accurately predicted the flood levels in Brays Bayou two to three hours before the bayou peaked. While this type of warning is obviously not enough to save a home, it gives time for an owner to move to higher ground, gather important valuables and documents, or move critical equipment or inventory to safety.

The warning system is funded by various hospitals in the Texas Medical Center, which is the largest medical complex in the world. During Hurricane Harvey for example, the medical complex was able to activate emergency measures, such as installing temporary flood barriers and closing doors to the underground tunnel system. These measures are able to help the medical center avoid millions in flood damage annually. Houston is very susceptible to flood, and this same technology can be used to help businesses and homes prepare for flooding there. 

You know those generic text messages we all get warning of us a potential flood? Those are nice, but what does anyone actually do when they receive that? Most of us do nothing, because the message is fairly useless for a lot of us.  However, the SSPEED center can give more useful and specific information to a property owner. Details include what is currently happening and what will happen depending on where exactly your structure is located. Specific neighborhoods are targeted. Additionally, these alerts can prove even more imperative to first responders and emergency personnel. One of the biggest issues cities have to navigate is the best route to take when responding to an emergency. Roads are flooded and closed, trees are down, and visibility can be near zero. With this product, it's possible to collect information from past events, link it to rainfall levels presently, and predict which roads will be passable or not during the current event. This would give emergency personnel real time updates of where to go and where to avoid while responding to a catastrophe. 

The final area where this can come into play is individual homes. How much a home will flood depends a lot on elevation. However, how many homeowners actually know the elevation of their dwelling, or how elevated it needs to be in order to avoid significant flood damage? The SSPEED system can gather data and determine how much flooding a neighborhood should expect to get during a particular storm, and then pass this information to homeowners and surveyors. Surveyors can then inspect homes and inform a homeowner the risks they face, and modifications can be made. Additionally, when new homes are being built, we can use this information gathered to get a better sense for how elevated a foundation should be built. 

Of course no amount of preparation can completely mitigate the risk which is why it's also crucial to have flood insurance in place to get back on your feet quicker if disaster does strike. Advancements in technology means the door is now open to the private flood insurance market for the first time and it's encouraging to see deals being done in the market to help better protect communities.

Flooding continues to become a significant peril for both home and business owners. The more precautions and risk management we can take, the less damage we will all suffer during a storm. And with the SSPEED Flood Alert in your home, perhaps you can save that unattended iPad from washing away in the next hurricane.

Category: Climate/natural disasters: Climate change, Disaster risk, Floods/storms, Resilience, Other


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