Synopsis: Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States. However, with proper warning and emergency protocols in place, floods can be managed rather than endured. Communities and policy makers need to be able to predict and prepare for flooding in the long term, while protecting their communities in real time. Mapping of areas of flood risk, communities, and evacuation routes is crucial to preparing and addressing the threat of flooding.
AppGeo is using our expertise in GIS to analyze and improve how we deal with natural disasters. This webinar (recorded on June 23, 2021) brings together Morgen Healy, Vice President of Services at AppGeo, Matt Hiland, Account Executive and Consultant, and Aaron Doucett, Sales Engineer and GIS analyst from AppGeo to discuss the challenges and potential for GIS use in flood control.
The Dangers of Flooding
Doucett: “The reaction is really going to vary when confronted with a 1% scenario. A 100 year flood sounds like a far off problem, but in reality you do the math and that’s well over a 50% chance of occurring in any 100 year period. These odds aren’t static, they’re constantly changing. So within the lifetime of you or your children, it’s more likely than a coin flip odds. That puts it in a little different perspective. For many areas of the United States it’s not a question of if they are going to flood, but when.”
Flooding causes billions of dollars of damage every year and affects huge parts of our country. However, the preparation for these flood events is often left to local communities, who may not have the proper resources to prepare themselves. These differences in capability and flood risk mean that communities need different strategies and solutions to address the threat of flooding.
Walk, Jog, Run
Walk – Data Collection
Hiland: “Walking is the first step in this journey, and that starts with collecting and organizing your flood related data so you can assess it and understand it. This can be a big task, making that data available to the public and stakeholders so they too can understand your data will be a key aspect of the community outreach and engagement aspects of the flood planning process. Fortunately, you probably already have some data that you can bring together that will help even if it wasn’t specifically out together for flood risk assessment. Things such as the base maps that you have, google maps, partial data, stormwater infrastructure and so forth.”
Because communities have different levels of preparation and different levels of risk, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Walk represents a starting point for flood planning and management efforts. Ensuring that your community can understand and access the information it needs both before and during a disaster situation is essential. AppGeo can help you integrate your data into an accessible and intuitive flood data center that can be shared securely with outside actors and the public. You can also supplement your data with outside data from non-profits like Floodfactor, or governmental organizations like FEMA or the CDC. Encourage community participation and assistance with your data collection and organization.
Jog – Data Analysis
Hiland: “Once you’ve brought all these data together and become comfortable with walking, you can begin to jog by analyzing the data to identify specific areas of need. For example, you can use something like the abutters tool in MapGeo to identify people or structures within a given distance of a specific issue.”
Using the data that you have collected and organized, work with the local community and harness their knowledge to increase preparedness for a flood event. Knowing what areas are at the most risk is vital to any sort of emergency response. Part of what makes flooding unique is that it does not impact an entire area at the same time, and may even leave certain parts of an area untouched. As a result, not everyone requires evacuation or the same level of emergency response in a flood event. Some areas should be prioritized over others because they will be impacted first, impacted more heavily, have a more vulnerable population, or contain vital infrastructure.
Using public data sets and other sources of data to identify high risk and low risk areas should be the first use of the data collected during the walk step. For example, using MapGeo we can import the CDC vulnerability index data to identify particularly vulnerable communities, such as elderly or sick people. Then overlaying the locations of these vulnerable communities with flood data gives us a more accurate picture of where emergency services will be most necessary. Just looking at elevation or critical infrastructure locations cannot give us the full picture of how our communities will respond to a natural disaster.
Run – Prediction and Prevention
Healy: “The Texas Water Development Board is focused on all aspects of flooding in the state of Texas, including planning and preparation, mitigation and prevention, as well as response and public support during and after a flood event. AppGeo has worked with TWDB for several years on various geospatial projects. In 2019, we worked with them on a proof of concept project to demonstrate the value of building a centralized flooding information resource for the state of Texas. We focused on activities and questions that need to be answered before a flooding event occurs, such as understanding what areas are likely to flood based on various water levels, estimating property damages and population impacted for different flood scenarios, and viewing real time weather conditions and alerts for upcoming weather events. The overarching goal of this project was to build a simple platform that supported some of these key questions in a really simple way, we wanted non-technical users to be able to get access to this information.”
The most important part of any disaster management project is communicating information to the public. Only by keeping ordinary people informed can flood management be truly effective. If there is confusion about what to do or where people should go, flood management plans fall apart quickly. In Texas, by providing people with more information and the ability to assess their own risk through the FloodSMART program, both policy makers and people on the ground can make more better decisions and stay safe.
Want to learn more about how flooding data can help you? Listen to our “Prepare, Predict, Protect – Mapping Approaches to Flood Readiness and Resiliance – https://www.appgeo.com/webinar-predict-prepare-protect-mapping-approaches-to-flood-readiness-and-resilience/