Real-time flood monitoring system expected to help state's first-responders and save lives

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Real-time flood monitoring systemTorrential weather like hurricanes and tropical storms tend to cause flooding in many low land areas in the state. The unknown conditions of South Carolina rural roads during the storms may delay the arrival of first responders to an emergency, which, along with other circumstances such as the severity of pre-existing health conditions, could determine a victim’s fate – life or death.

To safely and quickly get first responders to an emergency, scientists in the 1890 Research and Extension Program at SC State University have developed a monitoring system designed to predict in real-time what roadways will flood while a storm is occurring.

“In emergency situations, it is vital that response personnel have the necessary resources to get to a crisis,” said Dr. Tom Whitney, an 1890 researcher and civil and mechanical engineering technology professor. “Our system will be an advantageous tool in facilitating a quicker response time for first responders during a bad storm. We know that the sooner they arrive to a scene and are able to administer aid, a person with life threatening injuries will have a better chance of survival.”

The system is similar to GPS devices found in many vehicles. The information transmitted to the device is based on already existing technology. Researchers combine historical flood data with geographic information systems and hydrology models, similar to storm-tracking devices used by meteorologists. Just like in-car navigational devices, emergency personnel would view a screen with visual markers that show the gradual flooding of roads during a storm. First responders could then identify an alternate route to get to the crisis. A Web site is also being developed and is expected to be available to the public mid-August.

“The historical data that is currently available just indicates where flooding has previously occurred. We are taking our system one step further by incorporating real-time technology that will pinpoint where an area is flooding as the storm occurs,” said Dr. Stephen Katzberg, adjunct professor in the civil and mechanical engineering department.

The system was developed as a result of a three-year 1890 Research funded project entitled, “A Real-Time GIS/Hydrology Flood Warning System for First Responders in Rural Areas.”

Now in the project’s final year, researchers will begin Nov.1 to deploy the system in selected counties, through a partnership with the Lower Savannah Council of Governments, a regional organization which coordinates cooperative development of six county governments: Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun and Orangeburg.

The Board of Directors of the Lower Council, comprised largely of elected officials, approved the deployment in a recent board meeting. Members are enthusiastic about the potential benefits the system will provide to emergency responders. The system will also be utilized in transit vehicles operated by the different providers within the region.

“The COG is eager to participate in this project with SC State University. Dr. Whitney and his staff have worked closely with Lower Savannah COG on other transit related projects in the Orangeburg and Calhoun County areas and this will be an enhancement to those efforts,” said Wayne Rogers, executive director of Lower Savannah.

Researchers hope to expand the system by working with other municipalities and emergency responder agencies to equip all emergency vehicles in the state with the devices. Eventually, the team wants to install the equipment in school buses, public transit vehicles, personal cars and mobile phones.

In preparation for what researchers say will be a much needed tool in the future, SC State students are learning about the theories and applications that devise the system while studying Applications of GIS and GPS, a core course in the Master of Science transportation program.

Along with Whitney and Katzberg, the research team includes Dr. Yuanchang Xie, assistant professor; Dr. Di-Wen Chen, associate professor; Maria Hubbard, senior research analyst, all from the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering Technology, and Otukile Lekote and Dirk Francis, both graduate students in the Master of Science in transportation program.

For more information on real-time flood system research, contact Dr. Whitney at (803) 536-8948 or