In days immediately following Hurricane Katrina, the main reason given for not helping stranded or hungry people was that emergency workers couldn’t get to them due to street flooding. Here in Houston EMS workers face the same problems during bad storms or extended rains. Sharon Nalls is Houston’s Emergency Management Coordinator.
“Historically, when the Houston area has flooding it’s the streets that flood. So it can become very problematic for first responders: fire, police, EMS, public works. Those folks that are trying to get wherever that emergency call is at.”
Help may be on the way. University of Houston Engineering Professor Gino Lim has received almost 2-million dollars from the government to come up with online real time map that will show emergency workers what streets to avoid due to flooding. Lim says creating this map won’t be easy.
“First of all, just because you got 12 inches of rain doesn’t mean that area is flooded. It’s not. So we have to figure out how much rain did it get and how much really flooding do you see from that area.”
Currently if you want to tell how much water is in area you can use sensors, but he says those sensors cost too much to put everywhere. Instead Lim is going to rely on good old fashioned math, an algorithm or mathematical formula. By using Doppler Radar Lim says they should be able to come up with formulas that predict flooding in certain areas based on the amount of rain that has fallen. Once he comes up with the formula, it’ll have to be put to the test.
“Most likely my students and I will go and we’ll our system and when the rain season comes, we’ll go to several areas.”
He says creating the map could take more than two years.
Nalls hadn’t heard about the project, but hopes it’s successful. She says it could prevent some of the mishaps she’s seen in the past during heavy rains or storms.
“We’ve seen ambulances that have ended up in high water in south Houston over off neighborhoods in the 288 area. We’ve had fire vehicles and police cars that have ended up in flood waters. It’s an issue.”
Eventually the map could be available to the general public. Lim says it’ll take a lot of trial and error to perfect the formula. But living in Houston, there will be plenty of rain to practice.