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Using Google to Warn of Flooding

The flood warning system that protects the Texas Medical Center gets an upgrade. Web-based maps have been added that allow users to be warned about impending floods that could impact the area around the Medical Center. Pat Hernandez has more.


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Experts from Rice University recently unveiled the third generation of their web-based Flood Alert System. The upgrade is possible with a free mapping service provided by Google. It allows users of the internet to keep an eye on developments in the Brays Bayou watershed. Dr Phill Bedient is professor of engineering at Rice University who created the flood alert system, or FAS3.

“We tested this in the big ’94 flood that occurred in Houston. It was a huge flood and the National Weather Service tested that event with the radar. That was the very first event to be tested, and it only, it was off by 50 percent. My colleague Dr. Baxter View at the University of Oklahoma, redid that analysis and, and used what we call a tropical type relationship for the rainfall, and when he did that, the data all fit, we were plus or minus 10 percent, we wrote a paper off of that, and we were off to the races.”

Bedient says people using FAS3 could see their particular street or neighborhood being threatened, and could decide to evacuate before an official announcement is made. Jerry Fowler is a former Rice computer scientist who helped develop the FAS3 system with Bedient. He says it will continue to be upgraded.

“The product will continmue to grow in usefulness, as we are able to put more and more bells and whistles into it.”

Hernandez: “Whe you talk about bells and whistles that this can still pick up?”

Fowler: “Yeah, we drive our decision making off a slightly different picture, and we intend to display that picture where we divide the whole bayou up into three sections, west of Gessner, Main to Gessner and east of Main. That’s the thing that drives our decision making, so we’re gonna display that as well, and give the user an option which one he wants to look at.”

The system contains a detailed database of land and soil types within the 127-mile watershed of Brays Bayou. Nick Fang is a civil and environmental angineer at Rice who helped create FAS3. He says the rainfall data collected predicts how much water will be flowing in the Brays Channel within two hours.

“The system also includes very important engineering components like a model of rainfall information and also information technology as a communication part. So, give them a full understanding on the whole system and plus give them confidence to see how the system will perform during the event.”

A similar flood alert system is being built in Sugar Land, and the creators hope to expand it to other parts of Houston and into the Clear Lake area. You can preview the system at

Pat Hernandez, KUHF News.

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