In the last 15 years, many tragedies experienced in the U.S. have involved water. Specifically, too much water.
Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans. Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda devastated Texas. Hurricane Dorian soaked the Carolinas. Flooding events like these affect not only individuals, but business and industry as well. While no areas are immune from the impacts of flooding, urban areas—due to their high concentration of infrastructure, business and industry—are particularly vulnerable. Flooding can cause temporary or permanent shutdowns, disruptions in supply chains, damage to stored data, structure or inventory, and danger to employees.
With a strong foothold in supporting U.S. business before, during and after severe weather events, StormGeo is now working to solve business' underlying issues that enable catastrophic flood impacts.
As StormGeo’s Strategy Development Manager, I was invited to the Urban Flooding Open Knowledge Network Workshop in Raleigh, North Carolina to speak to a consortium of academics from North Carolina State University, the University of Texas, and Texas State University as well as urban flood experts from across the country. Together, they are working to connect the data from urban systems like power grids, stormwater networks, transportation networks and drinking water infrastructure. The goal is to produce digestible information that is available at critical times and will help decision makers anticipate, plan for, avoid and respond to flooding.
To minimize human and economic losses from future urban floods in the U.S., this group is developing an Urban Flood Open Knowledge Network (UFOKN), which will merge the fields of meteorology, water-related engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, systems analysis, controls, machine learning, epidemiology, socioeconomics and transportation together.
Urban areas are incredibly complex and dynamic. Scientists still do not fully understand how different elements of cities interact with one another, so when a catastrophic event like severe flooding occurs, things start breaking down and triggering other failures that were perhaps not predicted. Thus, it is crucial that we try to understand how cities are wired and how to improve them, so that they withstand future catastrophes.
The aim of the UFOKN is to empower and educate decision makers and the general public by providing information on how much flooding can occur from a future event, as well as show the cascading impacts that can happen on natural and engineered infrastructure of an urban area, thus encouraging more effective urban planning and decision-making.
My presentation, 'Urban Flood Open Knowledge Network: A Commercial Weather Provider’s Perspective,' outlined the critical need within the business and industry for timely and accurate flood predictions and assessments. I encouraged the UFOKN to prioritize developing new local and regional flood guidance data streams that enable commercial weather services providers like StormGeo to serve the broadest spectrum of decision makers in business and industry.
The UFOKN will also help StormGeo’s own clients in understanding what to do during a flood and how to reduce damage from future floods. There are many examples wherein having the right data available during a flood is crucial. For example, if you are driving home from work, you need to know which roads are flooded and thus unsafe to take. If you are a first responder, you need to know which neighborhoods to evacuate first. If you are a plant manager, you need to know which of your employees can make it to work and which can’t. If you are a city planner, you need to know how to modernize old cities and design new ones to avoid damage from future floods. The UFOKN will put this information at decision makers' fingertips.
Flooding tends to have a cascading impact on an urban area. People are trapped. Electricity goes out. Schools and commerce shut down. Recovery is long and complicated. Insurance rates go up. As the UFOKN will analyze the previously mentioned complex urban systems, it will better understand flood impacts, as well as how to avoid them or mitigate them in an emergency—saving lives, reducing suffering and safeguarding infrastructure.