Rice University builds flood alert system that could help save lives

HOUSTON – Engineers at Rice University have developed a new flood alert system that can help predict where it could flood and help people safely evacuate before the water gets too high.

“What we do is we take the rain that’s falling, we measure that really, really accurately and we use that to predict the inundation levels,” said Dr. Phil Bedient, with Rice University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Bedient, is the director of the SPPEED Center, Severe Storm Prediction Education and Evacuation from Disaster.

The new system, known as FIRST, the Flood Information Response System, covers several flood-prone areas like Kashmere Gardens, Gulfton and Sunnyside. It focuses on Brays, Sims, Hunting and White Oak Bayous.

“The reason we chose Hunting and the reason we chose Sims was trying to address some of these flooding issues in what I would call the lower economic areas of Houston,” Bedient said. “We’ve put quite a bit of attention on critical care facilities within the system such as nursing homes and hospitals and schools and shelters and that sort of things.”

The system is a radar-based flood assessment, mapping, and early warning system.

During a storm, the radar is used to measure how much rain is falling over each area at any moment.

“After we get above five inches of rain, there will be maps that show up automatically on the website. It’s completely zoomable. It’s like you are within a Google map environment,” Bedient said. “Theoretically, the system, which is a web-based system, will allow the city for example to send out emergency responders. They will know where the big rains are coming, they’ve never known that in the past.”

This same technology has warned hospitals in the Texas Medical Center as much as 2 ½ hours before the water has reached their front doors.

If you would like to check out the maps you can do so at firstcoh.org/first/demo