Pilot project to keep motorists away from flooded roads succeeds in Norfolk and could spread to Hampton Roads – Daily Press

NORFOLK – Traffic and high water mapping technology in Australia has shown enough promise to help Norfolk overcome its flooding problems during a 9-month pilot project the city has decided to expand and continue to use, just in time for hurricane season.

The city joined Waze for Cities in 2017 to gain access to user-reported real-time traffic data, which included flooded road reports, but the city wanted to see if the app could go beyond flood reports. eyewitnesses and instead tell users which roads would be. flooded in advance. For the past 9 months, he has been part of a pilot program testing the first-ever flood mapping integration technology in the Waze navigation app.

FloodMapp, an Australian live flood modeling company, has designed software that can integrate rainfall and tide data into a real-time model of water levels and map it onto satellite imagery of the city. . This data would then be sent to Waze which would populate its map with icons indicating flood risks and closures. A “closure” is triggered by water 1 foot deep or deeper, which is the city standard for an impassable road.

When Norfolk experienced major flooding in May, with higher than normal high tides combined with heavy rain and wind, the software was able to automatically redirect Waze users around roads closed by flooding – a first for the technology.

“This kind of integration of a real-time hydraulic flooding model and real-time analytics capability to predict water on roads and then integrate that into road closures and hazards in real-time in Waze – this has never been done in the world before,” said Juliette Murphy, CEO. by FloodMapp. “It’s really the first time we’ve seen this technology piloted, in Norfolk, and we see that it works very well.”

Using the rerouting feature in May meant the city didn’t have to send staff to assess road conditions or put up road closure signs.

The software has sparked international interest, and other cities in Hampton Roads are also looking to implement it, according to Paul Robinson, executive director of RISE Resilience Innovations, a Norfolk-based nonprofit that challenges businesses to solving resiliency issues through technology and funded the city’s initial pilot program.

Waze works by allowing users to report road conditions and factor that information into the routes it presents to others. It then prompts users to forward previous reports in that area to confirm whether a hazard still exists or not. Since the Flood Detection Element was implemented and running in October 2021, Waze users have given a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ on flood risk around 5,800 times to the roughly 2,700 individual flooded roads reported during that time, according to Murphy.

This level of user feedback, while not presenting a full picture of how many people have benefited from Waze’s rerouting feature or hazard reports, is rare for data scientists, allowing them to better understand the accuracy of their models, Murphy said.

“It’s pretty amazing to me to see the volume of activating the tool and reporting flood forecasts and flood risk,” she said.

Waze has declined to share app usage data with The Virginian-Pilot.

Kyle Spencer, Norfolk’s director of resilience, said that prior to this pilot program, Norfolk and Hampton Roads relied on a system of static sensors across the jurisdiction to make decisions about road and valve closures. He had already identified 50 key locations where they would have installed sensors.

There are shortcomings in this approach. For one thing, it’s more expensive. The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission purchased 20 sensors for about $200,000, and they cost about $20,000 to maintain each year, according to Spencer. The cost of the FloodMapp software is a fraction of the $50,000 per year the City of Norfolk approved for its 2022-23 budget.

But the sensors only alert for the area they’re placed in, which may not provide the information needed to know whether or not a road should be closed to vehicular traffic, Spencer said.

“That’s the benefit this software gives us is that it creates this flood depth flood layer and we can use that to geospatially identify anything that’s underwater instead of ‘one place,’ Spencer said.

FloodMapp data can be used to provide more nuanced and actionable insights into what high water forecasts mean for neighborhoods, Murphy said.

“So there’s tidal flooding predicted…to reach 5.6 feet but if you live in a building what does that mean on your street? Because the topography and the height of the land and the height of your asset are different everywhere,” Murphy said.

FloodMapp uses a combination of topographic data, tidal stream gauges, river and stream gauges, precipitation observation, and precipitation forecast data to simulate tidal and precipitation induced flooding. Murphy said they compared their predictions with observed floodplains using satellite imagery, crowd-sourced photographic observations and high-water marks and achieved 96% accuracy.

Along with helping residents stay safe during hurricane-level events, Spencer sees technology’s ability to alleviate the daily “nuisance” of flooding as the biggest impact on residents’ lives.

“It brings you to your football practice, to your doctor’s appointment when it’s high tide and there’s flooding in your neighborhood – for me, that’s where we’re really going to see a lot benefits,” Spencer said.

The software will also help Norfolk build systems to drain floodwaters and plan the construction of pumping stations, he added.

After the city decided to relaunch the program, Spencer’s goal was to have no disruption in service between the end of pilot program funding on June 30 and the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, but Wednesday, he said the service was not yet operational due to ongoing paperwork. The subscription includes access to other apps that run in the background of Waze and help city officials and emergency management personnel prepare for and respond to flooding.

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Norfolk emergency response personnel reviewed FloodMapp’s functionality during the pilot program and are discussing how to use it to help them do their jobs. Murphy said emergency officials in Australia used the programs to give 24-hour evacuation notice to people in the path of a flood, but in some flood-prone river basins they were able to provide up to 10 days notice.

Spencer said the technology is part of the city’s broader effort to prepare for the increase in extreme weather events expected in the coming years due to climate change.

Infrastructure upgrades, such as surge barriers and floodgates, are underway in Norfolk to protect the city from flooding. In the meantime, Spencer said using the Waze app is “kind of like a ‘band aid’ – a short-term tool in the toolbox for us to function and be a successful city.”

Gavin Stone, [email protected]

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