Infrastructure protectionNew tool offer better flooding protection

Published 4 May 2012

There are more than 84,000 dams across the United States, and millions of Americans live behind them; if these dams and levees were to fail and unleash catastrophic flooding, as some did in New Orleans in 2005, a high price will be paid in life lost and property destroyed; DHS S&T and partners develop new software systems for fast simulation of catastrophic flooding

All over the United States, millions of Americans still live behind dams or levees, and if these were to fail and unleash catastrophic flooding, as some of these dams and levees did in New Orleans in 2005, life and property might once again pay the price.

A team led by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has been looking for answers to the problem of the vulnerability of areas behind dams and levees, has come up with computer software which assess this vulnerability.

When dam and levee owners and emergency planners want to know what flood water over a breached levee or dam may do as it spreads, they must resort to technical specialists who use numerical modeling software to solve complex equations which describe how water will spread over a particular terrain. Through complex equations, specialists calculate how water will move around physical objects such as hills, buildings, vegetation, bridges, and railroads. With such factors in play, calculating and modeling flood inundation caused by a dam failure can take a lot of time and resources and keep emergency planners and dam owners up at night worrying.

DHS says that now, powerful software tools have been combined into a Web application, combining speed with sophisticated technology to visualize a flood, address consequences, and train emergency responders.

This new tool is also fast. If a flood would take twenty-four hours to inundate downstream areas, this software tool could potentially model the inundation in less than twenty-four minutes.

S&T combined the skills of several agency experts and academics better to understand what the owners and operators would need from the software. S&T worked with dam experts at the Office of Infrastructure Protection (which serves as the Dams Sector-Specific Agency) within the DHSNational Protection and Programs Directorate to develop the flood simulation tool, and with computational hydroscientist Mustafa Altinakar and his team experts at the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Computational Hydroscience and Engineering (UM-NCCHE).

This effort was funded by S&T’s Southeast Region Research Initiative (SERRI) and managed by S&T’s Infrastructure Protection and Disaster Management Division’s Mike Matthews. The key component of the project is DSS-WISE (Decision Support System for Water Infrastructural Security) and the underlying flood simulator, CCHE2D-FLOOD, which provides unmatched number-crunching speed. The flood simulator can replicate flooding caused by any cataclysm less fateful than the Great Deluge: a breached levee, a failed dam, a surging tide,