New tool offer better flooding protection

a tsunami - even water waves caused by massive landslides.

In 2010, when one-fifth of Pakistan’s land was underwater, hydraulic engineers at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) used DSS-WISE to help the country reallocate resources. Time was essential, and to achieve its unprecedented speed, the “DSS-WISE guys,” as Altinakar affectionately calls them, use several methods to ensure success. First, DSS-WISE selectively prioritizes affected regions. It also processes only the model’s “skeleton,” or wireframe, while applying the “skin” afterward. Finally, it divides the flood path model into tens of millions of geometric cells, using parallel processing to parcel them out to separate processors.

The other critical piece of the puzzle is the Dams Sector Analysis Tool, or DSAT. This Web-based application, developed by the Dams Sector-Specific Agency in collaboration with USACE Headquarters’ Office of Homeland Security, which co-sponsored the development of DSAT, is a one-stop shop where dam owners and operators have secure access to state-of-the-art analytical capabilities within a user-friendly graphical environment. Dam owners and operators use algorithms in DSAT to identify and prioritize the most critical dams within their portfolios. Considering that there are more than 84,000 dams across the United States, this is no easy task. DSAT also incorporates a state-of-the art geospatial viewer that provides powerful query capabilities as well as access to real-time information (earthquakes, weather, etc.).

DHS says that the DSAT interface is intuitive and mastered with little training. With DSAT, a dam owner or operator can prepare the input data required for the flood simulation using DSS-WISE. For example, to characterize a potential dam failure scenario, operators would define the reservoir, identify the main dam, note structures using satellite imagery, and specify the type failure to be considered: a “sudden and complete failure” or a “gradual and partial breaching.” DSAT does the rest — drawing data from the National Inventory of Dams (NID), maintained by the USACE. The data are then bundled into a data file and emailed to a dedicated server at Ole Miss, where the simulation is run. When the simulation ends, the server automatically notifies the user, who may then upload the results on DSAT, where they are rendered onto a map.

It works similarly to Apple’s Siri,” says Altinakar, referring to the iPhone’s intelligent digital assistant. “There’s no way all that processing could occur in the user’s computer - or phone — so it’s handed off to an external server. It looks simple to the consumer, but I assure you, it’s not.”

The two software systems — DSS-WISE and DSAT — are both effective enough to stand on their own, but their integration into a powerful system elevates the capacity for flood simulation. The DSAT geospatial viewer includes a function called DSS-WISE Prep. Select your dam on a map, fill in a few facts, direct DSAT how high the reservoir will be when the flood starts, and click Begin. The request is bundled into a data file and automatically sent to the DSS-WISE flood simulator. As the simulation unfolds, the consumer will not see heavy activity but will immediately receive automatic progress reports by e-mail.

The DSS-Wise Prep module was launched on the DSAT portal on 20 February, and days later, it welcomed its first user, delivering results in just fifteen minutes. By March, queries poured in from dam owners, state dam safety officials, and emergency managers in seven states — each looking to lower costs, work faster, and make sounder planning decisions.

DHS notes that as with all SERRI projects, flood modeling projects have combined science and technology with validated operational approaches to solve local and regional problems that have a national impact. The department says this powerful software is now available to dam owners and emergency planners.