With North Carolina in the heart of hurricane season, and Hurricane Maria bringing flooding to the coast this week, what does the state do to prepare for flooding before the hurricanes even form down south?
David Key, a division manager with ESP Associates, works with state Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to map out floodplains across the state, and even track flooding in real time during extreme weather.
The state flood mapping system, which is open to the public, is called FIMAN, or the Flood Inundation and Mapping Alert Network.
“We’ve all seen in the past, and especially even last fall with Hurricane Matthew, the wind is bad, the storm surge is bad, but North Carolina is prone to having storms stall over our eastern counties and even our western counties, the storms come in from the gulf, and drop a lot of rain over a short period of time which can cause devastating flooding like we saw in late October of last year,” Key said. “North Carolina Emergency Management has, in my opinion, one of the most robust flood warning and flood mapping programs in the nation. Its an award winning site that they’ve ben working on for the past I’d say maybe 10 years and it has had a major overhaul in the last couple years.”
FIMAN is useful for Emergency Management in the state because it can help assist the state in deciding where to direct needed resources but also for private citizens who have to travel during flooding to find out where there is likely to be high water.
“It’s a public site that is open to the public and to planners and to emergency management officials and it provides not only information about the rivers and how high they are but it also provides real time flood inundation mapping for selected areas and estimates of the impacts coupled with forecasted information every six hours for 72 hours ahead of the time that the information is viewed.”
Key said that FIMAN also works to improve the way the public understands flood information, saying that in the past the public has not been given easily digestible information, reducing its use to them.
“Historically flood information has been conveyed to the public in terms that it is hard for them to understand, you may see nationwide stories where they talk about a certain river site or river gauge as they call it, is going to peak four feet above flood stage,” he said. “Well most people don’t understand what flood stage is and they definitely don’t understand what four feet above flood stage is and the beautiful thing about North Carolina’s FIMAN system is it shows users on the site how far the floodplain will extend beyond the river, where the roads will be closed, what buildings will be impacted, and it shows you on a map.”
Key said that the software can be used to show if your house is in danger or, in the age of smartphones, if you are in danger wherever you happen to be when the severe weather comes.
“So you can find out if your house will be affected or if you are in harms way,” Key said. “Just communicating to someone that a river is going to peak four feet above flood stage really doesn’t give them the information they need to take action and that’s the beautiful thing abut some of the technology that is in the FIMAN system, it shows where it is now and where the flood waters are going.”
Key said that the FIMAN system was used very successfully last October when Hurricane Matthew caused massive flooding in the state that is still having lasting effects in the eastern part of our state.
“It was used during Matthew, it was well received during Matthew in the NC Emergency Operations Center, sometimes referred to as the EOC,” Key said. “Real time during the disaster to know where to direct responders, to know what to alert the public to is valuable; local media picked up the website to show people where the flooding was.”
Key shared these comments in an interview on the What Matters in North Carolina podcast found here.