GIS Technology Helps Flood-Ravaged Colorado

SEDGWICK, CO - Sept. 18, 2013 - The South Platte River floods and covers Highway 138 west of Sedgwick, Colo. approximately 170 miles northeast of Denver. (Photo provided by Sedgwick County resident)

The news coming out of the Colorado floods is frightening, with at least 10 dead, 140 unaccounted for, at least 1,800 homes destroyed, and property damage estimates at $2 billion and likely to grow. Torrential rains soaked a 130-mile stretch of the Colorado Rockies. Eventually the mountains could absorb no more water and the rest went funneling down into populated areas.

Important to the rescue and recovery efforts are geographic information systems (GIS) and other geospatial technologies. Officials, first responders, and emergency personnel can use software, remote sensors, camera equipment, and other tools to more efficiently analyze the situation on the ground so they can operate effectively. Here are just some examples of how proper GIS training can help bring relief to those in need.

Google Maps shows regions northwest of Denver that are most effected. Users can filter to see road conditions, alternative route options and shelter locations.

Interactive mapping
Maps are important to victims and workers alike, but are only as good as the information they contain. A static paper or online map can’t tell you when roads have been washed away. An example of the GIS technology combining interactivity and real-time information updates is 2013 Colorado Floods maps from Google.

Users can choose to see road conditions, including road closures, alternate routes, shelter locations, traffic reports, and weather conditions and alerts. Victims can more readily get themselves to safety while relief workers can identify passable routes to particular areas.

Getting industry up and running
Colorado is home to some significant oil and gas drilling. Many fields are flooding, raising a number of concerns. Not only could the impact badly hurt the economy, and therefore have a negative effect on recovery, but water runoff could mix with sewage, farming pesticides, and gasoline from flooded stations can cause environmental hazards.

SEDGWICK, CO – Sept. 18, 2013 – A fenced field alongside Highway 138 damaged by flooding water from the South Platte River in Sedgwick County, Colo. (Photo provided by Sedgwick County resident)

The Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission is analyzing the extent of damage to oil and gas drilling operations. The organization is “aggressively assessing the impacts of the flood to oil and gas locations by using GIS mapping to identify impacted locations and sending response teams to inspect locations north and south of the South Platte River,” according to a report in Oil & Gas Journal.

What’s needed going forward
GIS has become a standard tool in disaster relief and remediation efforts. And yet, actions taken after a calamity has struck are limited in what they can do. GIS, properly used, could help future problems from becoming as bad as they otherwise would.

“In spite of the detailed digital terrain models that form the basis of many complex hydrological models, the magnitude of the recent floods in northern Colorado demonstrates the need to develop even more sophisticated approaches to understanding water movement and flood events,” says Stephen McElroy, GIS program chair at American Sentinel University. “Skilled geospatial professionals can provide the expertise required to address natural disaster prevention and mitigation strategies as well as to assist with relief and recovery efforts,” says Dr. McElroy.

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