Providing Flood Warnings in Iowa with Sensors

Creating the most advanced flood monitoring and forecasting system in the world is no easy task. However, the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) has been fine-tuning their current technique. Deploying more than 200 Senix ToughSonic 30 and ToughSonic 50 ultrasonic sensors to measure water levels in streams across Iowa state, the IFC is leading the way in flood monitoring technology.

The real-time monitoring information is integrated into a sophisticated hydrological model and the data collected from the sensors is automatically sent directly to the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS). System data and river stage hydrographs are shared with emergency management officials and the general public for up to the minute information that is important for making the necessary provisions in case of a flood situation.

Thus, having simple access to the water level data from the sensors available online, Iowa residents and state agencies can easily gain access to dependable, real-time information they need to manage data. in their locales. To see the system in action and to view real-time water levels, click here.

Ultrasonic Sensors Chosen for Ruggedness and Reliability

The IFC were searching for a cost-effective, dependable way to get accurate stream-level readings that could be widely shared in real-time. Daniel Ceynar, the project engineer, decided to experiment with Senix ultrasonic sensors. Ceynar was aware that hydrology research labs at IIHR Hydroscience & Engineering at The University of Iowa had been making good use of these sensors for years, using them specifically for water level measurement. The University of Iowa has long been a global leader in hydrological research.

Senix ultrasonic sensors were chosen because their intuitive design enables simple integration and broad compatibility with other instruments; in this case with the system’s cellular modems, onboard clock, solar panels, etc. The decision to use Senix sensors was encouraged due to their programmability, strength, and the reputation that comes with Senix and their ability to providing excellent engineering support.

“Senix sensors and the Senix technical team have been pivotal to the success of this project,” Ceynar said. What’s more, the IFC and Senix worked collaboratively to design a custom threaded collar for the ToughSonic 50 so that it could be mounted to the IFC Stream Gauge enclosure using the same threading as the ToughSonic 30. That very same custom ToughSonic 50 Rear Mount model has since become a standard product for Senix.

Using a boxcar average of a preset number of individual measurements, the sensors are programmed for a measurement interval of between five minutes and an hour. The system will stay deactivated or on snooze, then when a command is given, the system immediately ‘wakes-up’ to record measurement data and send it to the IFIS. RS-485 serial data communications provide sensor data.

The entire IFIS flood warning network depends on the reliability and accuracy of Senix ToughSonic sensors and the state-of-the-art IFC system. The Senix sensors are housed in watertight stainless steel casings and operate in 0-100% humidity across a temperature range of -40 to 70 °C.

Once construction has been completed in the IFC lab, each singular gauge is then immersed in water for three days to establish that it is watertight and up to the task. This testing has proven to be both practical and astute because, while in the field, numerous sensors have been submerged by flash flooding – once the floodwaters subsided the sensors returned to functionality relaying accurate stream level data without requiring any repairs.

“Once installed, the IFC stream gauges are practically 100% maintenance-free,” Ceynar said. “Most stream gauge sites have not been re-visited since they were installed, 4+ years ago.”

Real-time Water Levels Facilitate Disaster Management

The IFC and the people of Iowa have gained considerable benefit from the system and critical data provided that assists in forecasting floods. Therefore, the state is efficiently managing a precarious situation after flooding has begun thanks to the Senix ToughSonic sensors. “The system—stream gauges and other Hydromet data—is routed through the IFIS where it is regularly used by all levels of government, law enforcement and the general public,” Ceynar said. “We’ve had first-hand experience working with our local emergency management coordinator during floods in 2013 and 2014 where we participated in the daily briefings using IFIS.” The stream gauges establish where the crest of the flood is located and track the crest as it approaches towns, sensitive roads, and bridges.

Before the system being put in place, it was typical for emergency personnel to be dispatched to assess the flooding in threatened locations. But with the stream gauges collecting the data in real-time, instead of tracking flood waters emergency responders can focus on helping people.

See a video of a Stream Stage Sensor in action:

Iowa Flood Center a Model for the World

Officials from other states and countries as far away as Australia have shown great interest in the techniques as going as far as contacting Ceynar and his colleagues directly. The stream gauges are also being monitored by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The State of Iowa is leading the way in flood control monitoring systems that allow everybody from private landowners to emergency personnel to make advanced and well-informed decisions during a flood event. “The IFC is the only flood center in the US, and IFIS is the only system of its kind that we are aware of,” Ceynar said. “We continue our efforts to create a National Flood Center.”

Senix is proud to work with innovative research and educational institutions like the University of Iowa both in the lab and in the field.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Senix Corporation.

For more information on this source, please visit Senix Corporation.

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