Let’s raise a cool glass to U-M’s civil and environmental engineers who are creating a remote, real-time network of water sensors on the streams and rivers of Macomb County. The network allows local NGOs, government officials, river users, and decision-makers to observe and adapt to changes in flow dynamics across seasons, conditions, and long-term climate changes. Images are by Marcin Szczepanski, College of Engineering.
Students and faculty in U-M’s Digital Water Lab at the College of Engineering (COE) are collaborating with experts in the Center for Social Solutions (CSS) in the College of Literature, Science & the Arts to measure and better understand flooding in vulnerable communities.
American businesses are expected to lose $50 billion in output in 2022 alone due to flooding, says COE’s Branko Kerkez, Arthur F. Thurnau associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. Flooding creates more damage than earthquakes and forest fires put together, he says.
Timing is everything
When installed throughout a watershed, these cost-effective devices will provide researchers with greater situational awareness of a flooding event in real time.
Response and recovery
The partnership with COE’s Kerkez and his team emphasizes the connection between data and humans, says Julie Arbit, research associate in the Center for Social Solutions (CSS).
“We’re looking at the response and recovery phases of disasters: Who is flooded at this moment, what resources do they need, and how much damage has been incurred?”
Addressing social inequity is a large motivator for the kind of engineering work Kerkez does. The collaboration with Arbit and CSS is ideal, he says.
“Rather than just us as engineers focusing on flooding and saying, ‘Hey we have interesting solutions,’ we actually can work with somebody who understands how the community functions and what their priorities are so that the solutions we build actually make sense.”
Researchers are evaluating “a ton of different variables and exploring a lot of different datasets,” to create a scalable methodology for application elsewhere, says CSS’ Arbit.
“When you are able to evaluate on a very small scale how vulnerable or how resilient households are, you can make sure that equity is built into new policies, not just equality,” she says.