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Sensor Grid Predicts Imminent Flooding

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the lifting-all-boats dept.


An anonymous reader writes, "NewScientistTech has an interesting story about a river sensor network that not only measures water depth and flow, but also forms a wireless computing grid to calculate possible flooding scenarios." From the article: "If the river's behavior starts to change, the network uses the data collected to run models and predict what will happen next. If a flood seems likely — because it is rapidly rising and moving quickly — the network can send a wireless warning containing the details... [A researcher said:] 'One end goal would be that people living in areas that flood can install these themselves. They are simple and robust enough to make that possible.'"

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fp (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16570790)

i for one welcome our river-overflooding-sensing overlords! ...nothing else to say

The next step: (0, Offtopic)

Spazntwich (208070) | more than 7 years ago | (#16570792)

Marketing a consumer version for those with certain types of roommates.

Re:The next step: (1)

noigmn (929935) | more than 7 years ago | (#16574134)

I disagree with people modding 'offtopic' just because they don't get or see the connection in a joke. It doesn't matter if the joke is bad, or you're too stupid to see the connection, the post was obviously referring to the device in question. I can name far more offtopic posts, but they are generally far funnier so I'd never mod them.

But if you thought you'd mod it for being a waste of a first post, I agree. I'd prefer to read "yay, I got first post." than the last post. It was a waste of 10kB on the slashdot server.

(I'm trying to lower my Karma, so if you want to waste mod points, use them here.)

Re:The next step: (1, Funny)

Spazntwich (208070) | more than 7 years ago | (#16576884)

It was a terrible joke because it was incomplete.

I was hoping for a reply from someone asking "what kind?"

To which I'd reply, "Niggers, of course."

Network Flooding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16570802)

Yes! But what happens if the network gets flooded? Or even worse slashdotted?

Simple people? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16570826)

So countryside people is simple and robust eh? you have to see my flatmates


Rixel (131146) | more than 7 years ago | (#16570842)

That's one hack that would be inevitable.


Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16572122)

We're more likely to see 1337 hax0r rul3z be broadcast to all these devices :p

The yearly handouts must end (4, Insightful)

Y-Crate (540566) | more than 7 years ago | (#16570898)

Unfortunately, this will not affect the real problem, which is people continually rebuilding on extremely flood-prone land at taxpayer and insurance customer expense.

There is a difference between: "I'm building my house here, and there is a remote chance of a flood. Would you agree to help me out and spread out the risk?" and "Between me, my father and my grandfather we've rebuilt this house 4 times due to flooding. It's terrible. Give us more money to do it again."

I'm often accused of being a liberal, but the latter group deserve nothing from the government, and insurance companies should not be compelled to grant them policies. There has to be a "Sorry, but that just doesn't make any sense" threshold when it comes to these sorts of things. National Flood Insurance and private initiatives are a good safety net that I fully support, but they shouldn't be a replacement for common sense and responsibility.

Re:The yearly handouts must end (1)

Anpheus (908711) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571490)

I know this is going to shock you... but the insurance companies are aware of that. They even plan for it. They charge people based on models of how often an area gets flooded.

People who live in a 1 year flood plain will pay far, far more for flood insurance than people who live in a 100 year flood plain. That's A Good Thing(tm). Please don't complain about the system working, or as so many on Slashdot like to put it, "There's nothing to see here, move along."

Re:The yearly handouts must end (2, Insightful)

CheeseTroll (696413) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571552)

Please show me an insurance company that would insure such a flood-prone property, or is compelled to do so.

Re:The yearly handouts must end (1)

solitas (916005) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571752)

>> Please show me an insurance company that would insure such a flood-prone property, []

Re:The yearly handouts must end (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16571948)

You must have missed the ".gov" at the end of that address or the giant FEMA logo at the top of the page. Sure the government provides flood insurance to flood-prone areas. That's the problem. The government runs that program at a loss and funds it with taxpayer money. There's a reason that no private businesses offer flood insurance to flood-prone areas; it's a huge waste of money.

The USG: Your source for "Stupid Insurance" (2, Insightful)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#16572596)

/me points in the direction of Capitol Hill.

Why our government, of course; the world's biggest insurance company, and the only one dumb enough to underwrite such a policy.

No sane insurance company would write half the policies that the National Flood Insurance Program does, because they know better. They can't just depend on a steady stream of money from nowhere to keep them afloat financially, at the same time that their insureds may be literally; companies in the real world have to at least break even over the long term.

Basically, the NFIP is a giant subsidy, paid by people living in non-flood-prone areas in order to allow other people to live in areas where they really shouldn't be. The clincher is that although defenders of the program always love to wave around the spectre of some poor family being ruined by flooding, most of those people don't know about and don't get the program in the first place. It's mostly people who have money -- and probably could afford to buy private flood insurance on the open market, if it existed (or who would just live somewhere else) -- who have policies and benefit from the program. So not only is it a stupid subsidy, it's a regressive tax on top of it.

Re:The yearly handouts must end (1)

Skagit (910458) | more than 7 years ago | (#16578818)

Usually, it isn't so easy. We know where the floodprone areas are. We've got FIRMettes [1], flood insurance rate maps that show where the floods are known to happen, and they show the high water marks for the design flood. The problem is that the design flood occurs more frequently now. The spread of suburbia means less agricultural and sylvan land for infiltration, and very efficient storm water management systems that dump right into the river at speed. The weather over the short term seems to favor concentrating precipitation into shorter periods of time. There are more floods of the design flood magnitude and thus the big floods are worse. As an aside, I have a feeling that there will be sweeping changes in what we're required to design for as previous high water events are classified as 50-year and 25-year floods instead of the 100-year tag they carry now.

Your second guy probably had a building on a river that used to wet the basement every twenty years or so. Now, he's gotten slammed with three 100-year events in less than 2 years and he's lost everything on the first floor down to sruds and foundations. The probability of these events occurring is very small, so the insurance people play their numbers game, assuming the hydrologists and statisticians know their stuff, and they write Guy 2 a check each time. Even if the hydrologists and statisticians are exactly up-to-date on their stuff, the probability is still small.

Where the real problems happen is when we have a historic structure or a thriving business. On the one hand, it sucks to fund constant money sinks. On the other, we shouldn't hinder the economic growth of the area or demolish our physical history. If the federal flood insurance program were more common-sense, we'd have a situation where an analysis determines the feasibility of rebuilding, relocating or rebuilding with floodproofing. I don't think the feds will pay for relocating or rebuilding with floodproofing, but they will pay for returning it to its pre-event condition. We're stuck in a cycle, and it's hard to make the choice about whether a building is historical enough to warrant moving or drastic renovation, as that's often a subjective choice (Lafayette slept here twice, so is it worth less that the place down the street where he spent a week?).

You are correct in saying that new construction should be held to stricter standards both in structure and location. Most places will make sure that new construction in a flood zone isn't an unreasonable drain on flood funds, even at the expense of additional tax revenue. In most places, that effectively means Guy 1 isn't building there, because if pimpin' ain't easy, floodproofin' is hard.

This network from the article seems redundant for the US. We've already got mostly real-time flow data from the USGS [2], posted to the web and freely available. The data's there, and using a hydrograph with the USGS data, rainfall data and Google Earth, you could do it all from a desk. The trick is to ensure that the all the localities along the river work together with a comprehensive plan to mitigate downstream problems. They're trying to do that on the Delaware, but you've got many large organizations that have to be forced to cooperate, like the New York City Water Department and the Army Corps of Engineers. They usually don't pay much attention the county and municipal governments along the lower river.

[1] ?storeId=10001&catalogId=10001&langId=-1&content=f irmetteHelp_0&title=FIRMette%20Tutorial []
[2] []

Re:The yearly handouts must end (1)

guaigean (867316) | more than 7 years ago | (#16582124)

It isn't solely due to people being idiots that they live in flood planes. A large majority of shipping routes travel to, and build warehousing, in flood zones. Large scale shipping operations depend on these areas, as do other industries desiring close proximity to shipping lanes. People live in these areas not because they are stupid, but because there are jobs and important transportation infrastructure as well. So long as it is profitable to do so, people will keep going back and rebuilding. Don't be ignorant by assuming that it is pure stupidity, there is far more involved here.

Sensor Grid Predicts Imminent Flooding (2, Funny)

P. Niss (635300) | more than 7 years ago | (#16570924)

Sensor Grid Predicts Imminent Flooding

Holy shit!!! Where!?!?

Re:Sensor Grid Predicts Imminent Flooding (1)

krotkruton (967718) | more than 7 years ago | (#16570978)

I thought the same thing. Thought this might be another Katrina prediction or something.
"Sensor Grid Able to Predict Imminent Flooding" would have made a lot more sense.

Re:Sensor Grid Predicts Imminent Flooding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16571156)


Re:Sensor Grid Predicts Imminent Flooding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16571222)


Re:Sensor Grid Predicts Imminent Flooding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16575468)

ah why shouldn't slashdot give in to sensational headlines?

"There's a a deadly radiation leak in a local neighborhood, tune in to Action News at 11 to find our where."

The Problem With Reliance (2, Interesting)

gt_mattex (1016103) | more than 7 years ago | (#16570958)

My main question is there a fail safe in place?

If citizens become reliant on it they may become slow to react without the system giving the go ahead. Such assurances can be easily and unintentionally abused when those that were once advocates for common sense become used to automation.

Re:The Problem With Reliance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16575344)

True, and while there are no "100% Safe" place, and you will be taking a risk wherever you decide live/build. The more floodprone an area is, the higher its flood insurance rates will be. Flood Insurance Rate Maps, while not perfect, can give you an idea as to how safe you can be from flooding. Floodways next to rivers will obviously have higer rates because they may flood frequently, while 500-year flood events will have lower rates.

more like there is a giant GRID flood (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16570982)

going all the way up kdawson's ass

or forest fires (1)

arosboro (991164) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571024)

I was at NYLF 2003 in San Jose and intel did a presentation on some wireless sensors they were researching. They were toting that they could be tagged onto trees and alert authorities of forrest fires at the point they started. A lot of interesting uses for this technology, although I'm sure someone will be object that it could be misused to invade one's privacy.

Re:or forest fires (1)

jverkoey (912154) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571076)

I was definitely at that same forum in '03. Seems they've started using the technology elsewhere now.

Re:or forest fires (1)

arosboro (991164) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571150)

Haha I was in the dev alliance ... remember EFFF? I still have that stuff installed on my computer. I made the image for the main character. Sorry for not having much time w/ the presentation ... that group kinda fell apart.

Re:or forest fires (1)

jverkoey (912154) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571194)

Hah! No way, what a chance encounter on slashdot. I've still got the final release of EFFF on TheJeffFiles. I still wear the TDA shirt too, heh, though it's starting to get a bit old and small now sadly. You should add me on msn, We can toss around any programming stuff we've been doing lately.

Re:or forest fires (1)

arosboro (991164) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571210)

Yeah, it's weird too because today's the first day I've posted to slashdot ever. I've always watched without participating much.

what the story doesn't say is... (1)

westcoast philly (991705) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571052)

does it run linux? I for one welcome our pack-computing, chewing gum-sized, wi-fi sensory overlords

.... EVERYBODY PANIC!! (3, Interesting)

billstewart (78916) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571078)

Oh, wait, this is Slashdot, not Fark. My bad....

Actually, some of this is really interesting technology. A few projects along these lines have been Motes and Smart Dust at Berkeley, and at least one of the groups named their project after the Larsen Localizers from Vernor Vinge's books even though getting that small is a ways out. Gumstix is a bit bigger, so there are a few more options and a bit less work on customization required compared to the smaller devices.

Overkill? (3, Interesting)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571096)

The river swale, also in the Yorkshire dales, used to have a water level up the dale at Muker which rang a bell in Richmond police station about 40 miles downstream so that the police could come out and clear the tourists picnicing on the river banks when there was a cloud burst up on the tops and the sun was still shining in Richmond and the river was about to rapidly rise.

Reading the article I wonder whether this vastly more complex system is really going to work when the river is in full flood and metre sized boulders are scouring out the river bed and banks. I've seen Bluetooth mice having trouble communicating in indoor conditions at a distance of 2 metres.

Still it is not all bad - at least the sheep will get to enjoy their own WiFi connection.

Re:Overkill? (1)

grcumb (781340) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571696)

Reading the article I wonder whether this vastly more complex system is really going to work when the river is in full flood and metre sized boulders are scouring out the river bed and banks.

I was watching the Chinese Grand Prix formula one race a few weeks ago, and saw a perfect example of why all the instrumentation in the world can't replace human experience and instinct. The Ferrari (sp?) technicians were all lined up in their booth, dozens of screens of input scrolling past them. But when it started to drizzle, one by one, they all leaned backwards and stuck their hand outside to feel the rain.

I for one would much sooner welcome some old guy sitting on his porch by the river bank than any number of wireless water-sensing overlords.

Mk.1 Eyeball (2, Interesting)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#16572658)

I for one would much sooner welcome some old guy sitting on his porch by the river bank than any number of wireless water-sensing overlords.

The best part is that the NOAA has a "sensor net" for that type of 'remote data sensor' already. It's called "SKYWARN [] " (beware, there is some sort of hideous applet or something on their page, it got my machine's HD thrashing for half a minute while FF froze) and it provides some really good coverage of stuff that might not get picked up by mechanical sensors. It wouldn't be cost effective, for example, to put a sensor network that measures the size of hail, all over the Midwest. Yet hail sizes can be an important part of tornado predictions.

Also, some spotter organizations are affiliated with Ham radio clubs and can operate entirely without infrastructure, meaning that you can retain some remote-sensing capability even in the midst of a weather-related disaster: exactly when you need it most.

Sometimes the "Mark 1 eyeball" and its accessories really are the best tools for the job. I suspect, knowing the government, that SKYWARN doesn't get a hundredth of the funding that various pet fancy-gadget-du-jour projects do.

How New? (1)

malvidin (951569) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571170)

Is the plan to augment the NOAA's flood watch program, or are they planning on mostly commercial applications?

Re:How New? (1)

tank3544 (1017758) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571304)

Hopefully it will either replace their predictions or help them. My mother in-law lives next to a river and they're predictions have been off by amounts that have bad results. A few feet is the difference between being safe and the first floor flooding for some people like her. More accuracy for this sort of thing is long overdue and much needed in many areas.

Re:How New? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16571426)

No offense but your mother lives in a place that gets first floor flooding very often,...


Sell your computer and help her afford to move...

Re:How New? (1)

tank3544 (1017758) | more than 7 years ago | (#16575244)

Actually she purchased the house which only had minor flooding ONCE since it had been built in the early 1900's. Since then climate conditions have changed and they've had 5 major floods since she's owned the house. Now she's trapped as no one is going to buy a house that gets flooding that often. She's in a location where it took a 100 year flood to get water in the house. All 5 of those floods have crested higher than the "100 year flood" and it dosen't look like things are going to change.

Re:How New? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16575576)

Mother IN LAW, silly.

Wired article... and more on the Sensor Web (3, Informative)

Lord Satri (609291) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571448)

...named Smart Sensors Find Floods [] .

On sensors, read this story on the OGC [Open Geospatial Consortium] specifications [] . If you look at this [] , you'll find more interesting stories on the Sensor Web, including the SensorMap from Microsoft Research [] and new RFID technology for instant forest fire alerts [] . (yes yes, this is mostly on-topic shameless plugs! ;-)

Take action immediately! (1)

QuantumFTL (197300) | more than 7 years ago | (#16571806)

Sensor grid predicts flooding? HEAD TO THE HILLS EVERYONE!!!

Well, actually I'm just building a large boat for me and all my animals, but I'm already in a rather high area so should be ready by the time it gets to me :)

Re:Take action immediately! (1)

Duckz (147715) | more than 7 years ago | (#16572078)

when you do get flooded be sure to get a good assortment of various meaty animals so you can feed the survivors a hearty meal.

The Techynology or the people? (1)

Nashville Guy (585073) | more than 7 years ago | (#16572036)

[A researcher said:] 'One end goal would be that people living in areas that flood can install these themselves. They are simple and robust enough to make that possible.'

Ummm... Would that be the people that are simple and robust or the technology? Either way, surely this is a win-win scenario in an election year, right?

Sensor Grid Predicts Imminent Flooding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16572090)

And Netcraft confirms it.

Floods in Czech Republic (2, Insightful)

slidersv (972720) | more than 7 years ago | (#16573916)

I live in Czech Republic, where couple of years ago the country experienced the worst floods ever, and even the capital city was flooded.

We knew about the flood, we knew about it's magnitude. There was just nothing we could do about it. Dam management worked their butts off, but dams could not hold the water and it poured OVER the dams.

It's not like you're can build 50ft wall around the river in the heart of the capital city, just so once in your lifetime it would be used. Shoure it would be the solution, but the cost and inconvinience would be worse than cleaning up the mess

And then you have the subway, which was flooded too. There are doors that are supposed to hold the water and not let it spread to all the tunnels, but they just didn't. I'm not sure who's fault was that, but i imagine it would be pretty hard to leak-proof the wall, that is supposed to automatically close inside the subway, while you have no water to test it with.
An then there were villages that sunk completely. Their only solution would be to build a wall around a village.

Rivers spread far and wide, transforming into huge lakes that are omnipresent.

Immigrant Flooding (1)

rhythmx (744978) | more than 7 years ago | (#16574082)

With all the past talk of border security technology here, I read this headline as "Sensor Grid Prevents Immigrant Flooding"

Re:Immigrant Flooding (1)

Impotent_Emperor (681409) | more than 7 years ago | (#16580788)

Sensors don't stop immigrant flooding, scorpians, rattlesnakes, and the National Guard do.

How imminent? (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 7 years ago | (#16574614)

Sensor Grid Predicts Imminent Flooding

*accidentaly pushes glass of water off my table*

I predict imminent flooding of the floor accompanied with pieces of broken glass


Don't pay attention to me, I'm just trolling.

Me too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16574706)

Ha! The British were there first [] ... no, wait a minute ...

who will change batteries? (1)

teufen (56845) | more than 7 years ago | (#16575856)

as you read in the article:
"... Each node is smaller than a human fist and powered by batteries and solar panels....
The sensors are positioned within tens of metres of each other and communicate through Wi-Fi and Bluetooth..."

knowing that neither Wifi, nor bluetooth are very efficiently dealing with the powerconsumption, i wonder who will be changing the batteries of these sensors every so many months.

Santos City's sensor grid (2, Interesting)

Ed Molinari - Swell (1018134) | more than 7 years ago | (#16580898)

In Santos city, São Paulo-Brazil (yes! Where the big soccer player named Pele came from), we have a similar product, which is operating for 4 years and working fine! As part of city is localized over an island, with an average of 2 meters of height, it had built a network of drainage channels crossing the city, discarding the excess of pluvial waters to the Atlantic Ocean.

This network of channels was done in the early XX century by Saturnino de Brito, making the city the best in wastewater/drainage infra-structure of the country. But these channels, that looks like artificial rivers, has been used by clandestine wastewater links that makes the water contaminated, decreasing the environmental condition of the water which would be discarded on the ocean, effecting directly the condition of the beaches and bringing reflexes on the tourism industry of region.

To solve this problem, the seven points of discarding on the beach was blocked by a barrage and the water of channels is redirected to a treatment station before reaches the ocean. However, when the tropical rains hits the region, these barrages must be opened to avoiding the flood on city, so it was implemented a wireless network of sensors in the channels that monitors their depth, and when this depth is approaching a critic value, the barrages are opened automatically.

This is an example of use case of a first world science and technology issue to solve, in practice, the environmental condition, realized by a third world city government.
Check it out at []

Eduardo Molinari
Swell Technology & Oceanography
Santos - Brazil
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