Engineering, Infrastructure, & Floods

Posted Thursday, September 21, 2017 at 6:17 PM

"Engineers play a very important role in helping communities prevent and recover from devastating floods."

Engineering, Infrastructure, & Floods

PostedThursday, September 21, 2017 at 6:35 PM

Kate Gramling
Kate Gramling
Engineering, Infrastructure, & Floods

Hurricane Harvey was one of the wettest storms in US history. Texas saw record-breaking rainfall, but the storm also caused flooding in Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. As Harvey was making landfall in Texas, Kansas City was struggling with widespread flooding for the second time in two weeks. In July, flash floods took lives in Kentucky and Arizona. And in June, 30% of the counties in Missouri were designated federal disaster areas due to flooding.

Flooding occurs when water is coming into an area faster than it can be absorbed or channeled away. The water is usually from rain, but it could be from rapid snowmelt, a river running high, storm surges, controlled releases from reservoirs, or even a dam break. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), flooding occurs in every single US state and territory.

Floods kill more people in the United States than any other kind of severe weather and cause billions of dollars in damages every year. They not only damage property and threaten lives, they can create massive disruptions that affect electrical power, water and sewage systems, transportation, and even emergency services. They can put tremendous strain on infrastructure – sometimes causing systems to shut down completely. And one system failure will affect others.

Imagine a flood in your community. Roads close. Property is damaged. The power goes out and people need assistance. Communication networks become clogged. People can’t contact help and when they do rescuers can't get to them. The road closures also make it difficult for utility workers to restore the power. Even if your own home is above the rising water, will you be able to get food, water, gas, other supplies, or medical help?

Many communities – and even entire metropolian areas – have developed comprehensive plans not only to try to prevent floods from happening, but also limit the damage and disruption to critical systems when they do. Engineers play a very important role in making these plans a reality:

  • Civil engineers build structures to contain or divert water. They also design elevated buildings, bridges, road and rail ways that remain functional in high water.
  • Materials engineers develop water-permeable paving materials that reduce runoff and lessen the severity of flash flooding in urban areas.
  • Mechanical and systems engineers find ways to put heating and cooling units on rooftops rather than in basements. They work with electrical engineers to create powerful portable generators and water pumps.
  • Agricultural and environmental engineers develop models to better predict how water moves through the environment and how to place green ways, retention ponds and wetland buffers for maximum benefit.

And that is only a fraction of the ways that engineers are working to lessen the impact of floods.


How might engineers help prevent or lessen the impact of a flood in your community?


U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez. Members of the South Carolina's Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (SC-HART) perform rescue operations in Port Arthur, Texas, August 31, 2017.

Filed Under Civil Electrical Environmental Materials Mechanical Agricultural Construction Environment