system. The system provides radar rainfall data, rain data summaries, and flood and rain predictions for the Brays Bayou watershed, where the medical center is located. The Web site also shows video of key parts of the Harris Gully, which runs under the medical center. The water level in that gully is important, said Jim Sindelar, assistant director of emergency preparedness for the Texas Medical Center, because if the water in the gully begins to rise beyond a certain point, the medical center must act to avoid flooding on its campus.

Sindelar's group is responsible for coordinating response among the medical center's 46 member institutions and monitoring the medical center's common grounds.

He said the medical center learned from its experience with Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, when flood water entered a tunnel system that connected several of the medical center's hospitals, causing expensive damage in basement research facilities. Now, if flooding appears to threaten buildings in the medical center, Sindelar's team sends alerts to member institutions, and the medical center closes a series of flood gates, based on the flood levels.

"The more accurate information we can get and the farther out we can predict, then that makes it that much easier for us to respond to flood events," Sindelar said.

Sindelar said he uses FAS2 regularly to keep abreast of the potential effects of storms. "During flood events, we're always watching. And they run hydrologic models on a frequent basis, like every 12 minutes, and that gives us an idea of what flooding could occur in the future."

During a recent storm, he said the system proved valuable in assessing the threat to medical center buildings. "We saw the water level started to rise, but we were looking at the hydrology models, and we could tell we were at the peak and that it wasn't going to rise anymore," he said. "So that helps us."

Though FAS2 is the best way to gauge the rain's impact on water levels at the medical center, the center has backup processes in place, Sindelar added.

"The Web site has gone down. We have backups, different rain gauges and so forth, and we've worked with Rice developing those in the event this Web site goes down," he said. "We can always visually go out and inspect the water levels in the gully and react accordingly."

Right now, the system only covers the Brays Bayou watershed and is funded mostly by the medical center, said Bedient. Although legislation passed to create the SSPEED Center this year, the Legislature did not allot any funding for the center. A number of funding proposals have gone out to various sources, he said, and the hope is that eventually such real-time reporting will be possible for other areas along the coast, providing responders with more precise analysis and prediction tools.

"Right now, as a storm is approaching, the first place all of us go is the main TV channels to watch the meteorologists," Bedient said, adding that the meteorologists do well predicting where those storms are going to go. "But you'll rarely hear them talk about the impact that will occur with respect to things like storm surge and exactly how high that surge will be, and not only rainfall, but where the flooding will be. And that's the difference with the center -- we have the ability to bring those impacts down to the urban sector."

In addition to funding specific to the center, institutions will continue with their own research areas and secure funding for their research as they normally would.

Jude Benavides, assistant professor of hydrology and water resources at the University of Texas at Brownsville, said that UT Brownsville will work with other partners to better predict flooding in coastal regions. He said part

Emily Montandon  |  Editor