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Norfolk, Va., Offers Real-Time Flood Data to Drivers

Waze, a navigation app owned by Google, has partnered with Norfolk, Va., to pilot an app that will allow drivers to get real-time information about flooded roads. The alert system was set up Monday.

Waze app - use once only
Shutterstock/Din Mohd Yaman
(TNS) — Norfolk drivers have become attuned to the street-by-street nuances of navigating flooding. Now they’ll be the first to test a more precise way to maneuver around floodwaters, based not on local smarts but real-time data.

On Monday, the city launched the integration of locally developed technology with the navigation app Waze. It will offer real-time alerts about flooded roads.

Waze is piloting the program with Norfolk. The forecasting technology comes from FloodMapp, a climate tech company funded by RISE Resilience Innovations, the Norfolk-based nonprofit that doles out money and resources to find solutions to environmental challenges.

“As our streets flood more often due to climate change, we need to find a sustainable way to alert community members about the risks they face,” Kyle Spencer, Norfolk’s deputy resilience officer, said in a statement. “FloodMapp’s technology provides affordable, citywide situational awareness that current solutions, such as sensor networks alone, don’t offer.”

Norfolk started working with Google-owned Waze five years ago, tapping into the stream of data coming from tens of thousands of Waze users driving through the region.

Officials found that the little pushpins dropped by users — to mark flooded roads or car crashes — were reliable, The Pilot reported in 2018. They lined up with information coming from sensors placed around local roads to track flooding.

“Where we’d like to go with this is tell the app that the road is already flooded so users know before they get to it,” Spencer told The Pilot at the time.

Australian start-up FloodMapp, which now has a Norfolk office, won RISE’s Urban Mobility Resilience Challenge in late 2020. The company got $300,000 and business mentorship to develop and commercialize a flood prediction system to be tested in Hampton Roads.

CEO and cofounder Juliette Murphy said the company started “because we have seen firsthand the devastation flooding causes and we wanted to be part of a solution that helps people around the world.”

The company mixes data about rainfall, tides and rivers into its flood inundation model, which is then layered with the Norfolk road network in GIS form and sent to Waze, according to a news release.

Waze users will receive pop-up icons and audio alerts warning them about flooded streets. Drivers can confirm when they see flooding, validating the technology.

The app is working on a feature that would automatically reroute drivers around such streets.

©2022 The Virginian-Pilot. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.