Texas City’s Flood Sensor Aims to Protect Life and Auto

A McKinney, Texas, pilot project deploying a sensor and flashers that alert motorists and city officials is hoped to become a regional platform for flood mitigation strategies.

by Jim McKay / February 15, 2019

McKinney, Texas, is hoping the new flood sensor being deployed, along with flashers in several key areas of the city will put an end to the swift water rescues it’s had to undertake recently. All the while, the sensors could provide some valuable data to the North Central Texas Council of Governments as well.

McKinney emergency manager Karen Adkins says there are three or four spots in the city that have flooded regularly and that motorists have a bad habit of trying to navigate through these areas with their vehicles, prompting several swift-water rescues since 2015.

The city hopes the new sensor, to be deployed in June, can add more layers to efforts to protect life and automobile from flooded waters and poor judgment from motorists.

One sensor was installed inside a creek that has been increasingly exceeding its banks and flooding the local roadway. When the water level gets to the top of the roadway, the sensors trigger five flashing lights that signal to motorists that it’s dangerous to cross the road.

The sensor also triggers messages to public works department personnel, who then construct the physical barriers to deter motorists from risking life and property.

“This system is going to add a layer of warning for us, so our citizens won’t just drive up and see this barricade, they’ll see these flashing lights from a distance,” Adkins said.

“The sensor talks to each of the lights, reminding each one, ‘Make sure your lights are flashing,’” said Frank Gutierrez, sales manager for High Sierra Electronics, which distributes the sensors. “The same data goes back to the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ base station where it digitizes.”

The data will go into a “citizen dashboard” that residents can call up to find flooded areas. It also gives 911 call-takers a visual map of where the trouble spots are so when people call 911, as they do, the call-takers can explain exactly where flooding has occurred.

“A lot of people call 911 during flooding to find routes and so the call takers have a hard time knowing where these crossings are,” said Rodger Mann, 911 GIS manager for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. “Now we have the live data that gives them the understanding of where the problems are.”

Another goal is that the program will develop into a regional one that localities can access for helpful data.

“That data will also feed into a regional website and the hope is that all of the communities that have these systems will eventually pour into this regional platform so we can gather and analyze data regionally and then the National Weather Service may use the data for forecasting flooding and studying different patterns during flood events,” Adkins said.

The U.S. Geological Survey and the National Weather Service will also receive the data from the sensor for various uses.

“Our first goal is to protect lives and property,” said Adkins, who added that cars are lost every time there is significant flooding. The hope is that the flashing lights and the quick response from public works will be enough to deter motorists from taking the plunge.

“We are hopeful that this is going to help deter them, but they’ll still be at the mercy of their decision.”