A customized Google Maps program could save lives and help prevent millions—even billions—of dollars in flood damage to the world’s largest medical center and its surrounding communities after Rice University researchers upgraded the school’s flood-tracking technology this summer.
Created in 1997, the university’s online Flood Alert System (FAS) has seen three iterations, with the latest involving software that can show the potential depth of flood waters in the detailed Google Maps format.
The newest system, known as FAS3, allows anyone—including Rice students working on the project—to track how much flooding will occur in the Houston area in the next 60-90 minutes, according to Rice’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters Center (SSPEED).
That hour-and-a-half warning proved critical in June 2001, when a tropical storm dumped 28 inches of rain on the Houston region in 12 hours, killing 22 people, stranding 30,000, and causing $5 billion in property damage, including $2 billion in damages at the sprawling Texas Medical Center.
Rice’s warning system gave the 46-million-square-foot, 6,000-bed medical center 90 minutes to evacuate employees and patients who would have been vulnerable to the extreme flooding. The federal government pumped $300,000 into Rice’s alert system after the 2001 flood—caused by Tropical Storm Allison—and SSPEED receives funding from the medical center every year.
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