Flood Warning Systems: Hydrologic Modeling and Simulation; Reforging Research Mindsets: An Examination of Research Communication and How Engagement Builds Meaningful Solutions

Mitchell, Glen, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Goodall, Jonathan, EN-Eng Sys and Environment, University of Virginia
Neeley, Kathryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Early Flood Warning – An Integration of Hydrological Factors and Research Communication
Glen Mitchell
Every year, numerous homes and businesses are destroyed from surprise flooding events, brought on by increasingly large tropical storms and hurricanes. These flooding events catch residents and municipalities by surprise, overwhelming stormwater runoff infrastructure and surging local creeks and tributaries far beyond their banks. As a result, more and more communities are having to evaluate their stormwater resiliency to prepare for the growing magnitude of storms. My capstone project centers around addressing this issue of flood preparedness from two perspectives; hydrologic watershed modeling (technical research) and research communication modes (STS research). A solution for flood prevention will involve the intersection of technical analysis and community engagement, and this project research is structured to reflect this duality.
When intense storm events strike communities, there is often localizes system flooding that is difficult to anticipate and prepare for. For a local watershed in Charlottesville, VA (nicknamed the “Branchlands” watershed), contributing runoff accumulates in a discharge tributary that runs directly next to a residential community, with backyards opening directly to the creek. As a result, this location and several upstream areas require analysis to identify weaknesses in the stormwater conveyance system, and where it can be improved. To do this, geographic information system (GIS) data must be gathered and processed to analyze flow paths, land uses, soil composition, and major stormwater pipes with the goal of creating a runoff flow model that can simulate the watershed’s precipitation response. While the model provides a virtual estimate for flooding, this can be combined with measured outfall discharge to calibrate and tune the model so that it may be used to predict where flooding will occur throughout the watershed. Eventually these predictions can be used as guidance for stormwater system improvements, increasing flood resiliency and preventing future community endangerment.
Effective flood preparedness combines this hydrological analysis with community engagement and communication. Research that exists in a technical vacuum, without intersection with community aspects, runs the great risk of misinterpreting the community needs and placing researcher goals ahead of those of the larger community landscape. Therefore, answering the important question of how to communicate research to non-experts in productive ways is the main idea of this project’s STS research. In particular, it is critical to identify the inherent research mindsets that researchers take on when engaging with the community, and consider how they can be improved. This research is built on the integration of R.V. Burri’s work on categorizing general research mindsets and Frank W. Geels’ paper on a multi-level perspective (MLP) for approaching sustainability encouragement in society. In many ways, the community interaction aspects of this project research are more complicated and intricate than the physical hydrology systems, and are often catalogues in less detail and consideration. It is this challenge of addressing and reinforcing our communication mindsets as researchers that drives the STS research and is a critical element to rounding out the research objectives as a whole.
By combining the technical-societal research duality in this project’s problem considerations, we are able to see how these different considerations are deeply interconnected. Alone, each research approach is only able to provide a portion of the whole problem picture, so it is the aim of this work to include analysis of research communication mindsets in tandem with the hydrological flow evaluation. Together the technical and STS research combine to produce a more wholistic watershed analysis that can be used to reinforce physical infrastructure as well as community preparedness. Both are essential to preventing flooding and reinforcing the flood resiliency of the community in multiple aspects.
I would like to acknowledge Dr. Jon Goodall and Dr. Kathryn Neeley for their advice and instruction in the realms of technical research and STS analysis, respectively. I would also like to thank Jake Nelson for his expertise and assistance throughout the technical hydrologic modeling process.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
MLP, multi-level perspective, flooding, hydrologic modeling, SWMM, ArcGIS, flood prevention, watershed
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