street flooding (Echunder/

2018 Government Innovation Awards

Better warnings as Virginia waters rise

In 2016, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science launched the StormSense program to track water level rise in Virginia’s Hampton Roads area. Today, there is a network of 28 sensors in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Newport News, made available with funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.


Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency

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The sensors track flooding conditions and report back to VIMS, which has created an Alexa skills app that informs residents about water levels through the region. The information is also displayed via a cloud-based platform that incorporates Esri’s mapping and visualization tools.

“We continue to add functionality to the app to report the water levels for the StormSense gauges, [U.S. Geological Survey] gauges and now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gauges as well,” said Derek Loftis, program manager for StormSense. “We’ve been adding to our Amazon Alexa chatbot to answer inquiries.”

There is also an ongoing process with the local branch of the National Weather Service to generate alerts based on the gauge readings. Modeled on VIMS’ Tidewatch network, which predicts flooding 36 hours in advance, the alerts could help residents better prepare for flooding in the region.

In addition, Loftis said he hopes to incorporate data from 75 to 80 sensors maintained by a regional sanitation district by the end of the year.

“The data architecture is there to add the extra sensors, but there are not public [application programming interfaces] to link on an individual gauge basis,” he added. “We are extremely interested in those measuring devices so it is not just water-level sensors in the network.”

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