flood responders (michelmond/Shutterstock.com)

2020 Government Innovation Awards

IoT flood sensors drive predictive city management

Cary, N.C., is using internet of things (IoT) flood monitoring to go from a reactive to a proactive and ultimately a predictive town.

Leveraging IoT for Increased Flood Protection

Town of Cary, North Carolina

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Situated atop three river basins, Cary installed seven water-level sensors in one – the Walnut Creek stream basin – and 30 to 40 rain gauges at town-owned facilities. The water-level sensors send alerts when levels hit a certain threshold, and the gauges provide minute-by-minute information that Cary officials can use to predict what areas might flood. Before the IoT installation, residents would call in to report flooding and the town would react.

“All of those different devices communicate through a variety of mechanisms,” said Terry Yates, Cary’s smart cities and IT project manager. “Some of them communicate through wireless carrier technology, some of them communicate through fiber -- we have a robust fiber network,” he said. So, all of these different devices are sending their data into our ecosystem. We use Microsoft as the ingestion point to bring all that data into the ecosystem, specifically Microsoft Azure.”

SAS Analytics helps staff glean insights from real-time and historical data through an interactive dashboard, reports and business intelligence. That integrates with Esri’s ArcGIS for visualization and the Salesforce customer relationship management platform that alerts town workers and residents. What’s more, the city has partnered with regional stakeholders, who also receive the data.

“While we may not get flooding from a particular rain event in Cary, our partners downstream … may be getting flooding, and that whole regional data-sharing element is important,” Yates said.

With the data, town officials can make decisions such as closing roads or greenways, rerouting traffic to prevent drivers from encountering floodwaters. “It’s all about being able to access that data in real time and then taking action on it,” said Cary CIO Nicole Raimundo. “If we didn’t use IoT, I don’t know that it [could] be real-time.”

With IoT, Cary can also generate and deploy predictive models that help identify potential flooding events, both within its borders and in surrounding areas. This information enables stormwater management system staff to make informed decisions about what steps to take in the event of a flood.    

The IoT stormwater monitoring project is foundational, Yates said. With the kinks worked out, Cary can look at applying IoT in other ways.

“Once we got the stormwater deployment under our belt, we’re rolling now,” he said. “We have cameras out on our greenways that provide hourly usage of our greenways. We recently have brought that data into the ecosystem.” Additionally, the town is analyzing usage of a downtown parking deck for a new park.

“Many agencies rely on their citizens and people in the field calling in with information. Our goal and what we strive for is that every agency should know what’s going on [in] real time,” Yates said. “We shouldn’t have to rely on citizens to call and say, ‘You’ve got this issue.’ We should already know it. We should already be responding.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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