Real-time monitoring for flood predictability

Monday, 23 July, 2012

When major flooding struck northwest Victoria in 2010, flood plain inundation was monitored much the same as it had been for decades with manual markers and visual recording. It was a well-tried flood management practice, but one fraught with inaccuracy from misinterpretation and with inherent safety risks.

For Thiess Services’ regional hydrographer Rohan Oliver, it was evident that existing technology could be packaged to provide a cost-effective and easily deployable real-time data reporting system. The technological solution was provided by fellow Thiess Services hydrographer Mike Wheaton, who took up the research and innovation challenge with enthusiastic support and funding from Victoria’s Department of Sustainability and Environment.

The newly developed system was near completion when flooding returned to Victoria in 2012. The system was called into action and Thiess Services’ Portable Automated Logger System or PALS was born. Thiess Services’ regional hydrographer, Mark Pickles, organised deployment of 10 PALS units to the field to monitor the level and duration of flood inundation. Each unit took only a couple hours to deploy before it began transmitting real-time data at 10-minute intervals back to the hosted website.

Unlike the manual and labour-intensive methods previously employed, the PALS provided automated real-time flood level data and warnings via the cellular network. Mark Pickles says this system became a valuable tool for authorities providing vital warnings to the general public. “It gave authorities an ability to see what the hydrograph looked like in areas where there was no historical data or local knowledge available. This enabled them to better predict when roads would be blocked or become passable or when areas would be flooded or free from inundation.”

The manual system had two major weaknesses. The first was that gauges would only be read sporadically and the recording of that information was prone to error and misinterpretation. The second problem was that there could be significant safety risks associated with trying to access sites during major floods.

“Continual real-time monitoring and the uploading of near real-time data to a central website takes most of the guesswork out of interpreting the movement of the flood wave,” Mark explains. For Mike Wheaton, who did much of the development work, PALS was a major achievement. “We were thrilled with the response. The feedback from the DSE Flood Group, Incident Control Centre and Bureau of Meteorology has been absolutely fantastic.”

Technology will continue to improve PALS with the potential to add video streaming and satellite data links for areas without cellular access. It has potential for short-term environmental monitoring with onboard sensors capable of recording a range of water quality and other parameters.

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