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Aug. 21 - Smart Sea Level Tools for Emergency Response Planning Installed as Part of Smart Communities Collaboration

Category: Georgia Business News

Savannah Business Journal Staff Report

August 21, 2018 - Georgia Tech Senior Research Scientist Russ Clark and Chatham County Emergency Management Coordinator Randall Mathews recently deployed the first components of a new network of Internet-enabled sea level sensors to gather data about local weather events as the initial part of the Smart Communities Challenge with Georgia Tech, Chatham County and the City of Savannah. The Georgia Smart Communities Challenge encourages community members to develop smart technology to improve the quality of life in Georgia communities.

The initial test recorded water levels from three different sites around Tybee Island and Wilmington Island during the recent August 2018 King Tide. A King Tide occurs when the earth, moon and sun align generating a gravitational pull that creates the highest tides of the year. 

Clark and Mathews tested the new system during the August King Tide.

Based on the information gathered from the test, the collaborative plans to deploy a network of about 20 sensors at various locations in Chatham County and over 100 sensors around Georgia in the next year to monitor long-term trends in sea levels.

As part of the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge, Georgia Tech researchers led by Kim Cobb, Georgia Power Chair of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, are studying the issues related to large-scale deployments of Internet-of-Things-enabled remote sensors to gather real-time, localized data on coastal flooding, providing a tool for emergency planning and response. The pilot network will help to improve flood warnings, emergency response action plans, and flood predictions for future flood events, as well as serve as the basis for additional sea management tool development, environmental monitoring platform development, and data sharing.

Clark, senior research scientist in the Georgia Teach School of Computer Science and frequent lecturer in the Georgia Tech Professional Education program at Georgia Tech-Savannah, identified the need for this system after witnessing the devastation from Hurricane Irma in 2017 at his home on the banks of Kilkenny Creek in Richmond Hill. He realized then a system did not exist to disseminate information about local weather conditions to emergency management and first responders.

During Hurricane Irma, Clark noticed that the information about sea levels gathered at the National Data Buoy Center at Fort Pulaski, the only official water level gauge in the state, was vastly different than the conditions he saw near his home. Tidal conditions at the Fort versus those inland can be off by several feet and several hours. He realized first responders needed information about water levels further up river where people actually live. He also realized people who had evacuated needed to know for sure when it was safe to return.

Using a low-powered communication protocol called LoRaWAN, Clark and his students at Georgia Tech developed an affordable sensor platform capable of collecting data on water levels, temperature, pollen count, carbon dioxide levels and more. Because the sensors are small, affordable and have a five-year battery life, they can be permanently installed across a wide geographic area and gather information over a long time period to provide data on weather trends.

Clark started presenting his findings at local luncheons, which led to an introduction and meeting with the Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA). CEMA leaders were interested in finding a cost-effective technology to monitor high sea level impact to bridges and determine which ones may have been compromised and may need to be inspected. Around the same time, Georgia Tech began its Georgia Smart Communities Challenge. Clark and Cobb collaborated with CEMA and the City of Savannah to create a proposal and received funding to start testing the new technology.

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