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In the News

ATXFloods.com welcomes addition of all CAPCOG counties

Friday, June 19, 2015

When Austin launched TXfloods.com website in September 2012, about 100 dots denoted low-water crossings on the online map. Those points depicted mostly locations in Austin.

Today, about 800 low-water crossings are visible to the website’s visitors, and they lay across six counties — Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Lee, Travis, and Williamson — and the city of Marble Falls.

The goal of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department is for all the Capital Area Council of Governments’ counties and municipalities to participate in the website by the year’s end.

 

“Floods are not jurisdictional,” said Matt Porcher, who works for Austin’s Watershed Protection Department, Watershed Engineering Division; helped develop the website; and maintains it. Flood waters can traverse large recharge zones, he said. For instance, flooding in Blanco County affects what happens downstream in Hays and Travis counties.

People throughout the region also tend to cross city and county lines daily, making the inclusion of other jurisdictions on the online map extremely useful for commuters and other travelers. ATXFloods.com allows for drivers to check for low-water crossing closures before they get in their car to make a trip home or to work. It allows them to plan a safe travel route ahead of time compared to coming across a closed crossing.

Austin developed ATXFloods.com with the help of a Code For America grant in 2012 as a means to inform residents about low-water crossing closures and hopefully prevent vehicles from being swept away, which could cause a possible fatal incident.

“Flash flooding is a big threat in our area,” Porcher said. “A couple of people die every year from flash floods in the area, about 75 percent of those deaths happen on roadways at low-water crossings, and ATXFloods.com is a chance to prevent people from using those roadways.”

In mid-2014, Williamson County Emergency Management Coordinator and CAPCOG Homeland Security Task Force Chairman Jarred Thomas recommended the site expand to other regions. At the time, Williamson County was looking to create a similar website and Hays County already was using a blog feed to continually update residents of such closures. In late 2014, Porcher gave a presentation about Austin‘s implementation of the website to the Task Force, which he partially attributes to other jurisdictions’ making use of the site.

Since the meeting, Porcher has talked to other emergency management coordinators and brought their counties or municipalities into the system. The plan is to have Fayette County on the system in the near future. Burnet, Llano and Blanco counties hopefully will soon follow.

It takes a little bit of training and preparation before other jurisdictions can place their low-water crossings online. Each point is entered manually and statuses of low-water crossings are updated manually by many administrators throughout the region. New points can be added at any time, which is helpful during instances of non-traditional flooding.

Jurisdictions need to know how to quickly and accurately add and change the map’s information, Porcher said. They also need to update it as soon as possible to keep the integrity of ATXFloods.com viable to the public.

“We want people to have confidence that the website is accurate, so when a roadway is reopened then it should be updated as soon as practical,” he said. To avoid confusion that can occur with shift changes, Austin crews check crossings marked as closed on the website in its jurisdiction every morning.

Since its launch in September 2012, ATXFloods.com has experienced almost 3 million visitors. More than 700,000 of those visitors viewed the site from May 22 to 25.

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