GIS Works to Avoid Another Katrina

28 Aug, 2006 By: Michelle Nicolson

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses Bentley Systems ProjectWise to evaluate hurricane protection and flood damage reduction systems in New Orleans

One year ago today, Hurricane Katrina struck the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Destruction continued long after the hurricane passed, as breaches in the floodwalls and levees of New Orleans flooded the city, leaving behind the area's greatest loss of life and property damage in recorded history. The failure of the city's flood-protection system left serious questions about why it failed and how to protect New Orleans and other cities in the future.

Answering those questions falls to the USACE (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), which launched the IPET (Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force) in October 2005. This team of engineers and scientists includes representatives from federal, state and local agencies as well as academia and private industry. The huge task of finding answers begins with IPET's Data Collection and Management team, which is charged with collecting information about the conditions before and after Hurricane Katrina, including construction and maintenance of the flood-protection system. This information serves as the key resource for evaluating the current system and determining the necessary changes for improvement.

IPET's principal area of interest in Southern Louisiana.

Managing the Data
To manage the heterogeneous data required for the evaluation, IPET created a data repository, based on existing corporate frameworks and standard. Data were stored within frameworks that best fit the type of data -- for example, GIS, large datasets and unstructured data. Bentley Systems ProjectWise software provided the integrating mechanism to manage the overall data environment.

Unstructured data, such as PDF, DOC, JPG, TXT and PPT files, as well as engineering design files (DGN) is stored in a Microsoft SQLServer database managed by ProjectWise. GIS data -- including the hurricane protection system (levees, pumping stations and floodwalls), breach locations, roads, water bodies, parish boundaries, levee districts, digital elevations and high water marks -- is stored in an Oracle SDO database registered through ArcSDE. Large datasets -- including LIDAR and elevation models, DEM (digital elevation model) datasets derived from the LIDAR data, and imagery are stored in the large datasets component on a terabyte server, with metadata and geospatial extents of each dataset stored in an Oracle SDO database to provide search capability.

Because time was of the essence, IPET took advantage of a prior enterprise license agreement between the USACE and Bentley, wherein Bentley provides software training and consulting services. IPET estimates that this ability to move quickly saved the USACE thousands of dollars and months of time because the software could be installed and used quickly without a lot of customization.

"ProjectWise provided an out-of-the-box capability to store and manage multiple types of documents/datasets and the metadata associated with that data," explains Denise Martin, IPET Data Management coleader. "It also provided a delivery and access control mechanism such that users could access the data in a variety of ways."

The team used ProjectWise software for overall data management by integrating the data stored in the three components such that users may access all datasets from one central application without having to know which data is stored in which component. More than 12,000 documents/datasets are now in the repository.

The ProjectWise Explorer application's geospatial functionality.

Providing Access
For IPET, accessing the data was just as important as organizing it. The team used ProjectWise Explorer desktop application and the ProjectWise Web Explorer application to support engineers, scientists, lawyers, politicians and government officials with access to information stored in the repository.

The team organized the information as pre-Katrina and post-Katrina data to assist in searching. Geospatial extents for many of the documents/datasets were defined so users can search for data in a specific geographic location. Attribute value lists are provided for some of the metadata attributes to facilitate searching by attribute fields.

IPET finished its preliminary report earlier this year, and USACE is continuing its analysis of the extensive amount of data collected. With hurricane season upon us, that data becomes increasingly valuable as the USACE looks for answers to keep coastal regions safe.

About the Author: Michelle Nicolson

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