It's All About Being Prepared
The City of Norwich, NY

Article Contributed by Wesley A. Jones, Emergency Management Director

 

 


 

The City of Norwich is a small community in rural upstate New York, located 65 miles southeast of Syracuse. Norwich is a unique city, nestled in a valley, its borders defined by Canasawacta Creek on the western and south sides and the Chenango River that runs the length of the eastern side.

Canasawacta Creek at Plymouth Street Bridge border=

 

     

There's only one way in or out of the city that does not involve crossing a bridge over the creek or river. With an average of about 45 inches of rain per year, 75 inches of snow and ever changing seasons, flooding is possible and has happened, virtually any time of the year.

Despite its flood prone history, there were no river or stream monitors when devastating flooding hit the area in April 2005. While the city's Emergency Management Office had been looking into the possibility of a flood warning system, it wasn't deemed a high priority among the city's other needs. At the time this was a 100-year flood and it was felt that it was unlikely to repeat itself or doubtful a similar event would ever be worse. In fact the Common Council at the time discussed putting up a marker in town noting the significant flood.

Good thing they didn't. Just fourteen and a half months later in June 2006, three days of rain (over 8" worth) caused widespread flooding across the Southern Tier, including the City of Norwich. The river and creek levels made the 2005 storm look like an appetizer to the main course. The city experienced several million dollars in infrastructure, residential, and business damage in the flooding.

"To see how fast the creek was rising, we'd put a stick in the ground and go back an hour later and see what the new water level was" admits Jones. "This simply wasn't acceptable".

Jones decided to install a flood warning system patterned after work done in nearby Steuben County. While the county had several rain gauges, there were no stream monitoring gauges and so this was new territory.

He applied for, and despite funding cuts, received a grant in 2007 from NOAA to expand their Integrated Flood Warning System (IFLOWS) to include three new stream gauges in the City of Norwich. Jones immediately began working with High Sierra Electronics to develop a plan for getting the gauges installed.

The system was installed in August 2008 by HSE personnel. Two gauges were installed on the Canasawacta Creek, one in the city, and one further upstream where feeder streams come in. An ultrasonic sensor was installed on the Chenango River in Norwich. Rain gauges were incorporated with the stream levels as well. All the systems feed data back to the city's Emergency Operations Center.

      Director A. Wesley Jones

 

"The gauges, by far, provide me more data and versatility than I would have with other types of systems", says Jones. "I can only get data online from local USGS gauges once per hour, but I have mine report every time the level changes. The up-to-the-second information is critical".

During a flood this past spring, a dam upstream broke and the level of the Canasawacta Creek rose 12.6 ft in one hour. "We were alerted to this event only because of the gauges and DataWise software", according to Jones. "The creek is such that even a rapid rise like this is hard to detect just looking at it". Using the states NY-ALERT notification system, reverse phone calls were made to all the residents along the creek to notify them flooding was imminent.

Two more significant floods have struck the city already in 2011. "People are extremely grateful that we can now give them some advance warning. The flooding is happening all too frequently and I don't know what we would do without these gauges", says Jones.

Finally, Jones notes the very limited maintenance the gauging sites require. He said he checks them about once a year and cleans out direct and any other debris, but that's about it. He even quipped that he can monitor battery levels remotely via the DataWise software.

"It's a complete system. I can't say enough about the help and professionalism we received in working with High Sierra Electronics. The people who worked on the project too a vested interest in it. They weren't just selling equipment; they wanted to make sure the system worked".

NY State Disaster Preparedness Commission Governor's Award       John R. Gibb (left), Acting Commissioner of the NYS Div of Homeland Security & Emergency Services, presented the NY State Disaster Preparedness Commission Governor's Award to A. Wesley Jones, Director of the Norwich Emergency Management

 


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