Texas A&M flood researchers collaborate with state emergency officials on preventing future disasters

Texas Politics

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (Nexstar) — Flash floods get their name from the speed in which they surge into neighborhoods.

State emergency management leaders are tapping into research on the dangerous deluges to help prevent future damage to lives and property.

Flash floods are among the top weather-related killers in Texas.

“People really don’t have much time to react or much time to warn about it, that’s why it is the most lethal type of flooding,” said Nasir Garaibeh, associate professor at Texas A&M’s Civil and Environmental Engineering department.

Damage in an El Paso neighborhood after a flash-flood in 2006. (Nexstar file photo)

Garaibeh started studying flood mitigation in 2006. He was working at the University of Texas at El Paso and the city experienced historic flash-flooding.

“I was looking at it from a infrastructure system standpoint,” he recalled. “Streets became a fast-moving rivers and water with high velocity and force moved through the streets.”

The primary goal of his research is “to try to find out the real root causes of fatalities and injuries in flash flood events.”

He and his team across multiple disciplines spend much of their time in the field with graduate students studying drainage infrastructure.

Texas A&M associate professor Dr. Nasir Garaibeh explains drainage infrastructure to a group of Houston-area high school students. Photo Courtesy: Nasir Garaibeh

The team just earned a $350,000 national grant to further their data gathering. They also participate in citizen science projects, bringing high school students along during parts of their field research.

“It really doesn’t make a big difference where the event occurred but we can learn from it by studying it,” he said.

Some of the top researchers working on these projects are invited to the State Operations Center at the Texas Department of Public Safety Headquarters where during emergencies they bring their expertise to the table.

“The smart people that have been studying the phenomenons for years and their impact now have a voice into how we are preparing and responding to,” Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) Chief Nim Kidd said.

Chief Nim Kidd, head of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, works in the State Operations Center in Austin. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

Kidd sees the partnership as a two-way street, where the researchers can provide valuable context and also learn about how their work is best utilized.

“We are paying attention to them, we are listening, we are working together, and we are going to start handing those problems back over to them and saying ‘please go help us find better solutions than what we have,'” Kidd said.

TDEM brought approximately 100 researchers and state emergency officials together in October to begin organizing their findings.

“We are cataloging that and seeing how it will help us be smarter,” Kidd explained.

Garaibeh hopes these growing partnerships and the grant money will save state funding and Texans’ lives.

“Floods keep happening, we react to them, we do the best we can and a lot of times we do good jobs at minimizing the effect, but we don’t really pay too much attention to prevention,” he said. “That’s really what this grant is about is about: mitigation and prevention.”

After Hurricane Harvey, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that created the Texas Emergency Management Council and added state research universities to the group, in part to facilitate more involvement in emergency planning and response.

This year, lawmakers moved the Texas Division of Emergency Management into the Texas A&M University System allowing additional collaboration between the state and higher education institutions.

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