Flood City Fights Climate Change with Infrastructure and Social Media

Journalists from the Miami Herald to the BBC have crowned Miami, FL, Ground Zero, for the effects of Climate Change. As a result, this southern flood city has become the spotlighted posterchild of flood prediction and prevention innovations.

By Emily Blitstein

In Miami, flooding has been a serious development topic over the last decade. In 2017 the city of Miami Beach dove into the second stage of its $400- to $500-million investment project, (which began in 2013), to raise roads and install pumps in response to annually rising sea-levels.

The project requires that drainage lines be connected from existing properties to the new system, which redirects runoff water to the ocean. It is yet to be determined if the city will provide connection services, or if residents will have to pay to connect. Development, slated for completion in 2019, is ongoing and is expected to move into additional phases.

In early 2019, the City of Miami’s Office of Capital Improvements (OCI), honored the city’s flood prevention projects with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a backflow valve, #37 of 50, to be installed by the end of 2020 – with plans for continuation pending funding. These one-way valves prevent high tides from pushing water backwards up pipes and into streets.

Tides are a major concern in flood contribution, especially the King Tides, seasonal tide surges traditionally occurring September and November, resulting in above average water levels and “sunny day flooding”, flooding without rain.

In April of 2018 an expert panel was assembled to discuss possible approaches to the myriad of challenges that will be presented by a changing coastline and tidal activity. With a projected global sea-level rise of 7-15 inches by 2065, according to the Southeast Florida Climate Compact 2015 projections, Miami communities stand to undergo drastic changes in development to combat the effects.

“Our professional opinion is that the outcome is uncertain, and it is in your hands,” said Mark Osler, a panel member and National Practice Leader for Michael Baker International, a leading firm in science and engineering infrastructure.

The panel was assembled to review and critique the city’s plans and efforts in the face of a changing environment. The city of Miami is focused on prevention first, through industrial solutions; construction, installation, and the erection of barriers. Panel members urged the city to include also “green” solutions; including the reintroduction of mangroves to areas of the coastline, and planting of aquatic filtration plants in causeways and traffic islands.

September 2019 marked the first addition of a “bioswale” to the city’s roads. The bioswales are designed to manage runoff and capture the initial 1.5 inches of runoff water, according to the project specs from the Florida Stormwater Associations 2018 Winter Conference.

The bioswales are manmade depressions dug to ponding depth, 6-12 inches, which can be positioned between the sidewalks and curbs, or gateway intersections, and are landscaped with aquatic filtration plants. Beneath the soil beds are pipes and water storage containers to manage the runoff.

Water control is only one facet of the issue. As decreasing property values begin to affect local businesses and investors, the conversation turns to financial projections. International consulting firm, McKinsey, released a report this Thursday outlining the projected financial losses of flooding as decreasing property values between 5 and 15 percent before the end of 2030.

Some “green” proposals also affect commercial properties such as coastal golf courses. One plan, drafted by Jacobs, a sustainably engineering firm, suggests converting – at least partially – the city-owned golf course into a “wetlands recreation center”. The proposed plans offer area options ranging from 9 holes to the size of New York’s Central Park. The eco “retrofit” would recreate wetlands which have a stabilizing effect on coastlines.

A steady decrease in property values, and the prospect of losing coastal land to eco parks, puts flooding into boardroom conversations. Insurance companies are beginning to adjust their policies, implementing higher rates for flood insurance, as they adjust to the reality of having to pay for actual damages.

The rising insurance premiums are a marker of the business reaction to the increased risks and emergency response needs of flood occurrences. The growing need for accurate prediction models has opened the door for applications of AI and Machine learning, as the necessity for faster emergency response and risk analysis becomes more critical.

In a study conducted by the Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical & Manufacturing Engineering, Advanced VR Research Centre, at Loughborough University, UK – applications are being explored to apply AI functions to flood prediction models, disaster relief, and risk assessment.

The main focus of this paper is the novel use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in natural disaster, more specifically flooding, to improve flood resilience and preparedness.

A big element of assessment models utilizes extensive social media data mining. Status updates, check-ins, and photographs posted on public social media platforms such as; Facebook, twitter, and Instagram, are analyzed for use in situational awareness.

A May 2018 study done through the Qatar Computing Research Institute, analyzed the social media data from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, all striking in 2017, for, “situational awareness”, and, “actionable information.” The analysis pulled data to gauge elements like; number of inured, deaths, utility damage, donations, location mapping, and emergency response times.

In order to utilize the full potential of multimedia content available on social media, accurate machine learning models should be developed for each particular humanitarian use case.

For now, the city works to control the adversities of rising water tables while increasing the use of resources like social media and investigating green solutions. The safety of the public and the fate of the city will continue to be at the center of global climate conversation as Miami paves the way for flood cities globally.


Florida Storm Water Association https://www.florida-stormwater.org/assets/MemberServices/Conference/WC18/06%20-%20Kremers%2C%20Anthony.pdf

Jacobs (Engineering) https://www.jacobs.com

Use of Artificial Intelligence to Improve Resilience and Preparedness Against Adverse Flood Events, Sara Saravi, Roy Kalawsky, Demetrios Joannou, Monica Rivas Casado, Guangtao Fu, and Fanlin Meng, Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical & Manufacturing Engineering, Advanced VR Research Centre, Loughborough University, Loughborough LE11 3TU, UK. Correspondence: s.saravi@lboro.ac.uk; Tel.: +44-(0)-1509-222-938 https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=2ahUKEwjtse6iwYjnAhVxrlkKHY5IC9kQFjABegQIAxAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mdpi.com%2F2073-4441%2F11%2F5%2F973%2Fpdf&usg=AOvVaw0I_Cmv4UWJUgFZKOokIGtp

“A Twitter Tale of Three Hurricanes: Harvey, Irma, and Maria” 2018, Alam, Ofli, Imran, Aupetit, Quatar Computing Research Institute https://arxiv.org/pdf/1805.05144.pdf

News Sources:

The Star https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2017/05/08/how-miami-beach-is-trying-to-save-itself.html

Miami Herald https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/miami-beach/article209328849.html, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article235197942.html, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article237241299.html

BBC https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170403-miamis-fight-against-sea-level-rise

Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/08/08/analysis-sea-level-rise-is-combining-with-other-factors-regularly-flood-miami/

Business Insider https://www.businessinsider.com/miami-floods-sea-level-rise-solutions-2018-4