HydroAlert - A Flood Warning System Using IoT, Cloud, and Mobile Technologies

We developed an innovative flood warning system called HydroAlert, using ultrasonic sensor, IoT device, the cloud, and mobile technologies.

Photo of Satvik Dasari
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Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Amongst all the natural disasters, floods cause the most destruction. In addition to causing thousands of fatalities, according to a UN report, floods disrupt $96 billion in GDP annually and that number could increase to $521 billion by 2030. An early warning system enabled by real-time upstream data can save many lives. The current flood warning systems cost more than $30K and are deployed at less than 1% of high-risk locations globally.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We developed an innovative, low-cost, flood warning system called HydroAlert to measure the real-time water level at high-risk locations and alert the affected population and emergency personnel. The HydroAlert system consists of four main components. 1) A Water Level Measurement Device built using an IoT microcontroller and an ultrasonic sensor. The ultrasonic sensor measures the current water level and sends the data to the IoT device which processes the data and sends it to the cloud-based system through 3G or WiFi. 2) Cloud: The cloud-based storage and communication solution we developed is capable of supporting thousands of devices. 3) Alert Mechanisms: Our solution supports multiple dissemination mechanisms for flood alerts such as voice call, text, email, and a mobile app. We have developed and deployed HydroAlert mobile apps for both Android and iOS devices. 4) HydroAlert Central Command: This is used to monitor and maintain all of the IoT devices remotely, including over-the-air firmware updates. After several reviews and tests, the City of Austin has deployed the HydroAlert system at a high-risk crossing to validate the performance in real-world conditions.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

In June of 2016, a tragic event occurred in our neighborhood. A driver was swept away and drowned at Bull Creek crossing in my community in North Austin. I was shocked by this incident and did some research. According to NHTSA, annually around 400 fatalities occur due to drowning while driving in the US. Due to the high cost of the current system, globally, less than 1% of low water crossings have water measurement/warning systems in place. I partnered with a fellow scout, Laya Yalamanchili, to develop an affordable flood warning system. After many trials and failures, we were able to develop a comprehensive system. After many presentations and reviews, the City of Austin deployed the HydroAlert system in March 2017 and it has been working reliably ever since. We are currently expanding it to other counties in Central Texas and began discussions to expand it to other countries as well.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

Annually, an average of 400 lives are lost due to drowning while driving in the US. Current flood warning systems cost more than $30K and cover less than 1% of the needed areas. HydroAlert is a low cost (<$50) comprehensive flood warning system with a proven track record of reliable performance in the field for more than two years. It saved valuable resources during emergency situations and helped to save lives. We are requesting your support to expand the deployment to other high-risk locations

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

One of the ways we plan to involve others in our initiative is to partner organizations like Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts that are looking for projects to make an impact in their communities. We will work with them to increase the awareness of the problem and present the solution we have developed. We will provide a playbook with detailed steps, guidelines, and suggestions to approach the local city officials to enable deployment of HydroAlert system at high-risk water crossings in their communities. We will provide guidance on getting through different reviews/approvals. Once the project is approved by the city officials, we will ship them the HydroAlert system at low/no cost to help the project. We will provide detailed instructions to install and troubleshoot the system. In addition, we will provide information for monitoring and maintaining the system.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

HydroAlert system leverages the latest advancements in IoT, Sensors, Mobile and Cloud to make the entire system affordable, reliable, scalable and expandable. It costs less than $50 and currently there is no other system that offers such a comprehensive solution. Due to proven performance for more than two years in the field, our work is recognized by organizations such as General Motors, Ashoka, Yuvam, etc. City of Austin called our system a Game Changer and Life Saver. We partnered with CAPCOG(Capital Area Council of Governments) to expand the deployment to many counties in Central Texas.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

The HydroAlert system was deployed in March 2017 at Bull Creek crossing on Lakewood Drive. Realtime data and warnings are sent through mobile phones. The system has been performing reliably during many storms including Hurricane Harvey, tropical depression Imelda, etc. Access to real time data and alerts is enabling community members to avoid the crossing and seek an alternate route when the water level is too high. The City of Austin Watershed Department has been using the system to monitor water level remotely and to close the crossing when the water level is about to reach dangerous levels. HydroAlert is freeing up personnel to focus on other high risk crossing that do not have the system. The Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) is using the system in their EOC (Emergency Operations Center) to monitor water levels during storms and to mobilize the appropriate resources.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We formed a nonprofit organization to take this initiative to the next level. We are expanding the deployment of the HydroAlert system to other high-risk crossings in Central Texas. In addition, we were approached by philanthropic organizations and venture capitalists to expand the deployment to other countries, such as India, Bangladesh, etc. We would like to develop machine learning models to predict floods by correlating the data from multiple HydroAlert sensors deployed upstream, rainfall data, and weather forecasts. The platform we developed can be extended to support other important societal needs such as wildfire detection and alerting, and air quality monitoring. We plan to use mesh networks for robust communication.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Research

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations between $1k-$5k

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Participated in previous Ashoka challenges

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 50%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%


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