Decades After Flood of '85, Roanoke Continues Flooding-Resiliency Efforts

Nov 9, 2020

It’s been 35 years since a devastating flood hit the city of Roanoke. In the time that’s passed, Roanoke officials have worked hard to make it more flood resilient. And, the city recently added a new tool to its arsenal.

The city has partnered with Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology to bring specialized flood sensors to certain tributaries in the city. 

Chuck Kirby with CIT says that came about thanks to ongoing efforts by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to combat certain natural disasters – including urban flooding. 

The flood sensors can also calculate how fast flood waters are rising in a particular area.
Credit Chuck Kirby

“They wanted to, of course, go out to the states and see areas that they could identify as potential use cases to utilize this cutting-edge technology," Kirby explains. "And immediately Roanoke lept to my mind.” 

The flood of 1985 sticks in most people’s minds, but the city has had ongoing flooding concerns. 

Marcus Aguilar is Roanoke’s senior stormwater research engineer. He says one sensor has already been installed. 

“We can set depth thresholds, so that if a sensor is telling us that the water reaches a certain level, we need to start watching it," Aguilar says. "If it reaches level number two, we probably need to start sending a barricade truck out to close the road down. If it reaches threshold numberl three, we need to start evacuating people.” 

He adds the sensor can also be used for flood modeling to help the city prepare for future events. 

Several more sensors could be installed in the near future, and Kirby hopes the system could eventually be used in other parts of the Commonwealth.