New flooding risk tool developed for the state of Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Flood Risk Assessment Tool provides users with data on flood hazard zones and data layers including roads, aerial photos and parcel data. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), Penn State developed a new flood risk tool for the state of Pennsylvania. The tool allows users to see their flood risk status using the latest flood mapping data from FEMA.

The launch of this new tool will be a vital part of understanding flooding in Pennsylvania. According to a report for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, flooding is Pennsylvania’s most frequent and damaging natural disaster. The report stated that 831,000 out of Pennsylvania’s 12.8 million people live in floodplains. The report indicated it is a significant challenge for Pennsylvania to supply citizens and government agencies with an effective method to identify flood risks in the state.

Maurie Kelly, director of informatics at Penn State’s Institutes of Energy and the Environment said she believes that the Pennsylvania Flood Risk Assessment Tool will begin to address this need.

“The overall goal of the project was to develop and deploy a new Pennsylvania Flood Risk Assessment Tool to ensure that communities in Pennsylvania understand their flood risk and the importance of addressing that risk,” said Kelly, who is also the director of Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access (PASDA), a Penn State unit that serves as Pennsylvania's official public access open geospatial data portal. “This is a great way for the residents of Pennsylvania to learn about their flood risk in an easy-to-access application.”

Kelly said that users simply type in their address and can immediately see information about their location, print a report, or get a quick 3D visualization of how a flood will impact a property. The hope is that more Pennsylvanians will analyze their risks and become more informed and better primed to take action to reduce the risks to themselves and their communities.

The Pennsylvania Flood Risk Assessment Tool website says the tool provides access to the best available flood data from FEMA and other authoritative sources. It also has data layers including roads, aerial photos and parcel data. There is an Expert Mode in the tool that provides access to more extensive data layers and capabilities that can be used for analysis purposes by flood managers and other stakeholders.

According to Kelly, Penn State has a very strong reputation in GIS (geographic information system) and for developing applications and data portals for government agencies.

“Penn State also has extensive expertise in climate change and community resilience through initiatives such as Penn State Initiative for Resilient Communities as well as through research that is being done in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, the College of Engineering, and the Penn State Water Initiative to name a few. With the depth of expertise that Penn State could bring to the project, it was natural for FEMA to reach out to the University as a key partner in this effort,” Kelly said.

PEMA, a vital partner in this initiative, will be providing training for the tool and guidance on how the tool can be enhanced.

The project involved multiple organizations and included research faculty from across the University including Bernd J. Haupt from the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, Ryan Baxter from the Department of Geography, and James Spayd and Scott Dane from the Institutes of Energy and the Environment. The team members also worked with the company SpatialIT to develop the tool. Additional outreach was performed as the tool was being developed and involved the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Weather Service, PA Flood Plain Managers Association and others.

Last Updated August 23, 2021