Rice University faculty and postdoctoral research fellows will study flooding and police services in Houston, thanks to three new awards from the Houston Solutions Lab.
The Houston Solutions Lab is a partnership to draw Rice researchers and city of Houston departments together for mutually beneficial research. The program is part of the MetroLab Network, a national network of city-university research partnerships, all of which have the goal of leveraging academic expertise to help solve critical issues facing cities. Funding for the projects comes from three Rice entities: the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, the Office of Research and the Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology.
“The Houston Solutions Lab is an opportunity to help bridge the gap between academics and city needs,” said Kyle Shelton, director of strategic partnerships for the Kinder Institute. “Too often the schedules and priorities of these two groups don’t match, which leads to missed chances to have academic researchers help solve pressing problems for the city. The goal of Houston Solutions Lab is to bring those entities together at the front end to identify questions where researchers can inform city choices with their work. These happen on shorter timelines than typical research so that we can respond to immediate city needs.
The program provides a set of concrete outcomes to the city but is also intended to act as seed funding to the selected projects. It aims to help faculty prove that the work or methods are scalable and to lead to additional outside funding for future work. The three proposals selected will receive more than $221,000 in total funding.
* A project led by engineer and flooding expert Phil Bedient will identify areas vulnerable to inundation following recent flooding in Houston and an analysis that showed 25 percent of flood insurance claims from 1999 to 2009 were located outside of 100-year floodplains.
Bedient and his team will use distributed hydrologic modeling to document street flooding in Houston and identify overland-flow problem areas. Their ultimate goal will be to assess whether particular mitigation techniques currently used throughout the city are successful.
“The relationship between site-level flooding interventions and neighborhood flood risk must be understood to ensure that flood-mitigation projects are not negated by certain development practices,” Bedient said.
Other team members include Samuel Brody, a professor of marine sciences at Texas A&M University at Galveston; Andrew Juan, a postdoctoral research associate in civil and environmental engineering; Russell Blessing, a visiting academic in civil and environmental engineering; and Avantika Gori, a graduate student in environmental engineering. Bedient is the Herman and George R. Brown Professor of Civil Engineering and director of the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center.
* A project led by Jamie Padgett, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, will develop and implement a radar-based flood alert system as a flood-mitigation tool for the city of Houston and to inform infrastructure risk modeling. The proposed system would allow for real-time visualizations of critical locations and/or inundated areas during storm events. A radar-based flood alert system developed by Bedient has been in place for the Texas Medical Center since 1998.
Padgett said the project’s mission is to alert the public in real time as a flooding event is unfolding and to be able to provide better information beforehand on roadways that might become inundated, which would help prepare emergency responders.
“Ultimately, we hope to leverage the flood alert system for the Texas Medical Center and to apply and extend this concept in the White Oak Bayou area,” Padgett said. “The system in the TMC has been quite successful in notifying the area. This project will provide an alert system for other regions of the city as well as a better understanding of the risks to transportation infrastructure in the event of an impending flood.”
Other team members include Bedient and Juan.
* A project led by Professors Andrew Schaefer and Illya Hicks will be conducted on behalf of the Houston Police Department to determine where new processing centers for arrested people should be established -- either by repurposing available buildings or building new facilities.
The ultimate purpose of these new centers is save the department money by minimizing costs of trips to and from the current downtown holding areas. People who are arrested would be housed at these holding centers until they could be moved to a more permanent location.
The researchers will use a mathematical process to determine the optimal locations for the facilities. The process will take into account an area’s frequency of arrests, crime rates and other crime and location statistics, including risk for flooding.
Other team members include Silviya Valeva, a postdoctoral research associate in computational and applied mathematics, and Logan Smith, a graduate student in computational and applied mathematics. Schaefer is the Noah Harding Chair and professor of computational and applied mathematics. Hicks is a professor in computational and applied mathematics.
“The Houston Solutions Lab leverages the resources of Rice University researchers to help solve the city’s most pressing challenges,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “The projects selected focus on two of my top priorities: flood prevention and public safety. I look forward to seeing the results of these partnerships with our Resilience Office and the Houston Police Department.”
The first request for proposals was issued in June to Rice faculty members who had been engaged in conversations with city leaders. Proposals for another round of funding, open to all Rice faculty, will be accepted beginning in March 2018; the funding cycle will begin in September 2018.