Florida researchers are developing a new app in Pinellas County to determine localized climate risks
"To solve the problem of flooding and climate-related disasters, and make community resilient, we need to figure it out how to connect the people with the decision maker," said USF's Barnali Dixon.
Pinellas County residents will soon get an app to identify their climate risks.
The National Science Foundation awarded researchers at the University of South Florida and Georgia Tech $1.5 million to create the web-based system.
Pinellas residents will be able to upload photos and videos of things like local flooding, and the app will use each image’s geotag to log the location.
The system will combine the community crowdsourced data with near real-time data on flooding. It will estimate water elevation for flood models to then inform emergency managers and policymakers.
"To solve the problem of flooding and climate-related disasters, and make community resilient, we need to figure it out how to connect the people with the decision maker, so appropriate resources and information can be distributed," said USF St. Petersburg geographic information systems professor Barnali Dixon, who’s leading the team.
The new app is based off a web-based platform created in 2020 by USF called Community Resiliency Information System, or CRIS.
Dixon and her team piloted CRIS in St. Petersburg's Childs Park neighborhood to prepare for extreme storm events.
"We actually ran around and mapped all of the storm drains that were clogged,” Dixon said.
“We started out with South St. Pete," Dixon said. "And we have done air quality sensors. And we also do lots of environmental hazards, for example, where are the brownfields, right? Where are the food deserts? Where are the needs, essentially, that are hidden so we can expose it?"
On the CRIS website, participants can currently use maps to see their risk of storm surge and sea level rise. They can also share their own information and suggest ways to improve the system.
“We have used the application at all our community town halls,” said Erica Hall, executive director of the Florida Food Policy Council, in a news release.
“As a community leader and liaison, this will help communities tremendously to understand the connection between sea level rise, climate change, extreme heat and coastal flooding. Some coastally vulnerable neighborhoods also show food insecurity, health disparities and environmental justice concerns. Having CRIS map those concerns tells a story that will allow the community to understand.”
USF and Georgia Tech researchers will continue to work with community partners in Childs Park and expand to other coastally vulnerable areas of Pinellas, including Shore Acres, West and East Lealman and Bahama Shores.
Dixon said she expects the new app to be ready in a few years, and that she hopes this model can eventually reach outside of the county across the region, state and nation.
She explained what prompted her to create these systems.
“Most often policies are actually developed one size fits all," Dixon said. "But each community is different, so each community has their different needs. And for us to be able to customize those policy solutions to meet the unique needs of our communities, we need to have the data so we can see what's going on.”