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Flooding Warning System Guards Texas Campground

April 7, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Four months after a flood washed out Johnnie Bezdek’s campground business on the Guadalupe River near New Braunfels, Texas, another hard rain bore down on his River Road business.

It was Sept. 8, 2010. Instead of a frantic phone call waking him to warn of danger, an alarm — installed weeks earlier by the Water Oriented Recreation District — went off.

The alarm was relentless — a cycle of five seconds blasting a warning, followed by five seconds off — and Bezdek heard it in his home 100 yards away. The campground was empty by that time of year, but Bezdek ran to the river to see the flooding.

The water was still at safe levels. Had campers been on site, Bezdek says, they would have been able to clear out immediately, the San Antonio Express reported.

“That’s what it’s all about right there,” said Bezdek.” That sold me (on the idea of the alarms) right there.”

Devastating floods in 1998, 2002 and two of them last year have prompted both the Water Oriented Recreation District, which controls the tubing and camping business on the Guadalupe, and the city of New Braunfels, to deploy flood warning systems this spring.

Both systems, officials say, are being tested this week and should be operational by Saturday. The water district’s system uses 50 water-sensing triggers, mounted at various places and heights along the river, each connected wirelessly to one or more sirens on various campgrounds and lodges on River Road.

The city’s system consists of seven giant sirens, some with the ability to deliver voice messages, sitting atop 40-foot-tall poles in flood-prone parts of the city, each with an effective range of a mile.

The two systems are radically different. The city’s system, which costs $280,000, is a high-tech network run out of a central location. The River Road system, at $25,000, is an unconnected series of individual alarms.

“The goal of our system is to wake people up,” said Mike Dussere, the district’s general manager. “It’s primarily a system to save lives.”

The New Braunfels alarms, said city Fire Chief John Robinson, are part of a warning system that includes the city website, the reverse 911 phone system, the city’s television station and local radio broadcasters. The idea: to get residents’ attention.

“By then,” Robinson said, “we’ll have boots on the ground to get people to safety.”

The New Braunfels sirens are turned on manually, by either the emergency dispatcher or the fire and police departments. Steve Harris, the city’s emergency management coordinator, can turn them on from his computer. A patrol officer can turn on individual alarms from a control box on each tower.

Four of the towers are equipped with enormous voice modulators, Harris said, that allow the city to send out pre-recorded or live voice messages.

The River Road system uses more rudimentary technology, Dussere said, but it’s a perfect fit for the terrain and the need.

The River Road system uses “float sticks,” Dussere said, which are 3-foot-long lengths of PVC pipe, sealed on both ends. Each is strapped to a stationary object, such as a rock or tree. Inside, there’s a mercury-vapor switch that will trigger battery-operated radio if it’s jostled. The radio connects to a battery-operated siren, mounted on higher ground, that will sound the alarm.

The alarm system is another tool for keeping campers safe, Dussere said, but it’s not the only one. Owners and public safety officials will still monitor weather reports and the river’s upstream activity.

“No warning system is a substitute for common sense,” Dussere said, “but it we can save one life, then the system is worth it.”

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