England & Wales Climate action and sustainable development

FloodCitiSense – being alert to urban flooding


Image: FloodCitiSense

LGiU is a partner in FloodCitiSense, a project that aims to develop, with involvement from citizens and local authorities, an urban pluvial flood early warning service. Susana Ochoa-Rodriguez from RPS Group, another of the project’s partners, explains the latest stage of the project.

After a year of stakeholder engagement, co-creation and technical development, the testing phase of the FloodCitiSense Project – Birmingham Urban Living Lab has started! This new phase was kicked off with an exciting workshop which saw the launch of a flood reporting app and where citizen scientists built their own rain drop counters.

The workshop was attended by a mix of participants, including members from the local flood action group, flood wardens, local councillors and other residents from areas hit by flooding, scientists, engineers and representatives from the local water company as well as from local and central government agencies. FloodCitiSense partners from the UK, Austria and the Netherlands were also present and ready to share their experiences from the other urban living labs – including Rotterdam.

It was great to hear about the motivation for participants to attend the event. There’s a real concern about flooding in the pilot area (Selly Park) and citizens and other stakeholders are keen to contribute to improving the management of and response to these events.

Andy Johnston from the LGiU gave an introduction to the project. This was followed by a demo of the flood reporting app by Linda See from IIASA. A lively discussion followed about some of the features of the app, including ways of reporting flooding from different sources in a way that is easy and clear to all, and the possibility of including new features such as video uploads, in addition to static photos.

Building rain drop counters

We then moved on to the building of the low-cost rainfall sensors: the drop counters. The drop counters are aimed at providing additional ground rainfall measurements to supplement radar and traditional rain gauge records. This session was led by Nick van de Giesen and Else Veenhoven, from TU Delft start-up Disdrometrics. The drop counters work with simple piezoelectric sensors which, upon being hit by a rain drop, generate an electric pulse. In this way it is possible to, as the name suggests, count drops. An algorithm is then used to convert this count (more specifically, the interval between successive rain drops) into rainfall intensities. This session was certainly the highlight of the workshop; it was a lot of fun to play with the sensors, connect the different pieces and even protect and decorate them with colourful nail polish! Beyond the fun, building our own sensors helped create a common sense of engagement and ownership of the project’s measuring campaign. This was absolutely brilliant and several attendees are very keen to hold similar sessions with local groups, including schools, other citizen science groups and residents of other areas affected by flooding.

Following this workshop IIASA will further refine the flood reporting app and an updated version is expected in August. We’ll be working together with stakeholders on the testing of the app. Testing will include reporting of ‘virtual flooding events’, in the absence of real flooding events in the near future (which seems rather likely with the current sunny weather!).

Citizen scientists will install their rain drop counters in suitable locations at home or work. Data from the sensors will start to be uploaded to a data platform in the coming weeks.

This initial testing phase will conclude in November 2018. We will then collect the feedback from the sensors and the app and based on that will implement additional updates.

Stay tuned for further developments!