U of M Professors Deliver Expertise During Flooding Crisis
By Laura Fenton
Brian Waldron and Arleen Hill stepped up to the challenge when Shelby County needed
The two University of Memphis professors, who work in the Center for Partnerships
in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) at the University, created the maps that were
used in estimating potential areas of flooding in Shelby County. The maps were used
by the Shelby County Office of Preparedness to alert residents of dangers.
Approximately 4,500 houses, apartments, businesses, industrial sites and six schools
could have been affected by the time the floodwaters crested at 48 feet.
Waldron, an assistant professor of civil engineering and director of the Center for
Partnerships in GIS, and Hill, an associate professor of earth sciences, as well as
a team of “five savvy people” worked almost non-stop to monitor the flood levels and
release updated information. Waldron is also associate director of the U of M’s Ground
“It’s not just anybody [that] can sit down and do this,” said Waldron. “You have to
know what you’re doing and you have to [do it] methodically and in a very straightforward
manner. You don’t have time to do things wrong. It’s not a learn on the fly [thing],
that’s for sure.”
Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham has high praise for the work done by the professors.
Prior to the current maps, Oldham and his staff analyzed information themselves, but
the “user-friendly” maps created by Waldron, Hill and the Center for Partnerships
in GIS made the information much simpler for everyone to comprehend.
“They’re producing data sets we’ve never seen before,” Oldham said. “It [gave] us
tremendous opportunity. The entire first response community [used the maps]. It [was]
a tremendous asset to us.”
By using the maps, law enforcement officers pinpointed the neighborhoods and homes
affected by the flooding.
“We planned around their maps for evacuations, potential rescues or numerous things,”
said Shelby County Chief Deputy William Cash (BPS ’09). “It’s groundbreaking.”
Waldron and the team analyzed data collected from items such as FEMA flood levels,
levee protection and elevations to create maps with markers first responders and the
public understand, like ZIP codes, road names or school locations.
Maps are generated in a GIS program hosted by the U of M, a program usually used for
The Office of Preparedness asked the U of M to assist with the current cartography
project because the two also partnered to create a centralized database, which will
help in future crises.http://www.memphis.edu/mediaroom/releases/may11/flooding.htm