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 are
estimating potential areas of flooding in Shelby County. The maps are being 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 on May 10.
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” have 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 Water Institute.
“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 now make the information much simpler for everyone to comprehend.
“They’re producing data sets we’ve never seen before,” Oldham said. “It’s going to
give us tremendous opportunity. The entire first response community [is using the
maps] for this event, as well as it is giving us the tools for future events. It’s
been a tremendous asset to us.”
By using the maps, law enforcement officers have pinpointed the neighborhoods and
homes affected by the flooding.
“We’ve planned around their maps for evacuations, potential rescues or numerous things
that go along with this type of event,” said Shelby County Chief Deputy William Cash
(BPS ’09). “It’s groundbreaking.”
Waldron and the team analyze 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 will partner later this month to create a centralized database,
which will help in future crises.
“The goal is, over time, when the data sets are all available, that they will be able
to conduct analyses with the data and with training over the next few years and then
not need us,” Hill said.
Now the professors are working twice as hard to assist in the current floodwater level
monitoring while also preparing data to coordinate for the future platform.
“We’re still meeting [the original] goal, we’re just doing it more actively,” Hill
If your area becomes flooded, it is recommended to take a disaster kit with you as
well as important documents, records, medicine and other important items. Avoid coming
in contact with the floodwaters as sewage and other containments may seep into the
water, which could cause illness or infections.
Shelby County law enforcement officers have increased patrols in evacuated areas by
100 percent to maintain safety and deter looters.
Shelters operated by the Shelby County Office of Preparedness are located at Hope
Presbyterian Church at 8500 Walnut Grove Road, Cummings Street Baptist Church at 250
East Raines and Millington Civic Center at 8077 Wilkinsville Road.
For more information or to view flood maps, visit www.staysafeshelby.us, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For those without Internet service, information is also available at the 24-Hour
Flood Watch Hotline by calling 324-8799 or text messaging 290-7530.