Witness to a Flash Flood

by Amanda Pruzinsky

Amanda's view from inside during the flash flood

Amanda’s view during the flash flood

On Saturday, July 30, my boyfriend and I visited Ellicott City, Maryland to sightsee its historic downtown despite the rainy day.  No one had any way of knowing that an otherwise ordinary day would end in such devastation.  Everyone was chatting about the rain when an alarm hit our smart phones.  Another summer storm, another flash flood warning, everyone glances at their phones and continues on with their evening.

Its 8:11 p.m., only a few minutes after the flash flood warning to our phones.  The heavy rainstorm had turned into the warned flash flood in less time than I can comprehend.  Everyone is glued to the windows in the front of the restaurant yelling over the sound of the raging water, watching even after the basement filled with water, power went out, and alarms came on. We continued watching for over an hour as the river of brown water swept away cars, rolled huge dumpsters, toppled street signs, cut the power lines, and raged like it would last forever.

By 9:33 p.m., the flood retreated and we took to the street to find our car while rescue squads ran in groups down the hill with large yellow rafts. The streets were full of terrified people, all looking unbelievably at the vast holes in the streets and buildings, totaled cars, and wreckage strewn before us.

My heart goes out to all of the people who were there, for the homes and businesses destroyed, and to the families and friends of the people who lost their lives.

These types of weather events happen very suddenly and there is only so much one can do to prepare.  Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is an excellent resource for information on what to do in disasters, such as flash floods, and the agency has a downloadable FEMA mobile app as well. EPA also has helpful information, including natural disaster preparedness and response tips, flood resilience checklist, flood risk management resources, and flood cleanup resources for your home or businesses.

Hurricanes, severe storms, flooding, droughts, and wildfires are increasing in frequency, intensity, or length. Communities are taking action and investing in their continued safety.  EPA is partnering with other national and international programs, states, localities, tribes, and communities to develop policies and provide technical assistance, analytical tools, and outreach support on climate change issues.

On the news, I hear plans being discussed to rebuild Ellicott City to be even stronger and more resilient than before. In the height of all of the devastation, there is hope for the future.

 

About the Author: Amanda Pruzinsky is a physical scientist for the Water Protection Division in EPA’s mid-Atlantic region working to support all of the water programs with a focus on data management, analysis, and communication.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Developing a “Toolbox” of Technology Options for Responders Following a Radiological Contamination Event

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

Clean up crews in hazmat suits.

EPA researchers and partners are developing a “toolbox of options” to support decontamination and containment operations.

This week EPA researchers, in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, kick-off a week long demonstration to provide responders with a “toolbox of options” for radiological decontamination and containment technologies.

Decision-makers need a variety of options when responding to a radiological accident—which can include events like a dirty bomb, or a nuclear accident like what happened at Chernobyl or Fukushima. Some technologies are more effective, but less available, and others are more readily available but less effective. Depending on the circumstances, it’s important to have a plan in place for the best outcome. Decisions that are made during the first hours and days immediately following a radiological incident can have a profound impact on the cost and amount of effort needed for remediation activities.

That’s where this science comes into play.

Researchers will take a look at technologies that looked promising in the lab, but in a wide-area urban scale environment (don’t worry, there will be no live radiological contamination used in the demo) in Columbus, Ohio. The purpose of the demonstration is to show how the technologies can be applied at a city-wide scale using readily available equipment, and what impact the technologies might have on the surfaces to which they are applied.

Banner about EPA's wide-area demonstration in Columbus, Ohio

Technology Demonstration banner, Columbus, OH.

Researchers will be demonstrating stabilization technologies—like fire retardant, wetting agents and chloride salt—to reduce resuspension and tracking of radiological contaminants minimizing the effects on human health and the environment. These technologies are available to responders in large quantities and are quickly and easily deployable and help reduce the dose to responders and the public.

When responding to an event, responders drive vehicles in and out of hot zones so that they can work. Researchers will be testing a variety of vehicle decontamination technologies with waste water containment options so that responders aren’t tracking contamination from the hot zone to “clean” areas. These technologies are readily available and easy to deploy so that responders can set up a staging area quickly and efficiently without spreading contamination.

One of the main goals after an incident is getting the community back to basic operations while keeping people and the environment safe. Researchers will be looking at technologies that can be applied shortly after an event that help restore infrastructure to a level that will allow public services to be provided.

Researchers will also look at highly efficient technologies that are focused on surface radiological decontamination. Currently, these technologies may not be available in quantities that are needed immediately after a wide radiological release, but they could be used in specific instances inside critical infrastructure, including police and fire stations, electrical substations, or a nuclear power plant.

Finally, they will test on-site waste water treatment focused on safe reuse of water which may be used in decontamination operations.  Being able to reuse wash water can ease the burden on storm and sanitary sewer systems, as well as reduce the burden of wash water requirements on the city’s water supply.

This demonstration will provide necessary information supporting a “toolbox of options” that responders can use while planning for any kind of radiological contamination incident. It will provide decision-makers with a foundation as to what works in specific situations and provide information for response planning.

Learn More:

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry is the Strategic Communications Lead for Homeland Security Research at EPA and blogs about EPA’s research responding to chemical, biological, or radiological and natural disasters.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.