A flood of responses for award-winning engineering tool

Student-designed flood risk management tool helps communities cope with natural disasters. 

Raymond Laine

An innovative online survey system that empowers residents to have more input into decisions about flood risk management options has won a national prize at the Resilient Australia Awards.

The FLOODENGAGE system developed by UOW engineering PhD candidate Raymond Laine (pictured above), with the support of many, is an online tool to empower the community to learn about, prioritise and make considered and collective decisions about flood risk management options for their local catchment.

The Resilient Australia Awards, a Federal Government program to recognise projects and initiatives that help communities to be better prepared and more resilient to the wake of natural disasters.

FLOODENAGE was joint winner of the Education and Research Sector in the 2014 National Resilient Australia Awards, representing NSW after winning the same category at the state level.

It allows participants to input personal values, derive solutions, and meaningfully contribute to informed local decision making to reduce the devastating consequences of flooding.

Residents can quickly explore the various floodplain management options, learn about their advantages and disadvantages and provide recommendations for their local council’s consideration.

“There are usually several feasible options from more than 130 available that can help with reducing flood loss but each catchment is different, ” Mr Laine said.

“All options have their pros and cons, which can cause complex trade-offs. Typically these decisions rarely have significant community input or influence on the final outcome.

“As a result many engineering decisions go down the ‘decide-announce-defend’ path and residents are left with limited or tokenistic consultation on matters that affect them.

“This leaves a perplexing gap and one that engagement decision support systems can offer assistance to close.”

FLOODENGAGE is an easy-to-use online program that enables communities to make more informed decisions about flood risk management. 

The tool has been trialled alongside traditional consultation at three flood catchments in the Wollongong, Shellharbour and Cessnock Local Government Areas.

Results from the trial showed it was able to strengthen community resilience with increased community engagement, including an additional 100 submissions in the three trial regions.

“The results show, individuals using the tool made more balanced choices, weighing up the social, environmental, economic considerations,” Mr Laine said. “Ultimately, it led to more informed community decisions.”

He wants to develop the tool for broader application and betterment of many decisions.

“It is my current passion to see these unbiased systems developed for a range of engineering and non-engineering projects such as beach use, road and rail planning, bushfire management and energy generation,” he said.

“It would be great to see more people easily involved and working with decision makers, to make informed choices about their collective future.”

Dean of Engineering and Information Sciences Professor Chris Cook said FLOODENGAGE was an excellent example of how UOW research benefits the community.

“Engineers have the technical knowledge, but they owe it to the community to communicate with them in meaningful ways so that they can make informed decisions,” he said. “The community has a right to be involved.

“This decision support system empowers community members in a really practical way to influence flood mitigation and reduce flood threats to life and property. It also demonstrates the social and community benefit of engineering.”