With up to 15 inches of rain flooding parts of the Dallas area in late August, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a disaster declaration for 23 counties—marking the seventh such declaration this year in Texas alone. But there’s help on the way for first responders helping with future floodwater rescue efforts.
With extreme flooding the second deadliest of all weather-related hazards in the U.S., to address this trend Houston Community College (HCC) is working to create the Regional Response Operation Center, the world’s most advanced urban flood simulator solely dedicated to training fire, law enforcement, and EMS responders on the technical skills necessary to perform life-saving water rescues.
Located near HCC’s campus in northeast Houston, the $25 million, 75,000-square-foot facility will feature a large swift-water channel, 25-acre dive and powerboat and flatwater training pond, and an urban flood simulator to allow rescue personnel to train in flooded streets and buildings. Massive pumps will move a high volume of water into the “streets and buildings,” simulating a flood event in a controlled environment in order to maintain participants’ safety. It will have the capacity to train 3,000 – 4,000 first responders per year.
“More often we apply our skillset crafting whitewater-based recreation facilities, but designing projects like this to train first responders is super rewarding,” says Scott Shipley, founder of Lyons, Colo.-based S2O Design and Engineering, tasked with designing the facility. “Regional emergency response teams will no longer depend on finding a creek or river with proper conditions for this vital training.”
While S2O has designed and built some of the most advanced recirculating whitewater venues in the world—including the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC; Riversports Rapids in Oklahoma City; the Lee Valley Whitewater Center in London, home of the 2012 Olympics; and the forthcoming Montgomery Whitewater project in Montgomery, AL—the design of this facility is loosely based on its New York State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany, NY. Operated by the New York State Division of Homeland Security, the project is the only other mock urban flood training center in the country.
Dallas-based Huitt-Zollars, Inc is the prime consultant of the project and architect of the training building. The project is in the final design and value engineering phase, with groundbreaking projected for spring 2023.