The newly launched Houston TranStar flood monitoring app aims to prevent a repeat of the widespread destruction that occurred in the area last year. But, will it really help reduce the damage?

Houston, Texas faced one of its most devastating hurricanes in history last year.

Many Edgy Labs employees lived in Houston at the time of the hurricane. While we wrote about our experiences and how the city banded together, we all agreed that more proactive measures needed to be taken to prevent this kind of devastation again.

Will Houston TranStar’s new real-time flood monitoring app be the solution?

image of Houston residents work to help each other during the hurricane for article Houston TranStar App Tracks Flooding in Real Time
Houston residents work to help each other during the hurricane | Adrees Latif, REUTERS via Business Insider

Cryptic Details From TranStar so far

Upon reading the initial headline of the outlet that first covered this story, I thought, “Finally, a Houston transit company is embracing technology.”

I thought that perhaps this real-time flood monitoring app would be crowdsourced like Waze. Or maybe it would simply work in tandem with local weather stations and other places around town to provide up-to-date information in times of need.

However, when I searched for concrete information on the app, I turned up very little.

You can access the U.S. Geological Survey’s app known as Water On The Go for real-time stream flow, rainfall, and lake level information in Texas. But Houston TranStar’s app is not that apparently.

Both ABC 13 and CultureMap Houston covered the news in very short articles with quotes from a county judge. The articles both state that the app will provide a 3-mile radius alert if “a gauge” measures high amounts of rainfall in short time frames.

That alert remains on the app’s map for 90 minutes in order to inform residents of possible flooding in that region. But that’s all the information either outlet provided about the app.

I also have some bad news for Houston TranStar: there are already flood monitoring apps.

image of USGS Water On The Go App on an Android mobile device for article Houston TranStar App Tracks Flooding in Real Time
USGS Water On The Go App on an Android mobile device | Juliet Childers for Edgy Labs

Good Ideas That Need More Support and Implementation

You can access rainfall information on the Harris County Flood Warning System from a desktop computer. Accessing it on mobile is a little more difficult since it isn’t really designed for mobile users.

With mobile users in mind, other companies developed actual apps like FloodWatch by DG5 Technology, LLC. However, it appears only to work with Apple products and it seems to have some loading and launch issues.

This research paper from 2015 focuses on a specific location with the same concept of an app. The difference is that these people developed it for Android operating system devices. One more slight difference: it isn’t exactly an app.

They also wanted to work with established programs and warning systems to deliver real-time information via text messages. I can verify that we have something like this in Houston, but it generally doesn’t help people in highly flood-prone areas.

The Project Noah app and the Flood Patrol app work together to spread awareness of flooding in various regions. Users can post information and screenshots to the app, as well as social media platforms for other users to see.

But this USGS’s real-time map is the closest Houston has to a real-time flood monitoring app for now. Perhaps Houston TranStar will release more details soon.

How would you best devise a real-time flood monitoring app?

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