Residents Get Flood of Data

By Brian Fonseca  |  Posted 2004-12-06 Print this article Print

Army Corps of Engineers builds Web-based app to aggregate water-level information gathered along the Mississippi River.

A lack of mutually accessible and consistent information about the water level of the Mississippi River at any given time compelled businesses and citizens along the river last year to demand federal action. At the core of the problem were an antiquated Web design and the network of water-control sites for the Water Control division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Specifically, the myriad sites in districts along the river offered distinctive, nonintegrated water-level data. And nowhere was there a destination that aggregated all that data.

As a result, the barge industry, other businesses and the general public could not know the full extent of a potential risk. For the corps, the answer was clear: It needed to consolidate the information in a single repository that was robust enough to withstand the flood of traffic during inclement weather.

"Within our corps and within our division, each district office had Web pages that were all somewhat unique, so it made it difficult for the public to plow through that information based on where you lived," said Jim Stiman, chief of water control for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "Especially during flooding season, people who lived along the rivers were concerned about when the rivers rise and how high they go."

Located in Rock Island, Ill., the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers division is primarily a civil-works district administering federal water-resource development programs in large portions of Iowa and Illinois and smaller portions of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri. Primary missions of the military organization include navigation, environmental preservation, flood control, regulatory functions, recreation, meteorological information and federal real estate management, as well as mobilization for federal disaster response and national defense and for emergency operations.

To address the Mississippi challenge, the corps built its own Web-based application called River Gages. The software features individually customizable content management modules, built using Macromedia Inc.s ColdFusion code-scripting tools, and runs on an Oracle Corp. 9i database and Application Server.

Stiman said River Gages provided his department with a simple form of data input from nondeveloper personnel and dramatically boosted productivity levels by cutting down on isolated maintenance concerns at each location.

"As security became more and more of an issue, it took more time away from engineering and operating projects because you kept busy patching servers and other security issues," said Stiman. "From a water-control perspective, it allows us to spend more time on forecasts and operating projects, rather than having to deal with some of the information management issues."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers next step led to the recruitment of IBM technology reseller and IBM channel partner OpenDemand Systems Inc. and its browser-based OpenLoad testing software. The product was entrusted to make sure the throughput of the newly centralized IT system could handle thousands of hits and find potential bottlenecks in its Oracle environment.

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Brian Fonseca is a senior writer at eWEEK who covers database, data management and storage management software, as well as storage hardware. He works out of eWEEK's Woburn, Mass., office. Prior to joining eWEEK, Brian spent four years at InfoWorld as the publication's security reporter. He also covered services, and systems management. Before becoming an IT journalist, Brian worked as a beat reporter for The Herald News in Fall River, Mass., and cut his teeth in the news business as a sports and news producer for Channel 12-WPRI/Fox 64-WNAC in Providence, RI. Brian holds a B.A. in Communications from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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