Using data to determine flooding

Published Nov. 27, 2019
Using GIS to Help with Hurricanes

Jennifer Kist helps the Charleston District Emergency Operations Division during hurricanes by using technology to predict and track potential flood damage.

“I understand data and the different things we can do with information,” said Jennifer Kist, geographer, on the eve of Hurricane Dorian’s near miss of the South Carolina coast.

Analyzing flood maps, rainfall estimates and storm surge forecasts the first week of September 2019, she crunched data and reviewed imagery to help predict the impact of the category 3 storm on Charleston Harbor, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, local beaches and other Army Corps projects.

“Because I’ve had experience in the field, and through my education collecting and analyzing the information that creates a lot of these models, I better know what to do with the information,” said Kist. “Knowing that helps me determine what I can do with this data, its limitations and explain it all to the commander and emergency manager to help with their decision making.”

In 2015, Kist began working for the Charleston District’s survey branch performing a range of functions, including creating seafloor maps of the District’s extensive navigation projects. During a six month assignment at the Engineering Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss., Kist completed research and wrote a publication that details how to extract and interpret multi-beam backscatter, multispectral backscatter and multifrequency multibeam data to determine sediment type, search for low-density dredge materials and perform object detection.

Kist recently transitioned into a new role as a geographer for Charleston District’s management support branch and has also taken on a role assisting the
emergency operations team in Charleston for disaster response.

“My time in the survey team here taught me the value of the field teams,” said Kist. “USACE is an organization that relies on bottom up funding in the projectfunded world and this results in each individual person’s input and work to be incredibly relevant. Understanding the perspective from these places helps me to do my current job.”

As a result, Kist’s unique blend of educational background and practical experience in the field aids her in all stages of information management, from collecting data to analyzing data to then answering “why do we care?”

“Jennifer’s passion and abilities enhance district emergency operations by her knowledge of USACE databases,” said Michael Hind, emergency management
chief. “Jennifer has the ability to pull key pieces of information from different sources and create graphical products which help leadership and planners see
the larger picture of the disaster response operation. Obtaining information through graphical representations of data is far more productive than sifting through layers of reports.”

“I like to solve problems,” said Kist. “Whether it’s working emergency ops and preparing or recovering from a hurricane, helping the city of Charleston with a
flooding study to save our city from sea level rise, or working with navigation to figure out a better way to catalog data so that our field teams can access it in the field, I enjoy coming into work to solve problems.”