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Montgomery Co. to install new flood sensor at Rockville apartment where 19-year-old died

The county's expanded early warning Flood Sensor Program includes 35 sensors in flood-prone sites across the county.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Editor's note: The above video is from September 1, 2021. 

Montgomery County officials unveiled new technology to alert residents sooner of potentially dangerous flooding. Last week, the county showcased its expanded early warning Flood Sensor Program, with 35 solar-powered sensors, including one to be installed at the Rock Creek Woods Apartments in Rockville, where a 19-year-old man drowned last year.

RELATED: Family identifies 19-year-old who died in Rockville apartment flooding

In September, 19-year-old Melkin Daniel Cedillo drowned in flash flooding at the apartment complex. Cedillo's uncle says that losing his nephew has destroyed their family. 

"Obviously the unfortunate death in September of last year was even more of a reason for us to expedite this project," Matt Miziorko from Montgomery County Emergency Management said.

RELATED: Neighbors from Rock Creek Woods Apartments living in hotels after flooding

The new sensors are being provided by The U.S Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate.

The sensors detect rising water levels and provide early warnings about high water or flooding. They are being installed at flood prone sites across the county. Each sensor has an internal battery to maintain operations during inclement weather. The sensors use a tethered node that is placed underwater. The node detects the amount of pressure placed upon it by the water and calculates the depth of the water. Every five minutes, data is sent from the sensor by a cell phone card to a master display. A small color camera also sends images back to the main display. Every location has pre-determined thresholds for water depths for the sensor to alert that water levels are approaching or exceeding flood stage. If they are, a crew is sent to investigate the potential flooding and whether a low-lying road needs to be cleared, or if an Emergency Action Plan for a dam needs to be activated.

Credit: WUSA9

"We (can) either start to close down a road, or begin to monitor that dam closer to make sure that it's not in a danger of overtopping flooding or eroding," Miziorko said.

The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) led the effort to get the sensors and the County’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEMHS) worked on a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with DHS and Intellisense Systems Inc., the company that makes the devices. The county will share the data gathered by the sensors with the company and DHS to improve sensor design based on user feedback, officials said in a press release.

“This partnership between DHS and the County is critical to our efforts in warning Montgomery County residents about dangerous and life-threatening floods,” said County Executive Marc Elrich in a statement. “Just a few weeks ago, heavy rain caused flash flooding that left several drivers stranded in their vehicles in Bethesda. Flooding also led to road closures in parts of the County. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt. The County is no stranger to this kind of weather event, but now that we have these flood sensors, we can notify residents sooner of where flooding is happening so they can avoid danger.”

Experts say heavy rains that cause flash flooding are becoming harder to anticipate because of the impacts of climate change.

“Because of climate change, we are seeing more frequent and more intense rainfall,” said Acting DEP Director and County Climate Change Officer Adriana Hochberg. “These high-tech flood sensors are a crucial tool in managing the effects of a warmer planet.”

The summer season produces the highest rainfall in the Washington Region. The National Severe Storms Laboratory reports that more people are killed each year in the nation by flooding than are killed by tornadoes, hurricanes or lightning.

Sensors have been installed in 23 locations. An additional 12 sensors will be established. The locations of the installed sensors are:

  • Rock Creek Woods Apartments
  • University Boulevard pond
  • Wheaton—downstream of dam
  • Olney Oaks Regional
  • Wheaton Pond dam
  • Lake Hallowell
  • Vineyard
  • Christie Estates
  • Great Seneca Creek at Brink Road
  • Rattlewood Golf Course dam
  • 8900 block of Gue Road at unnamed creek
  • 11200 block of Game Preserve Road
  • New Cut Road at Little Seneca Creek
  • Environ HOA
  • Gunners Lake dam
  • Lake Whetstone
  • Pueblo
  • Sligo Creek at Knowles Avenue
  • Hawlings River at Brighton Dam Road
  • Reddy Branch at Brookeville Road
  • Pine Lake dam
  • Hawlings River at Zion Road
  • Burnt Mills dam

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