A School of Computational Science and Engineering faculty member is co-leading a $1.5M National Science Foundation grant to mitigate flood risks. The team is developing an app to help policymakers identify areas most vulnerable to flooding and address community needs.

A scientific machine learning (ML) expert at Georgia Tech is lending a hand in developing an app to identify and help Florida communities most at risk of flooding.

School of Computational Science and Engineering (CSE) Assistant Professor Peng Chen is co-principal investigator of a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant to develop the CRIS-HAZARD system.

CRIS-HAZARD‘s strength derives from integrating geographic information and data mined from community input, like traffic camera videos and social media posts.  

This ability helps policymakers identify areas most vulnerable to flooding and address community needs. The app also predicts and assesses flooding in real time to connect victims with first responders and emergency managers.

“Successfully deploying CRIS-HAZARD will harness community knowledge through direct and indirect engagement efforts to inform decision-making,” Chen said. “It will connect individuals to policymakers and serve as a roadmap at helping the most vulnerable communities.”

Chen’s role in CRIS-HAZARD will be to develop new ML models for the app’s prediction capability. These assimilation models integrate the mined data with predictions from current hydrodynamic models.

Along with making an immediate impact in flood-prone coastal communities, Chen said these models could have broader applications in the future. These include models for improved hurricane prediction and management of water resources.

The models Chen will build for CRIS-HAZARD derive from past applications aimed at helping communities.

Chen has crafted similar models for monitoring and mitigating disease spread, including Covid-19. He has also worked on materials science projects to accelerate the design of metamaterials and self-assembly materials.

“Scientific machine learning is very broad concept and can be applied to many different fields,” Chen said. “Our group looks at how to accelerate optimization, account for risk, and quantify uncertainty in these applications.”

Uncertainty in CRIS-HAZARD is what brings Chen to the project, headed by University of South Florida researchers. While the app’s novelty lies in its use of heterogenous data, inferring predictions can be challenging since the data comes from different sources in varying formats. 

To overcome this, Chen intends to build new data assimilation models from scratch powered by deep neural networks (DNNs).

Along with their ability to find connections between heterogeneous data, DNNs are scalable and inexpensive. This beats the alternative of using supercomputers to make the same calculations.

DNNs are also fast and can significantly reduce computational time. According to Chen, the efficiency of DNNs can achieve acceleration hundreds of thousands of times greater than classical models.

Low cost and time make it possible to run DNN-based simulations multiple times. This improves reliability in prediction results in real-time once the DNNs are properly trained.

“The data may not be consistent or compatible since there are different models we’re trying to integrate, making prediction uncertain,” Chen said. “We can run these ML models many times to quantify the uncertainty and give a probability distribution or a range of predictions.”

CRIS-HAZARD also exemplifies the power of collaboration across disciplines and universities. In this case, machine learning techniques reach across state boundaries to help people that are vulnerable to flooding or other natural disasters.

USF Professor Barnali Dixon leads the project with Associate Professor Yi Qiang— both geocomputation researchers in the School of Geosciences, incorporating data science and artificial intelligence.

Subhro Guhathakurta collaborates with Chen from Georgia Tech. Along with being a professor in the School of City & Regional Planning, Guhathkurta is director of Tech’s Master of Science in Urban Analytics program and the Center for Spatial Planning and Analytics and Visualization.