Sophomore wins national award for flood sensor


Gauri Kaushik

During floods, traffic jams seem to be a dreaded reality. But while others complained, sophomore Sanjana Shah decided to do something about the problem.

She built a flood sensor, a device that senses rising levels of water and alerts the proper services. This became her winning entry for the President’s Environmental Youth Award by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

How does the Smart Flood Sensor work?

The Smart Flood Sensor is placed at drain openings and collects water flow data by using a magnetic monitoring device that senses water levels at these drains. The data that the device collects is uploaded to servers through a Bluetooth device. It is then analyzed to predict floods and their severity.
Shah tested her project in her neighborhood. She programmed the sensors and servers to alert her neighbors when water levels rose to a potential flooding capacity.

This is Shah’s prototype of her flood sensor. She was inspired by the 2015 Chennai floods. Photo used with permission of Sanjana Shah

What is the Environmental Protection Agency President’s Environmental Youth Award?

The President’s Environmental Youth Award is an award given by the United States Environmental Protection Agency to youths K-12 who have proposed innovative ideas or solutions for prominent environmental issues.

Shah came across the award while searching for ways to productize her project. She discussed the idea of applying with her Java teacher Debbie Frazier.

“It’s a really elegant solution,” Frazier said about Shah’s project. “I could imagine a student coming up with that solution, but what was really impressive was that she took it all the way and actually made a prototype.”

Why is flooding a problem?

Flooding is a problem, not just in places like India, but also in areas of the United States, like Florida, New York, Georgia, Michigan, and even California.

Although Californians may think that the drought has kept them safe from this kind of natural disaster, Southern California is at a high risk of devastating flooding, according to Ben Strauss, director of the Program on Sea Level Rise at Climate Central.

Flooding can cause millions of dollars of damage, displace families and cause fatalities, as seen in the 2015 floods of South India, which lay waste to the city of Chennai.

What was the inspiration behind the Smart Flood Sensor?

Other than being stuck in a flood-induced traffic jam for hours, Shah has personal connections with flooding.

“My grandparents and uncle’s family live in Chennai, India, which was affected by one of the worst floods in South India during the 2015 monsoon season,” Shah said. “They were stranded in homes for several days.”

The time of the floods happened to coincide with when she had first started working on the sensor and made her realize the importance of her project.

Shah works on her prototype at home. JAVA teacher Debbie Frazier helped her with the project. Photo used with permission of Sanjana Shah

What is the future of the Smart Flood Sensor?

Shah believes the sensors have the potential to produce timely warnings and can help authorities send crews that can fix damaged or clogged drains before flooding occurs. She would like to see it become a product in the marketplace soon and is looking at ways to present it to a wider audience.