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University plans flood barrier drill, takes other precautionary measures

  Aerial view of the Iowa River
The Iowa River, shown in this aerial photo, left its banks and caused major damage on the University of Iowa campus in 2008. While there appears to be no imminent risk of similar flooding this spring, UI officials are taking precautionary measures to prepare campus. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

While Iowa City doesn’t appear to be at imminent risk of flooding based on the current weather forecast and other data, University of Iowa officials are taking precautionary measures to prepare the campus should snowmelt and rainfall once again push the Iowa River beyond its banks this spring.

One such measure is a planned HESCO barrier deployment drill scheduled for 1 p.m., Tuesday, March 23, behind the Studio Arts building (former Menards) on Highway 6.

HESCOs—short for Hercules Engineering Solutions Consortium, which manufactures the barriers—are temporary dikes or barriers made of a collapsible wire mesh container and heavy-duty fabric liner that can be filled with sand by a front-loader, allowing for relatively rapid deployment. The barriers can be linked together or stacked. During the June 2008 Midwest floods, 27,000 feet of HESCO barrier wall were shipped to Iowa and used on the University of Iowa campus, as well as other parts of the state.

"As we learned two years ago, you can never be too prepared."

—Dan Heater,
UI Facilities Management


Since 2008, the University has installed bulkheads in three locations in the utility tunnels to protect the power plant from future flooding and similar measures are in place to protect at-risk buildings. The University is taking a number of other steps as well, including ordering pumps that can be used to evacuate water from buildings or from behind flood barriers if needed; arranging the purchase of large quantities of sand if needed; and working with state and local officials to coordinate appropriate responses if certain “trigger events” come to pass.

Those trigger events, which vary for each facility on campus, include such factors as the flow rate of the Iowa River through Iowa City, predicted snowmelt, ground saturation, the elevation of the Coralville Lake Reservoir and the weather forecast. Officials are keeping a particular close eye on Mayflower Residence Hall, the Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories (IATL) and other buildings damaged by flooding in 2008.

“As we learned two years ago, you can never be too prepared,” says Dan Heater, director of building and landscape services in UI Facilities Management. “Even if we deploy HESCO barriers, that doesn’t mean flooding is inevitable; it’s just a precaution. It’s important to strike a balance between taking adequate steps to minimize the risk of damage from flooding, and impacting the normal operations of a large research university campus.”

by Stephen Pradarelli


Office of University Relations. Copyright The University of Iowa 2006. All rights reserved.