Missouri State Parks Ease Response to Flooding With GIS

Flooding is a recurring threat for the Missouri state park system because many of its parks lie along major rivers, including the Missouri and the Mississippi. In 2019, for example, some locations along the Missouri river dealt with flooding for seven months or more.

Such floods can wipe out portions of hiking and biking trails, strew mud and debris across campgrounds, and damage park facilities, all of which can require costly repairs. To receive financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) needs to document the damage, including its precise location, and prepare an estimate.

In the past, once the waters receded, park staff would go into the field with a GPS device, paper and pencil, making notes, and returning to the office to enter the information into a spreadsheet. It was a slow and cumbersome process.

The process for getting the word out to the public about potential hazards or closings also was cumbersome. Park staff would survey the damage in their area and email a short blurb to the central office to post online.

The problem was that the advisories were in text format. In the event of a major event, potential visitors to the Katy Trail, which is 239 miles long, could be faced with a list of advisories for 20 or 30 different areas, with no intuitive points of reference.

The Solution

Missouri DNR’s first concern was improving the process for conducting damage surveys and disaster calculations.

The key solution was an Esri ArcGIS app that park staff could use to capture coordinates, take photos and record their observations, with the information automatically captured in the backend GIS system. As simple as it is, the solution has streamlined the process for preparing estimates and submitting reports.

That project, however, also led to a better solution for sharing advisories with the public. They created a web-based app that park employees can use to report hazards and closures. As soon as the information is entered, the park superintendent can review and publish to the park website.

More important, rather than being published in list format, it is displayed on a map – which makes it much easier for people to understand where exactly the trouble spots are in relation to where they wish to go.

Missouri DNR has deployed this application first for Katy Trail, which is one of the state’s most popular sites. After they have completed adequate testing and trained the staff, they hope to expand to parks statewide.

“We used Esri GIS in our flood damage assessment efforts to provide FEMA with accurate locational data of areas affected by flooding along Katy Trail State Park.” – Jon Haslag, GIS Analyst, Missouri Office of Administration, IT Services Division, Office of Geospatial Information

This article is an excerpt from our recent report, “Blazing a Trail to Smart Parks With GIS.” Download the full report here.

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