Team responds to Midwest flood to document its impacts

1/6/2016 4:33:00 AM

Five faculty members and three graduate students from the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (CEE at Illinois) are part of a team from the Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance (GEER) Association, supported by the National Science Foundation, which has been mobilized to investigate the impacts of record and near-record flood crests and the performance of flood protection systems in Illinois and Missouri.

GEER members include engineers and researchers across multiple fields and states in the Midwest. CEE at Illinois Assistant Professor Cassandra Rutherford and Nicholas Pinter, a Professor and the Shlemon Chair in Applied Geology at the University of California, Davis are coordinating the field investigations. The team also includes Joseph Gamez and Michael Musgrove (CEE at Illinois graduate students), Michelle Bernhardt (University of Arkansas), Leslie Harder (HDR Inc.), Anthony Heddlesten (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), Adam Lobbestael (Lawrence Tech University), Erik Loehr (University of Missouri), Behdad Mofarrai (University of Arkansas) and Brent Rosenblad (University of Missouri). Additional support will be provided by CEE at Illinois Professor Youssef Hashash, Associate Professor Scott Olson, Research Assistant Professor Joshua Peschel, Assistant Professor Rafael Tinoco and graduate student Sierra Young. Graduate students from the University of Missouri will also participate in the field investigations.

Left to right: Cassandra J. Rutherford, Youssef Hashash, Scott M. Olson, Joshua M. Peschel, Rafael O. Tinoco

These engineers and scientists will work collaboratively with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and with state and local organizations to augment the reconnaissance effort. The team will document the geotechnical, hydraulic, climatic and policy related issues as part of a systems-based approach to understand the overall performance of the flood protection system in the central Midwest.

Unusual winter storms in the Midwest have sent large volumes of water into rivers and drainage areas causing historic flooding in Illinois and Missouri. Flooding has disrupted transportation systems such as local, state, and interstate highways, rail lines, barge routes and ferry services. Levee and flood protection systems also have been severely stressed. As of Friday, January 1, 2016, at least 11 levees had been overtopped causing thousands of people to be displaced and over 20 deaths have been attributed to flooding. Governors Bruce Rauner (Illinois) and Jay Nixon (Missouri) have declared disaster areas and a State of Emergency for affected counties.

Immediately after extreme natural events (for example, earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, landslide or flood), perishable data are available that can be used to improve engineering design. Field observations are particularly important to understand the response of complex levee and transportation systems. Detailed mapping and surveying of damaged and undamaged areas provides data to document case histories that drive the development of many design procedures used by engineers. Documenting and sharing the key lessons learned from this and other extreme events around the world contributes significantly to advancing research and practice in physical sciences, engineering, design and public policy.

After the field investigation is complete, observations and findings will be posted on the GEER website. Additional information on GEER is available at:

This work is funded in part by a CEE at Illinois Rapid Response Grant. Paid for by the CEE Trust, the department’s unrestricted gift fund, this program enables department faculty and students to respond quickly to study disasters around the world.