CMEP Works with Mongolian Counterparts to Examine Flooding Potential along the Selbe River

The mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (USACE) Civil-Military Emergency Preparedness (CMEP) program is to design and conduct bilateral and multilateral activities to achieve our partners' security cooperation and consequence management objectives. We strive to increase civil and miltary cooperation in emergency management and disaster planning. We emphasize planning for the consequences of disasters, including those that involve natural incidents , weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), technological disasters, and pandemic outbreaks. CMEP examines existing capabilities, idenfities areas of need, and designs appropriate activites to build upon existing strategies and efforts. This mission includes supporting effective and efficient civil-military and inter-ministerial relations within countries and between regional neighbors. We strive for a "whole-of-government" approach to disaster management by utilizing a variety of highly qualified Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) from government, academic, and non-government entities.

The Challenge

It is January in Mongolia, and the temperature outside is -35° C. Snow dances freely over the steppe, and the Selbe River is frozen into a thick block of ice. The air tastes and smells like smoke, and Ulaanbaatar's residents do everything they can to stay warm. Yurts, apartments, and homes are congested with families preparing for their morning activities. As they step outside, the quick change in air temperate briefly takes their breath away. A cough and a smile, and they are on their way.

Inside the Mongolian State University of Agriculture (MSUA), the heat pipes choke and belch in a continuous battle to warm the elements. Hydrology & Hydraulic (H&H;), Geographic Information System (GIS), and Emergency Management (EM) specialists have gathered to participate in a CMEP workshop to define the potential flooding extents along the Selbe River.

The Selbe River flows from the north through the heart of Ulaanbaatar and eventually dumps into the Tuul River. Recently, it has experienced higher water levels, and flooding has become more of a problem. Complicating the situation is an increase in population density, coupled with a variety of irregular land-use patterns adjacent and within the river floodplain. As a result, the potential for loss of life and property has escalated, and a determination of flood extents along the Selbe River is greatly needed.

The Solution

At the request of the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu and the Government of Mongolia, USACE's CMEP program was funded by the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to conduct two distinct workshops to better understand the flooding extents along the Selbe River. The first workshop focused on the fundamentals of GIS, as well as how the technology can be used in emergency situations to analyze spatial patterns and water-related issues in Ulaanbaatar. The event had over 40 participants, and representatives from the Mongolian Armed Forces, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Institute of Hydrology-Meteorology, Ulaanbaatar City, and others engaged in using the technology to gain a better understanding of how it can help examine changes along the Selbe River. The GIS workshop was later followed by an H&H;workshop, where all workshop participants gathered to collectively construct a hydrologic model of the Selbe River, and determine flood extents for a variety of scenarios. USACE's Hydrologic Engineering Center (HEC) demonstrated open source HEC-River Analysis System (HEC-RAS) and water surface profile computation software, which enabled the construction of the Selbe River flood model. Participants learned how to use the software, and then investigate the results in GIS so they could be compared to infrastructure and census figures.

The Results

The results of USACE's CMEP efforts were the first collaboratively generated flood models of the Selbe River. 10 cubic meters per second (cms), 30 cms, 100 cms, and 200 cms flows were produced. "The Government of Mongolia now has an enhanced understanding of the potential flood extents of the river, and its correlating impacts to the population and infrastructure in the city. In addition to the maps and data that were generated, the CMEP program has also left behind computers and software, so that our Mongolian counterparts can continue to develop the flood models, as well as produce similar models for other riverine systems in the country," stated Justin Pummell, CMEP Program Manager (Asia & Pacific Region). The CMEP program plans to return to Mongolia next year to further GIS knowledge with a more advanced workshop on its use in emergency situations. CMEP will also continue to partner with both civilian and military agencies, as both groups will be critical to providing essential emergency services to the people of Mongolia during a disaster situation. "We plan to return next year to see how the models are progressing, as well as foster further GIS development to ensure its use is maximized for all disaster situations."