For Nicole Bichel, Principal Flood Engineer at FloodMapp, the 2010-2011 Australian East Coast flood events had a massive impact on how she viewed flood risk.
Having started her career in Local Government via a cadetship with Lockyer Valley Regional Council (formerly Laidley Shire Council) whilst completing her Bachelor of Engineering degree, the 2010-2011 floods were a major event in her career, and also personally.
“Seeing the devastation of the floods on the community solidified my desire to work in flood risk management,” says Nicole. Less than 12 months after the flood, she moved from her role in development assessment and flood and stormwater engineering to a consulting role in order to gain hands on experience with hydrologic and hydraulic modelling. This led Nicole to work on the flood risk mitigation plans for Lockyer Creek as well as numerous others across Queensland and Northern New South Wales.
While flood risk management and appropriate land use development controls were always of interest to Nicole, the 2011 flood event was a turning point in how she saw the connection between the work of flood engineers, and the community.
“Most of my early career has been focussed on undertaking flood and flood risk management studies. These are vitally important to understand the flood risk profile for our communities and develop a plan to enact during an event. Without studies looking at the probability and consequences of flood events, we cannot quantify the hazard,” says Nicole.
But, while we have many flood models - and more created each year - we also know that flood events do not always follow the rule book. And certainly we cannot always hope to use these models to accurately predict the course of every single flood.
“Having worked through a flood event, I understand how floods can deviate from modelled scenarios, and how complex the recovery efforts for a community can be when there are simultaneous events within a catchment or widespread flooding across a vast area, as happened in 2011.
“One of the reasons I chose FloodMapp is because I want to help build the bridge between traditional flood modelling and the effective and timely delivery of information to decision makers during critical events. I want to be part of a team that works on tools allowing disaster managers to act on all the planning which occurs pre-event, and apply it to rapidly unfolding and complex scenarios,” says Nicole.
After the 2011 floods, Nicole was part of a team undertaking significant community consultation sessions to inform flood risk management plans. Working closely with the community provided a unique perspective on how her work in flood modelling was being used by those in the community to act on the data and information available.
“I think the 2011 flood events have had a massive influence on how I view flood risk and created a strong connection between the work we do as flood engineers and the community. Undertaking a significant number of community consultation sessions as part of our flood risk management plans gives you visibility of how the community views and act on data and information provided,” says Nicole.
“In an ideal world, I would love to have super long-range reliable weather forecasts so we could know when and where it would rain, and plan accordingly. Of course this is unrealistic! One of the things that I’m most excited about working at FloodMapp, is the opportunity to use the tools we are building to help communicate what is happening in real time in an effective way.
“A flood map is really easy to understand. You don’t need an engineering degree or to know how hydrologic and hydraulic modelling works. You can easily see a map of where you live and understand that blue equals water. What this gives the community is information, which translates into time. Wouldn’t we all want more time to make important decisions about our families, our properties and our community?
“Having emergency managers and communities on the same page, heading in the same direction, knowing what’s happening in real time and being give more time to enact emergency plans before, during and after a flood event is the ultimate goal for me. It’s why I’m excited to be working at FloodMapp, to build something that will ultimately help communities facing flooding to make better informed, faster decisions when it matters most.”
Nicole is Principal Flood Engineer at FloodMapp, connect on LinkedIn.