The Washington Post

Federal Faces: Benton D. McGee

Benton D. McGee

Supervisory Hydrologist, Water Resources Division, U.S. Geological Survey

Best known for: One of the most dangerous parts of a hurricane is not just the wind, but storm surges that can pose a great threat to life and property.

Thanks to a new application developed by Benton McGee, officials at the U.S. Geological Survey can record the precise time a storm tide arrives, how ocean and inland water levels change during a storm, the depth of the storm tide throughout the storm and how long it takes for water to recede.

Ben McGee developed a new application that tracks storm surges and flooding from hurricanes. (Courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey)

This real-time picture is beneficial to federal, state and local emergency preparedness officials, emergency responders, scientists and researchers. The sensors capture critical data that are used to assess storm damage, including knowing about which buildings are flooded and to what depths. The data also help officials better coordinate flood-response activities in affected areas and evaluate and improve structures such as buildings, bridges and levees.

The information is also used to improve computer models that forecast future coastal inundation and prepare storm tide warnings. Before the use of this sensor, there were limited data available to study the effects of storm surge. Since 2005, the Geological Survey has deployed the sensors during 10 hurricanes occurring along the Gulf Coast and the East Coast. For Hurricane Sandy, which registered a record storm surge, the agency deployed more than 150 sensors from the Chesapeake Bay to Massachusetts.

Government work: McGee spent his summers during college working as a student aide at the U.S. Forest Service. After graduation, he decided to pursue a second degree in geology and worked at the Geological Survey office while attending school. That work led to a full-time position as a hydrologist in the agency’s office in Baton Rouge. He headed the 10-person office in Ruston, La., in 1994.

Motivation for service: “Although my job and my parents’ jobs (professor/librarian and teacher) are different, the essence is the same — information, education and public service. They set a wonderful example of self-sacrifice in the public service for me. I have always had a love of nature and a wonder about the natural world. It was only fitting that my career and interests would follow suit.”

Biggest challenge: Because the sensors are able to capture more and more information with each deployment, McGee said this has expanded the number of people and entities involved, making the logistics of where to place the sensors even more complex.

Quote: “The sensors are now viewed as the gold standard in measuring the extent, timing and magnitude of storm surge.”

— From the Partnership for Public Service

for Public Service

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