THE INSPIRATION: Friends Laya Yalamanchili and Satvik Dasari were 12 years old when tragedy struck their Austin, Texas, neighborhood. Torrential rainfall caused floodwaters to rise above the surface of a low bridge (known as a low-water crossing) spanning a local creek. When one driver tried to drive over the bridge in his truck, floodwaters swept his vehicle away and the man drowned. Laya and Satvik didn’t know the victim, but the accident terrified them since their families used that same crossing every day. “We knew that it could have happened to any one of us and could happen again,” Laya says. She and Satvik decided to do something to make low-water crossings safer.
THE ACTION: The friends discovered the root of the problem: Only 1 percent of Texas’s 1,700 low-water crossings were monitored for potential flooding. That was because the monitoring technology was prohibitively expensive, costing more than $30,000 per unit. Laya and Satvik knew there must be a cheaper solution. Together, they designed a simple device called the HydroAlert that measures water levels at low-water crossings. As the water level rises, the HydroAlert sends updates to an app that drivers can check to make sure the crossing is safe. First responders get alerts as well, so that they can close the crossing before the water reaches a dangerous level. The technology is reliable and easy to use, but the best part is the price: less than $50 per unit. In 2017, the first HydroAlert was installed at the low-water crossing where Laya and Satvik’s neighbor lost his life.
THE OUTCOME: The HydroAlert in Laya and Satvik’s neighborhood has helped keep the crossing safe through many major storms, including Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and tropical depression Imelda in 2019. The teens have orders for HydroAlerts for 10 more locations in their county and hope to get the device into more crossings as well. But the pair’s ambitions reach far beyond their home state. “Floods at low-water creek crossings are not just a problem in Texas, they’re also a huge problem globally,” says Satvik. “We hope that one day, every low-water crossing across the world will have a HydroAlert device monitoring its water levels, providing alerts, and saving lives.”
Sources: Weather.gov, fema.gov, CDC.gov