“Savannah is water, and water is Savannah,” says Mayor Van R. Johnson II. “And water could be the life, or it could be the end, of Savannah.”
This is neither hyperbole nor pessimism. Rather, it’s the reality that has shaped this coastal community — Georgia’s oldest city and one that has long been a vital part of the state’s economy. As flooding events continue to increase in frequency and intensity and sea level continues to rise, Savannah, like other coastal cities, stands at a crossroads: adapt now or face an uncertain and likely perilous future.
City and county officials chose the former. And they turned to Georgia Tech as a research partner.
For the past two years, Tech scientists and engineers have been working with the people of flood-vulnerable Savannah and Chatham County to improve emergency response and preparedness in a coastal region whose past, present — and future — are inextricably linked to water.
The Smart Sea Level Sensors project originated in 2018, funded by a Georgia Smart Communities grant. Its primary purpose was to build and install real-time, internet-equipped sensors to relay data on the status of water levels across the county. That data in turn is used by officials to make decisions about where to deploy resources. Previously, a large swath of coastal Georgia had relied on a single gauge. Now there are more than 40 sensors in Chatham County alone, providing hyperlocal, instantaneous data.
That data is also used in local classrooms. Students at Jenkins High School in Savannah study and work with the information gathered by the sensors, but they also helped assemble them. And for the Tech professors involved in the project, this is one of the most gratifying aspects of the work, as are the regular public meetings held with local residents who are invested in safeguarding their community through new technology — today, and for the benefit of future generations.