State-of-the-art facility will provide vital flood, swift-water, low-head dam training for 3k-4k first responders each year.

LYONS, COLO– Extreme flooding is the second deadliest of all weather-related hazards in the United States. In recent years few places have seen this more than the Gulf Coast from south Texas to Florida, which has experienced three 500-year flood events since 2015, each more devastating than the last. To address this trend, Houston Community College (HCC) is working with S2O Design and Engineering, the nation’s leading river engineering firm specializing in pumped whitewater facilities, to create the Regional Response Operation Center (RROC), the world’s most advanced urban flood simulator solely dedicated to training fire, law enforcement, and EMS responders on the technical skills necessary to perform life-saving water rescues.

Located near HCC’s campus in northeast Houston, the $25 million, 75,000-square-foot facility will feature a large swift-water channel, 25-acre dive and powerboat and flatwater training pond, and an urban flood simulator to allow rescue personnel to train in flooded streets and buildings. Massive pumps will move a high volume of water into the “streets and buildings,” simulating a flood event in a controlled environment in order to maintain participants’ safety. It will have the capacity to train 3,000 – 4,000 first responders per year.

“More often we apply our skillset crafting whitewater-based recreation facilities, but designing projects like this to train first responders is incredibly rewarding,” says Scott Shipley, founder of Lyons, Colo.-based S2O Design and Engineering. “Regional emergency response teams will no longer depend on finding a creek or river with proper conditions for this vital training.”

The HCC project is unique because it will provide the potential for multiple training scenarios, including immersed vehicle training, boat, and high-ropes rescues. The project’s “Main Street” will feature a two-story residential building, a sunken residential building with pitched roof, a high ropes tower, and a mock two-story care facility with a flat roof that connects to the high ropes tower. It includes realistic streetscape conditions with such features as narrowed street intersections, speed bumps, raised crosswalks, a rocky gorge area, and a low-head dam simulating varying water levels for high performance, scenario-based training.

“The Center is designed to facilitate a wide variety of training scenarios from the most basic to the most advanced, allowing trainees to gain and hone skills over time,” says Christine Clark, S2O Design’s lead landscape architect and planner on the project. “It will accommodate the latest Swiftwater Rescue training curriculum, with technology built in to easily adapt training scenarios into the future. With just the push of a button, the water can be turned on and off—which is especially important with low-head dam training.”

S2O Design is providing overall project design and construction oversight, bringing highly specialized technical expertise with hydraulic engineering, site design, and construction. S2O Design’s team has designed and built some of the most advanced recirculating whitewater venues in the world, including the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC; Riversports Rapids in Oklahoma City; the Lee Valley Whitewater Center in London, home of the 2012 Olympics; and the forthcoming Montgomery Whitewater project in Montgomery, AL.

The Regional Response Operation Center’s design is loosely based on the S2O-designed New York State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany, NY. Operated by the New York State Division of Homeland Security, the project is the only other mock urban flood training center in the country.

Dallas-based Huitt-Zollars, Inc. is the prime consultant of the project and architect of the training building. The project is in the final design and value engineering phase. Groundbreaking is projected for spring 2023.

About S2O Design & Engineering
Known for “reinventing whitewater,” Lyons, Colo.-based S2O Design and Engineering specializes in innovative river engineering, restoration, and community-focused whitewater park design. Our team of expert boater-engineers has planned, designed, and created some of the best in-stream whitewater parks as well as the largest and most dynamic recirculating whitewater parks in the world. S2O Design is led by Scott Shipley, a three-time Olympian and three-time World Cup Kayak Champion. For more information, visit S2ODesign.com.

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