We Don’t Do It That Way Anymore

Old Typewriter

Before refrigeration, an industry grew up around the task of delivering blocks of ice harvested from local ponds or lakes to those who could afford it. People that couldn’t afford the ice would keep food in underground cellars or windowless back rooms that faced north. My dad loved to trot out his old stories of trudging miles to school by foot when in his opinion we were not sufficiently grateful for modern conveniences. And before there were trucks that easily carried household waste out of sight, families incinerated their garbage in the backyard. Over the years we have come up with ways to move beyond the old-fashioned ways of doing things. In almost all cases, some advance in technology functioned to cut the work involved, stream-line the effort, and get the job done in the figurative “blink of an eye.”

Let’s move to the topic of software. (You all knew I was heading that way, right?) Software programs can be good at performing one set of tasks, but can be limited in other ways. Sometimes the technology doesn’t evolve as it should. Data files can’t be imported; the software’s user interface is cumbersome and confusing when compared to comparable programs; or the the output doesn’t incorporate the latest in high quality graphics.

The Toolbox that is Short Some Tools

US Army Corps of Engineers HEC-RAS is a core engine with key river modeling capabilities. It is the recognized gold standard in one-dimensional hydraulic modeling world-wide. But let’s be honest. HEC-RAS provides the core engine, but the software stops short of giving the engineer a complete set of tools. The visual on the screen is rudimentary and disconnected from a real-world geographic frame of reference. HEC-RAS has no CAD and GIS capabilities or 2D and 3D capabilities or the ability to access real-world maps. Users of HEC-RAS are required to use at least three separate applications: HEC-RAS, HEC-GeoRAS and ArcGIS to develop a graphical display of their data and output. In this day and age of 3D graphics and true-to-life geographic context, a program that doesn’t offer this capability is arguably a thing of the past.

The One Pot Meal

The world of engineering and construction has GIS users and AutoCAD users. Distinct “silos” of work develop when efforts are not made to accommodate both user groups. An engineer with AutoCAD data can’t use it in GIS-based applications and visa versa. Software is beginning to accommodate both sets of data, both disciplines, but still rarely does.

GeoHECRAS lets us interactively draw river alignments, cross sections, roadway crossings, inline structures, lateral structures and other features directly on the map. We can create 3D digital terrain surfaces from a variety of elevation data, layer online FEMA flood maps on top of HEC-RAS models, and export HEC-RAS projects to Google Earth, AutoCAD Civil 3D and ESRI ArcMap. GeoHECRAS accommodates both GIS data and CAD data and in so doing tackles one of the classic conundrums of modern engineering.

Software Does More Now

Like other methodologies and routines of the past that eventually change with time, software also needs to change to meet new demands. GeoHECRAS does that by adding capabilities to HEC-RAS that take it into the modern age.