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The concept of the Integrated Flood Observing and Warning System (IFLOWS) has been developed extensively since the creation of the National Flash Flood Program Development Plan in 1978. The goals of the IFLOWS Program are to substantially reduce the annual loss of life from flash floods, reduce property damage, and reduce disruption of commerce and human activities. To develop the IFLOWS concept, the National Weather Service (NWS) began a joint effort with selected states in the Appalachian Region of the United States to undertake the establishment and development of a flash flood warning system to improve flood−warning capabilities in that Region.

In 1979 the NWS first began development of a prototype IFLOWS system to use as a model for expansion into other areas. A 3−state, 12−county area along the borders of Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky was selected for the prototype because of its susceptibility to flooding and its lack of existing flood warning systems and available communications circuits to tie this 3−state area together. The NWS completed the prototype IFLOWS system in 1981, and work began on expanding the system in the three original states and on developing IFLOWS in Pennsylvania and Tennessee. The expansion program was targeted to implement IFLOWS equipment in approximately 120 counties of the multistate area.

In 1985, Congress approved an amendment to a continuing resolution, which earmarked additional funds specifically for expansion of IFLOWS in the areas hardest hit by the devastating floods of November 4−5, 1985. This area encompassed 29 new counties in West Virginia and numerous counties in Virginia and Pennsylvania, which were declared disaster areas. It was also expanded to include counties in North Carolina and New York with a history of serious flooding problems in the past.

While resource limitations have restricted additional expansion of direct NWS support for new IFLOWS installations, IFLOWS technology has now spread well beyond the seven original states. Numerous communities, state and federal agencies are now linked in a wide area communications network using this technology. This Automated Flood Warning Systems (AFWS) network connects numerous local flood−warning systems, and integrates and shares information from 1700 sensors in 12 states.

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