Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

Comparison of ArcToolbox and Terrain Tiles processing procedures for inundation mapping in mountainous terrain

Andrew Darnell, MSCE, EIT, Richard Wise, MSCE, EIT, John Quaranta, PhD, PE


Floodplain management consists of efforts to reduce flood damage to critical infrastructure and to protect the life and health of individuals from flooding. A major component of this effort is the monitoring of flood control structures such as dams because the potential failure of these structures may have catastrophic consequences. To prepare for these threats, engineers use inundation maps that illustrate the flood resulting from high river stages. To create the maps, the structure and river systems are modeled using engineering software programs, and hydrologic events are used to simulate the conditions leading to the failure of the structure. The output data are then exported to other software programs for the creation of inundation maps. Although the computer programs for this process have been established, the processing procedures vary and yield inconsistent results. Thus, these processing methods need to be examined to determine the functionality of each in floodplain management practices.

The main goal of this article is to present the development of a more integrated, accurate, and precise graphical interface tool for interpretation by emergency managers and floodplain engineers. To accomplish this purpose, a potential dam failure was simulated and analyzed for a candidate river system using two processing methods: ArcToolbox and Terrain Tiles. The research involved performing a comparison of the outputs, which revealed that both procedures yielded similar inundations for single river reaches. However, the results indicated key differences when examining outputs for large river systems. On the basis of criteria involving the hydrologic accuracy and effects on infrastructure, the Terrain Tiles inundation surpassed the ArcToolbox inundation in terms of following topography and depicting flow rates and flood extents at confluences, bends, and tributary streams. Thus, the Terrain Tiles procedure is a more accurate representation of flood extents for use by floodplain engineers, hydrologists, geographers, and emergency managers.


time-stepped inundation mapping, floodplain management, HEC-RAS, HEC-GeoRAS, ArcGIS, dam failure, hydrologic modeling, ArcToolbox, Terrain Tiles

Full Text:



Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): The National Flood Insurance Program. United States Department of Homeland Security. August 11, 2010. Available at Accessed August 10, 2011.

Bond LA: Dams and floodplain management. Paper presented at the National Dam Safety Program Technical Seminar #16, LA Bond Associates, Emmitsburg, MD, February 18, 2009; Conference Presentation.

United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE): HEC-RAS Features. Available at Accessed July 14, 2011.

United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE): HEC-GeoRAS GIS Tools for Support of HEC-RAS using ArcGIS. Version 4.3.93. February 2011. Available at Accessed July 12, 2011.

Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (ESRI): What is ArcGIS Desktop? ArcGIS Resource Center. May 26, 2011. Available at Accessed July 14, 2011.

Sherry L, Jeana G: HEC-GEORAS WORKSHOP. Paper presented at the 2010 IAFSM Conference, Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd., Tinley Park, IL, March 9, 2010; Conference Presentation.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2017 Journal of Emergency Management