Thinking on her feet at the BoM
For over 20 years, civil engineer and hydrologist Elma Kazazic MEngSc(Res 1997) has provided flood forecasting and warning services throughout Victoria and Tasmania. As Flood Services Manager at the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), Elma helps emergency agencies, and the public, make informed decisions and take appropriate actions to ensure community safety and minimise economic losses.
“We monitor weather, rainfall and water levels on a daily basis to assess catchment wetness (with more rain likely to run off a wet catchment) and the potential for flooding,” explains Elma. “If the weather outlook indicates rainfall that may lead to flooding, we increase monitoring, communicate to our partners, and transition to 24/7 flood operations as required.”
Elma and her team work closely with partners at federal, state and local levels of government to maintain and improve existing flood warning systems and services. When appropriate, they also devise new ones. Elma adds, “We develop, maintain and run hydrological tools and models that enable us to predict water levels and the potential impacts on the community.”
In flood forecasting, hydrologic modelling relies on real-time observations of rainfall and river levels, as well as forecast rainfall in the early stages of a flood event. “Flood forecasters come to master quick-problem-solving skills, as you need to adapt forecasting techniques to available information on the run,” says Elma. “You also need to be an excellent communicator, with an understanding of partner and customer needs.”
As a member of the Civil Engineering Industry Advisory Committee, Elma relishes the chance to inspire young engineers in their career development. “It provides me with an opportunity to give back to Monash,” she remarks. “And I can link my industry with the University, share knowledge and insights from my career, and help build pathways for future generations of engineers to choose a career in public services such as emergency management.”
Elma does not consider women in engineering a new phenomenon. “I studied engineering some 30 years ago, with a number of female students at the top of the class,” she points out. “My message to all young female engineering students is to believe in yourself, follow your passion, and support each other. Also choose wisely where to start your career, as a supportive environment early on is essential to building your confidence. After that, you are only limited by your own ambition.”
To all young engineers, male or female, Elma offers this advice: “Build strong foundations in a field you are passionate about, and then expand your horizons. Find a good mentor who can provide vital advice and support to help you shape your career. Life will always throw obstacles in the way, but remain positive and optimistic.”