Developing multi-hazard early warnings across Europe

ANYWHERE (enhANcing emergencY management and response to extreme WeatHER and climate Events) is a H2020 innovation programme developing tools to support decision makers in real-time coordination of emergency management operations. Started in 2016, the programme seeks to capitalise on advances in observation systems and in forecasting models in anticipation of natural hazards such as flash floods, landslides, droughts and heat waves.

Flooding in Catalunya

Mataro near Barcelona, affected by flooding in 2016. Source: La Vanguardia

The programme includes 31 organisations from a mixture of experts from the hydrometeorological forecasting community, research scientists, early warning system developers and responders. Those from the Civil Protection Authorities are providing a valuable role in shaping the end-user product requirements of the Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (MH-EWS).

The recent 6th programme meeting was hosted by the Fire and Rescue Department of North Corsica: Sevice d’Incendie et de Secours de Haute-Corse (SIS2B). SIS2B have a specific role in providing emergency response to victims of accidents, incidents and have a specific interest in the developing tools to aid operational response to forest fires and are now supporting the development of a MH-EWS for the region.

With the programme set to complete in 2019, the new platforms are currently being trialled. Under the working name of ‘A4’, various regional and local pilot demos are being developed for multi hazards. The pan-European A4EU utilises ECMWF and EFAS products such as the Flash Flood Index and the Extreme Forecast Index. More regionally applied applications include modelling snow load impacts on electricity supply in Finland, modelling traffic disruption due to severe weather in Catalonia and providing early warnings to Schools due to flooding in Genoa.

One application is A4CAMPSITE which is specifically targeted at increasing self protection in campsites located in flood prone areas in Catalonia. There is a high risk of flooding for many hundreds of campsites in the region and there are several legal restrictions being based on the flood plain including ensuring all campsites have adequate flood risk plans.

The EWS is using radar rainfall nowcasting product linked to warning triggers within a self contained warning system.  These are linked to flood plans, with configurable actions (such as evacuation plans) and linked to SMS alerts for the campers.  A4CAMPSITE is being supported by new ANYWHERE partners developing innovative hydrometeorological applications and is being implemented on 13 campsites along the Tordera river with a full trial over the late-summer rainy season.

Serious Gaming for Flood Resilience

Robyn Shaw, an MSc Sustainability and Water Security research student, reflects on work to develop a serious game to help improve community flood resilience.

I am currently at the University of Dundee and as part of my course I had the pleasure to embark in a research in practice placement supporting the development of practical solutions for flood resilience.  The aim of my placement was: To develop a concept of a multi-participatory game based on reality for flood response and community flood resilience in Scotland which was fun to play.

Cascde event (picture by Cascade_net)

Civil Agency, Society and Climate ADaptation to Weather Extremes (CASCADE-NET) workshop at the University of Dundee. Source: CASCADE-NET

Serious games are interactive and fun educational tools which allow players to learn from experience in a safe environment. The niche of the game I was focussing on was learning and understanding the different channels of communication during a flood. My placement involved desk-based research, setting up and attending meetings with key individuals, for example a gaming expert, running workshops and shaping the concept of the game into a prototype.

Two workshops were held, one with flood experts with representatives from SEPA, Scottish Flood Forum and a Local Authority, and another with university research students. The concept of the serious game was played, and constructive feedback was received in a discussion to assist the development. This was analysed and eight key areas arose: name, aim, audience, timing, players, graphics, education and ethics. Alterations were made and the serious game, now known as FORECAsT, became a prototype and was successfully ran at a CASCADE-NET Emergency Response seminar.

The FORECAsT game was run to support a CASCADE-NET seminar on Civil Society and Emergency Response: conflicting discourses of dependency and empowerment, with over 40 attendees from multiple disciplines including the Scottish Government, academics, local councils, and flood experts. This was an amazing opportunity for myself and the game as it promoted integration of serious gaming as an educational tool into wider society. The attendees were grouped into a number of roles all involved in receiving flood forecasting information. The players had to decide who and how to respond and communicate with other players using post-it notes, and news headlines and social media messages.

Overall, there was a very positive response and it stimulated a lot of discussion around the topic ‘reducing dependency and enhancing empowerment’ which was the main question the game supported in the seminar. The player’s feedback highlighted that they really began to understand the different channels of communication from the perspectives of each role during flood response. They were challenged, educated and had fun acting out a real life situation but in a safe environment. This opportunity has given the game FORECAsT a great prospect, ready for the next stages of development.

Throughout the course of my placement I was given several unique opportunities and a vast amount of valuable experience which I highly appreciated. I was fortunate to have worked collaboratively with those trying to develop the game FORECAsT and I believe it definitely has the potential to be established into a functional game in the future. Overall, it was an exciting new project to work on and I learnt the importance of support from other colleagues and the main factor- to enjoy your job!

 

Nepal Floods 2017: ‘We had the forecasts but not the system to link them with our preparedness and response’

Madhab Uprety, Disaster Risk Reduction consultant, and Sumit Dugar, Research Associate at Practical Action Consulting South Asia, reflect on efforts to improve disaster preparedness in Nepal.

Southern flood plains of Nepal have always experienced a varied degree of flooding during the monsoon.  Whilst humanitarian responders and district level agencies have always relied on a general level of preparedness based on average levels of risks leading to periodic preparedness interventions across these flood prone districts.

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Portion of the Lal Bakaiya dam that was swept away by a flood in Rautahat during August 2017. Source: The Himalayan Times.

So far most of the major river basins are equipped with early warning systems and there are existing protocols and mechanisms to communicate early warnings and plan for emergencies. Yet we seemed hardly prepared for the recent Terai floods that claimed hundreds of lives and rendered tens of thousands of people homeless.

The scale and extent of flooding was huge as incessant rainfall for two days and across the Churiya range unleashed floods across entire southern belt inundating 26 Terai districts.

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Picture credit: Discussion between community members during flood response exercise, by Sumit Dugar.

But the rainfall event was not off the radar of prediction and was indeed forecast several days in advance. The events were captured 10 and 3 days in advance by the global flood and weather forecast models. Though the flood alerts were issued by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) 24-hours in advance, disaster managers hardly move beyond their customary response approaches of rescue and relief.

Existing early warning systems in major river basins were instrumental in saving assets, lives and properties, but warnings and actions merely based on the real-time situation of rivers and rainfall were not adequate enough to cater every contingency, particularly in case of flash floods from small monsoon (intermittent) streams.

There is dire need of paradigm shift towards forecast-based emergency preparedness. Unfortunately, there is not any mechanism that links scientific forecasts within the existing humanitarian landscape.  And also it is largely unclear among the humanitarian actors and government stakeholders about what levels of forecast probabilities and magnitude are worthy to react.

Globally there has been a recent increased shift towards anticipatory preparedness and early actions based upon weather forecasts under the remit of Forecast-based Financing (FbF), a niche concept which envisions humanitarian agencies and government stakeholders making use of credible scientific information to anticipate possible impacts and mobilise resources automatically before a hazard event.

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Picture credit: Community member using hand siren during flood response exercise, by Sumit Dugar.

Practical Action together with support from the World Food Program have been advocating this approach in Nepal and the idea has already been put-forth across national Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) platforms for discussion. FbF is currently being piloted in six flood prone districts of West Nepal and there is an intention to upscale these initiatives across entire southern flood plains of Nepal. Forecast thresholds and triggers have been identified and Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) that includes science informed anticipatory actions have been developed and integrated in the local disaster preparedness plans.

However, regular communication of the forecasts and their effective interpretation among the end users constrains FbF implementation. The aftermath of recent floods in August 2017 have certainly increased relevance of FbF in disaster preparedness and response, and the pressing question now is whether the recent floods will act as a wake-up call and we start making forecasts part of our readiness or simply plan response and recovery in a normative business as usual manner.

Improving Community Flood Resilience in Areas Remaining at Risk

Dan Matthews is a Senior Resilience Consultant, with experience in flood incident management and planning.  Dan reports on FRM2017 and work on improving community flood resilience.

“Would you like to speak at the SNIFFER Flood Risk Management conference in Edinburgh?”

I’ve learnt to see some of these ‘development opportunities’ approaching, but on this occasion opted to grab it with both hands. I’m glad that I did! SNIFFER bring people and ideas together as ‘knowledge brokers for a resilient Scotland’ and their annual Flood Risk Management Conference in Edinburgh has promoted learning, sharing best practice and shaping next steps throughout the sector. With the 2017 event titled ‘Managing Flood Risk in the Context of Change’ it was a chance to share some of my recent work on improving community flood resilience.

Brian Mills

Temporary flood barriers protecting communities along the River Severn. Source: Panoramio

I’ve been working closely with a team at the Environment Agency to develop a national capability to provide support to communities throughout England using temporary flood barriers. Whilst this has involved significant financial investment in equipment, it also requires significant time investment to develop the plans, procedures and importantly the people to deliver the capability.

I have been fortunate to be involved in many elements of this work, from developing deployment plans for specific communities, through to embedding new ways of working with incident response staff. It was challenging to get the critical parts of this operational for the winter of 2016, but also amazing what can be achieved when people are motivated by new and innovative ideas.

In January 2017, this was called into action as over 8000 metres of temporary flood barriers and 25 high volume pumps were deployed in advance of significant flood risk on the East coast of England. One deployment stretched for over a mile, reducing the risk of flooding for residents at Ferriby on the River Humber in Yorkshire.

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Testing temporary defence deployment plans with the Environment Agency.

I found it really interesting to reflect upon this and share some of what I’ve learnt with those at the conference. The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform’s keynote speech provided some great context. Climate change is expected to potentially double flood risk in some areas of Scotland before the end of the century. Surely there is a role for this kind of capability, perhaps on a local authority scale, in Scotland?