Forecasting and hazard early warning systems: international perspectives

Canada recently witnessed severe flooding with some river flows reporting their highest on record.  Whether this is becoming the norm or not following recent flood-rich years, delivering effective multi-hazard early warning systems is vital for enabling communities being prepared for future events.  The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was endorsed by the United Nations, encourages government agencies to support improved and effective early warning systems. So, how are agencies responding to such challenges of early warning for increased natural hazards?

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A man fixes a hose connected to a pump at his flooded house on Ile Bizard, Que., near Montreal, Monday, May 8, 2017. Source: Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The European Geosciences Union General Assembly which took place between 23rd and 28th April in Vienna, was an opportunity to share progress and innovations in the field of forecasting and warning systems.  One PICO session brought together presentations on real-world case studies of system implementations, configured at local, regional, and national scales.

On emerging capabilities, Mikuličková presented on approaches to trans-boundary flood forecasting in Slovakia, where European scale predictions (EFAS) run alongside a local model.  Likewise, in Nepal, global predictions (GloFAS) are used in conjunction with regional Data-Based Mechanistic Modelling (DBM) techniques for community alerting.

Flood Outlook

The new flood outlook product for England and Wales. Source: Flood Forecasting Centre, Exeter.

Various approaches to flood outlooks were presented.  Pilling presented new methods for providing flood risk guidance for the month ahead in England and Wales which have been developed in response to the Winter 2015/16 floods. Thiemig presented the latest developments with the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) which include seasonal outlooks, event hazard mapping and rapid risk assessments. 

For those that have no experience of running an operational flood forecasting system, the opportunity was provided to test yourself through the interactive game for pathways to designing and running an operational flood forecasting system.  This follows a series of interactive games developed by the HEPEX community over recent years at the EGU General Assembly.

PICO session

EGU PICO session on operational forecasting and warning systems for natural hazards: challenges and innovation.

Away from the PICO session, several other talks provided some insights into global approaches in flood forecasting.  Demargne presented work in France on hydrologic ensembles based on convection-permitting precipitation nowcasts for flash flood warning.  The new system, called Vigicrues Flash, follows major flooding which occurred in France in 2010 resulting in 24 casualties and 1350 people being evacuated.  Parry presented work on data availability, limitations, and the impact of observational uncertainty for operational flood forecasting in Scotland. Finally, Dottori gave an interesting talk on satellites, tweets, forecasts and the future of flood disaster management where the use of social media is being trialled to verify flood forecasting where no data exists.

For more information on our EGU presentation on research with the University of Dundee and SEPA, please read the recent HEPEX article on ‘public perceptions of flood warnings in Scotland.

Improving Disaster Management in Ghana

Michael Clark, Assistant Resilience Consultant from RAB, reports on efforts being made to improve disaster management in the West African country of Ghana.

In June 2015, significant flooding in Ghana led to the loss of many lives in Accra.  Four days of rainfall across the region resulted in many parts of the town being inundated by flood waters.  The flooding followed 185mm of rain in a single day – more than the average rainfall for the month.

Reports on the scale of the disaster state that Ghana’s Fire Service reported that a fire started at a bus station and then spread to a nearby gas station, causing an explosion which killed many people taking refuge from the flooding.

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Flooding in Accra, Ghana (Source: Africa Media Agency)

Since then, the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) have been taking steps to reduce the risk of future flooding.  Actions include educating members of the public about responding to the potential threat of flooding and removal of illegal structures built within waterways which had a key role in the 2015 floods.

Afri-Gate is a project led by the Bournemouth University Disaster Management Centre (BUDMC) and supported by RAB Consultants that aims to build resilience to both natural and man-made disasters in West Africa.  The initial phase of the project is currently identifying where there are challenges for disaster management in Ghana and will direct the second phase of the project which seeks to address how to manage and build the resilience of communities to a broad range of hazards including flooding.

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Accra to understand the disaster management and resilience structure in Ghana. I witnessed first-hand the huge strides being made by NADMO in establishing a robust disaster management structure and the credible steps taken towards more focus on disaster risk reduction through the establishment of a flood early warning system.

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Michael Clark is a Resilience Consultant with RAB in Durham.  Michael has worked in international development and was previously based in the city of Kumasi for five years with Thrive Africa.

It is anticipated that the first phase of the Afri-Gate project will conclude with a series of workshops later in 2017 where I’ll return to Accra along with colleagues from the research team at BUDMC in support of improved flood and disaster risk management.