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!

 

The 2007 Floods: ten years of thinking big and acting early

Russell Burton is an expert in flood risk and incident management, Managing Director of RAB Consultants and a former flood warning team leader in the Environment Agency.  Russell looks back at changes in flood resilience since the 2007 floods.

I read John Curtin’s blog Flood risk management 10 years on – a journey of high and low tech improvements with great interest this week and found the list of improvements and the progress made impressive, especially against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and austerity.

abbey

Tewkesbury is situated in Gloucestershire and was one of the worst affected parts of the county when the floods hit in July 2007. Source: Panoramio

It also got me thinking back to my own experiences and how the changes are not only in the tech we use but also in the way we think and respond to floods. Like John, I have my own story of what I was doing on the day of the 2007 storm. In July 2007, RAB was one year old, so it was a time of optimism and hard work for me to get the company off the ground. On that day in July I had a meeting with Environment Agency Wales (remember them!) in Cardiff, to start planning a flood exercise of all things. I planned to drive from Lichfield to Cardiff via the M50 with RAB’s first ever employee as a passenger. To be fair the Met office issued severe weather warnings for the west midlands up to 2 or 3 days ahead of the storm but it would only be on the homeward journey for us and who was to say it would be that bad and in that location anyway? I blush at the thought of my gung-ho attitude but I think I reflect the mindset of the times, “Think maybe, act if we have to”.

So off we set and had a great meeting, but by the time we were heading home reports were already coming in of flooding and travel disruption. Nevertheless we made pretty good progress on the M50 till we were approaching the junction with the M5 at Stroud. By now the downpour was a monsoon, the motorway came to a standstill and gradually the road became a river as torrents of water flowed off the fields. The hard shoulder and lane one were impassable but after a two hour delay we were able to crawl past in the “fast lane”.

Motorway 2007

Strensham Services on the M5, July 20th 2007. Source: flickr

To be fair I wasn’t the only one “thinking maybe and acting if we have to”, at some point I probably passed the lorry full of flood barriers bound for Upton upon Severn but stuck on the other carriageway of the flooded M5.

So what’s changed? Personally, I take Severe Weather Warnings very seriously now and adjust my travel arrangements to suit. But 2007 was also a watershed in mindset for flood risk managers in the UK. For the Environment Agency, it was the birth of the mantra “Think Big, Act Early”. This simple phrase has stood up to challenge (Think big, Act Appropriately was one watered down suggestion I recall) and I believe it’s helped drive the high and low tech improvements listed by John. It’s made us ask questions like, how big, how shall we act and when is early enough? The Flood Forecasting Centre  quantify the scale and timing of the impacts through the Flood Guidance Statement, which now gives flood managers up to 5 days notice to decide how and when to act early. The new extended flood outlook offers a 30 day window for flood risk managers to prepare and plan the response. The 2013-14 floods (amongst others!) highlighted that Thinking Big didn’t always result in Act Early. There was a need to plan what early actions could be done with this extra lead time for unprotected communities, and so came Temporary Defence Deployment Plans and Major Incident Plans to set out the strategic and tactical actions flood managers have at their disposal. Although these are just a couple of examples, the other improvements in John’s list are also driven by the need to “Think Big, Act Early”.

BBC map

July 2007 floods at-a-glance. Source: BBC

So in summary, the high and low tech improvements that have been made over the last 10 years are all fantastic but for me the biggest change is in our mindset, to “Think Big, Act Early”. To bring this into sharp contrast, this week the Met Office predicted that Britain is heading for “unprecedented” winter rainfall after their new super computer predicted records will be broken by up to 30 per cent. Time to “Think Big, Act early”.

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?

Canadian-floods_2017

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.