Tagged: climate change

Research: assessing the exposure of Europe’s cities to heatwaves, droughts and flooding

Source: Tapia, C., Abajo, B., Feliu, E., et al. (2017). Profiling urban vulnerabilities to climate change: An indicator-based vulnerability assessment for European cities. Ecological Indicators. 78:142-155. DOI:10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.02.040

Contact: carlos.tapia@tecnalia.com

This study assessed the vulnerability of 571 European cities to heatwaves, droughts and flooding caused by climate change and results could be used to design policies to mitigate the impacts. With more than 75% of the EU’s population lives in urban areas understanding how cities may be vulnerable to the effects of climate change is, therefore, crucial in planning for the future.

In this study, which was supported by the EU Project RAMSES 1, researchers carried out an indicator-based vulnerability assessment (IBVA) for 571 European cities. The IBVA used a set of indicators to assess urban vulnerabilities to climate stress and their consequences: (i) heatwaves on human health; (ii) drought on water planning, and; (iii) the socio-economic impact of flooding, including fluvial, pluvial and coastal flooding.

IBVAs help to identify factors that lead to vulnerability to climatic hazards. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) definition of vulnerability is “the propensity or pre-disposition to be adversely affected,” 2 by climate change and this also encompasses the lack of capacity to cope with and adapt to the effects of climate change.

Indicators were developed from a review of published literature to identify the climate threats most relevant to European cities and were classified into five broad categories, comprising:

  • human capital
  • socio-economic conditions
  • built environment
  • natural and ecosystem services
  • governance and institutions

Data for the 571 cities assessed by the IBVA were mostly taken from the Urban Audit database, which has been used previously for other climate-change vulnerability assessments. New indicators based on big data were also produced to assess different aspects related to adaptive capacity such as awareness of the main climate stressors. Coastal-flooding vulnerabilities were assessed for the 92 coastal cities within the database. The fluvial-flooding assessment was completed on the 365 cities with water bodies with a catchment of at least 500 square kilometres.

The researchers grouped the cities into seven different clusters according to their relative degree of vulnerability to each of the three climate stressors.


Cities that showed higher vulnerability to heatwaves were predominantly located in the central areas of the EU and in the southern regions of new Member States and the Baltic republics. This was in part linked to elderly populations, higher pollution levels and small dwelling size, which, in combination, increase the urban sensitivity to heatwaves. Surprisingly, many of the cities with lower vulnerabilities to heatwaves were located in some of the warmest areas of Europe, which is likely due to raised awareness of heatwaves in these regions.


Cities more vulnerable to droughts, such as Brussels, Ludwigshafen am Rhein and Marseille, were found across Europe, without a clear spatial distribution pattern. Overall, higher vulnerabilities are explained by comparatively less diversified economies, growing populations and less efficient water-management systems (i.e. higher resource consumption at greater water costs).


Vulnerabilities were found across Europe, although lower susceptibility was found in the British Isles and Scandinavian countries, compared to high vulnerability scores in the Mediterranean countries, Bohemian and Danubian regions. The factors influencing flooding included socio-economic conditions (e.g. income levels and employment rates), physical features, such as the extent of soil sealing and the awareness of citizens, and the commitment to adaption of the cities’ governing institutions. For coastal flooding, cities over the Atlantic coasts, western Mediterranean and Baltic showed higher vulnerability than the Italian Peninsula, the UK and the Scandinavian countries, which were shown to have a higher capacity to adapt, as well as higher awareness and commitment to addressing coastal flooding.

The study results demonstrate the challenges European cities face due to climate change, with cities across Europe vulnerable to the effects of either floods, heatwaves or droughts. For each city, the causes of vulnerability to the consequences of climate change are dependent on the specific geographical and socioeconomic conditions. The research emphasises the importance of city-level assessments, particularly for cities identified as vulnerable to one or more of hazards in this assessment, in order to inform adaption planning. They also say that the IBVA used here could be developed to include the adaptation measures already established in European cities, in order to understand whether these measures have reduced a city’s vulnerability to potential climate hazards.

Cities comprise a range of social systems, buildings, infrastructure and natural features, which makes planning for the future difficult. The researchers say that the assessment can be used by city planners and can contribute to the development of EU policies to adapt to climate-change. They say the results enable comparison across European cities, because the definitions and indicators are consistent for all the cities assessed. The researchers highlight that vulnerability is most directly linked to social conditions and that tackling these issues could lead to policy interventions that have win-win scenarios for both urban resilience and socioeconomic issues.


  1. This research received funding from the EU’s Seventh Programme for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration (Project RAMSES).
  2. IPCC (2014): Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, Annex II: Glossary.




Jakarta Smart City – Flood Response


The world’s delta cities face challenges as a result of climate change. One of the main difficulties for Jakarta, and other megacities located in the Southeast, South, and Mainland Asian, is flooding. Of these megacities, 14 are situated in river deltas and 18 have experienced flooding in the past decade. (Ceola et al., 2014) (Brakenridge et al., 2006). In his paper, ‘Inundated Infrastructure: Jakarta’s Failing Hydraulic Infrastructure’, Frank Sedlar contends that much of Jakarta’s annual flooding episodes are not only linked to heavy precipitation but are also associated with direct human interference in the hydrologic-hydraulic systems of the city. Sedlar points to a novel approach of accessing and utilising new sources of data as a possible way improve the operation of hydraulic infrastructures in cities such as Jakarta.


By connecting urban infrastructure networks to crowd-sourced, social media-based data and linking this information and analysis you can increase the potential of each by producing an innovative, open framework for citizen-participation co-monitoring and management of urban systems. Jakarta’s provincial government has developed a Smart City Platform – Jakarta Smart City – that increases citizen participation. The platform consists of a smartphone app that known as Qlue – allowing users to report problems that occur in their neighbourhood in real time by clicking a photo, geo-tagging the location, offering a brief status report and report it to the local authority. Citizen engagement is seen as crucial to improving services, improving transparency in government and holding local leaders accountable.


In community meetings, known locally as musrenbangs, taking place at both districts and sub-district levels, community forums have become a primary path for citizens to express concerns and demand better services for their neighbourhoods. Now a digital component has been added to the process, known as e-musrenbang. Proposals decided upon at the local-level meetings can be submitted to city government through this web-based application. This bottom-up process works in tandem with the existing top-down planning and budgeting systems of the local government agencies.

Smart Environment is one of 6 pillars included in the Jakarta Smart City platform – others include Smart Governance, Smart People, Smart Living, Smart Mobility and Smart Economy. Smart Environment is supported by PetaJakarta.org (Map Jakarta) – a web-based, crowd-sourcing data collection platform developed to capture data from social media used to gather, sort, and display information about flooding for Jakarta residents in real time. The concept focuses on using a GeoSocial Intelligence Framework to explore Jakarta’s existing and complicated hydrological systems by mapping data mined from social media onto the existing drainage systems to inform knowledge about urban infrastructure and the city’s conditions related to flooding and inundation. The PetaJakarta.org pilot study was developed by Tomas Holderness,  Etienne Turpin and Rohan Wickramasuriya of University of Wollongong, Australia who employed the power of existing social media networks, such as Twitter, to provide critical, real time information about the city’s infrastructure and flooding. To read further – Crowd-sourced data harnessed to improve flood response in Jakarta



  • Brakenridge, R, and E Anderson. “MODIS-Based Flood Detection, Mapping and Measurement: The Potential for Operational Hydrological Applications.” Transboundary floods: reducing risks through flood management. 2006: 1-12.
  • Ceola, Serena, Francesco Laio, and Alberto Montanari. “Satellite night time lights reveal increasing human exposure to floods worldwide.” Geophysical Research Letters  41.20. 2014: 7184-7190.
  • Sedlar, Frank. ‘Inundated Infrastructure: Jakarta’s Failing Hydraulic Infrastructure.’ Michigan Journal of Sustainability. Volume 4, Summer 2016.
  • Holderness, Tomas, Turpin Etienne and Wickramasuriya, Rohan.  ‘A GeoSocial Intelligence Framework for Studying & Promoting Resilience to Seasonal Flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia’

Perception of non-native planting in urban landscapes.

Research: Hoyle, H., Hitchmough,J. and Jorgensen, A. ‘Attractive, climate-adapted and sustainable? Public perception of non-native planting in the designed urban landscape.’ Landscape and Urban Planning Volume 164, August 2017, Pages 49–63


  • 75.3% participants positive about climate-adapted non-native planting.
  • Climate change identified as major driver of acceptance of non-native plants.
  • Acceptance also related to aesthetics, context, perceived invasiveness.
  • Perceived attractiveness not related to perceived nativeness.
  • Contradictions in perception of non-native plants identified


Throughout Europe climate change has rendered many plant species used in contemporary urban planting design less fit for use in public green spaces. A growing evidence base exists for the ecological value of introducing non-native species, yet urban policy and practice guidance continues to portray non-native species negatively, focusing on their assumed invasiveness. In this context there is a lack of research focusing on the cultural relevance of non-native species in the urban landscape.

This research surveyed 1411 members of the UK public who walked through designed and semi-natural planting of three levels of visual nativeness: “strongly native”; “intermediate” and “strongly non-native”, whilst completing a site-based questionnaire. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were then carried out with 34 questionnaire participants. A majority of respondents would be happy to see more non-native planting in UK public spaces, rising to 75.3% if it were better adapted to a changing climate than existing vegetation. Respondents recognised the three broad levels of nativeness, yet this was not a factor driving perceptions of the attractiveness of the planting. In addition to climate change, four key factors were identified driving acceptance and rejection of non-native planting: aesthetics; locational context; historic factors and inevitability; and perceptions of invasiveness and incompatability with native wildlife.

The research indicates that in the context of changing climate, focus should be placed on the potentially positive role of non-invasive, climate-adapted, aesthetically pleasing species within urban planting schemes as these could be well-received by the public.

Conclusions and implications for policy and practice

This is the first large scale study of UK public attitudes to non-native planting in the context of a changing climate. Findings show that when walking through an area of planting at the human experiential scale people recognised broad categories of “nativeness” relating to the three levels established on the gradient from strongly native to strongly non-native. In contrast present urban biodiversity conservation policy the majority of participants said they would be happy to see an increase in non-native planting in UK parks and gardens. Aesthetically, strongly non-native planting was perceived as the most colourful, attractive and interesting of the three levels of “nativeness”. It was perceived as offering the greatest benefit to invertebrates. Immediate reactions to planting appeared to be driven by species specific aesthetics and “nativeness” per se was not a consideration when people assessed the attractiveness of an area of planting.

Reservations about the potential invasiveness of non-native species and their assumed incompatibility with native invertebrates were expressed clearly by interviewees who held strongly biocentric values and might have been more aware of policy discourse than the public at large. Climate change was, however, identified as a powerful force driving people’s acceptance of climate-adapted Mediterranean planting.

Most of the original walks took place in publicly accessible but institutionally owned gardens where visitors had an existing interest in horticulture and cultivated non-native plants, or in public spaces where local residents and site users enjoyed spending time in outdoor green spaces. The questionnaires and interviews were carried out exclusively with the users of these spaces. Self-selecting interviewees were particularly biocentric, so generalisation of their views to those of the wider population requires caution.

This work suggests there is a schism between sustainable urban policy that sees a future involving only native plant species and what members of the public believe and value. Far from expressing hostility to non-native species, in a UK context most people appear to welcome the use of non-invasive non-native planting in urban public spaces, whilst at the same time having some understanding of the risks as well as the benefits. If key long term goals of sustainable urban planting are to increase human well-being and to maximise support value for native animal biodiversity, at a time of climate change, this will not be best achieved by policy which appears to be at odds with the beliefs and values of the average urban citizen. There is a need to reflect these values more conspicuously in more nuanced urban landscape policy and practice.

Coastal habitats: best practices review


New publication: LIFE and coastal habitats.  The latest LIFE Nature Focus publication highlights the issues threatening Europe’s coastal habitats. Coastal regions generate 40% of GDP, but development must be sustainable and must recognise the natural value of the varied coastlines. Only 13% of coastal species are in a ‘favourable’ conservation status, while 73% of coastal habitats are assessed as being ‘bad’ or ‘inadequate’.


It is in the interests of all business sectors, from tourism to shipping and fisheries, to safeguard and improve the health of our coastal ecosystems. Adopting an ecosystem approach to their management fosters, rather than hinders, growth and jobs.

The LIFE and coastal habitats brochure, outlines the scope of best practices measures carried out by EU LIFE programme* projects to improve the status of Europe’s coastal habitats and management of Natura 2000 network sites – from dune habitat conservation in the Baltic to coastal lagoon protection in the Black Sea. It features sections on all the different types of habitats targeted by the programme and concludes with a focus on the cross-cutting management issues facing coastal regions.

The EU’s integrated policy response covers action on climate change, water pollution, habitat loss and all the other factors impacting on European coastal areas, and LIFE has been instrumental in showing how these policy objectives can best be achieved.

The report covers projects and examples of good practice for:

  • Coastal lagoons, estuaries and salt marshes
  • Dunes
  • Coastal grasslands and meadows
  • Reefs and seagrass meadows
  • Integrated management of the coastal – Natura 2000 network
  • Cross -cutting coastal management issues
    • Combating invasive alien species in coastal areas
    • Protecting species through coastal habitats conservation
    • Managing coastal tourism in Natura 2000 sites
    • Salt benefits business and biodiversity
    • Shoreline sites adapt to climate change


To download full report

* LIFE (“The Financial Instrument for the Environment and Climate Action”) is a programme launched by the European Commission and coordinated by the Environment and Climate Action Directorates-General.


Call for empirical evidence for climate resilient urban planning.

Regulating urban surface runoff through nature-based solutions – An assessment at the micro-scale.  Zölch,T, Henze, L, Keilholz, P & Pauleit, S.  Environmental Research, Volume 157, August 2017, Pages 135–14.

Key findings

  • Runoff after heavy rain events accounts for approx. 95% of total precipitation in highly sealed urban areas.
  • By enhancing water storage capacities green infrastructure reduces runoff by max. 14.8% compared to the baseline.
  • Green roofs and trees both show to be effective but due to different functions.
  • The reduction of runoff is larger with higher shares of green cover in the case area.


Urban development leads to changes of surface cover that disrupt the hydrological cycle in cities. In particular, impermeable surfaces and the removal of vegetation reduce the ability to intercept, store and infiltrate rainwater. Consequently, the volume of stormwater runoff and the risk of local flooding rises. This is further amplified by the anticipated effects of climate change leading to an increased frequency and intensity of heavy rain events. Hence, urban adaptation strategies are required to mitigate those impacts.

A nature-based solution, more and more promoted in politics and academia, is urban green infrastructure as it contributes to the resilience of urban ecosystems by providing services to maintain or restore hydrological functions. However, this poses a challenge to urban planners in deciding upon effective adaptation measures as they often lack information on the performance of green infrastructure to moderate surface runoff. It remains unclear what type of green infrastructure (e.g. trees, green roofs), offers the highest potential to reduce discharge volumes and to what extent.

Against this background, this study provides an approach to gather quantitative evidence on green infrastructure’s regulation potential. We use a micro-scale scenario modelling approach of different variations of green cover under current and future climatic conditions. The scenarios are modelled with MIKE SHE, an integrated hydrological modelling system for building and simulating surface water and groundwater flow, and applied to a high density residential area of perimeter blocks in Munich, Germany. The results reveal that both trees and green roofs increase water storage capacities and hence reduce surface runoff, although the main contribution of trees lies in increasing interception and evapotranspiration, whereas green roofs allow for more retention through water storage in their substrate. With increasing precipitation intensities as projected under climate change their regulating potential decreases due to limited water storage capacities. The performance of both types stays limited to a maximum reduction of 2.4% compared to the baseline scenario, unless the coverage of vegetation and permeable surfaces is significantly increased as a 14.8% reduction is achieved by greening all roof surfaces.

The authors conclude that the study provides empirical support for the effectiveness of urban green infrastructure as nature-based solution to stormwater regulation and assists planners and operators of sewage systems in selecting the most effective measures for implementation and estimation of their effects.


Urban green infrastructure as nature-based solution to regulate surface runoff becomes increasingly important, as climate change and urbanisation alter the urban water balance. The present study assessed the performance of two urban green infrastructure (UGI) types, trees and green roofs, on relevant hydrological processes, especially surface runoff. The two measures were applied in scenarios of different greening quantity and for heavy rain events of different intensities as projected for the future. This scenario approach revealed that both trees and green roofs contribute positively by interception, evapotranspiration and infiltration. Differences in their performance showed to be dependent on the greening quantity, share of permeable surfaces leaf area index (LAI) and finally, intensity of the rainfall event. Generally, their effectiveness remains low under heavy rain events, unless a significant proportion of the case area is greened to provide sufficient water storage capacities (Artmann, 2014).

For urban planning the presented results have practical implications for the selection of UGI types to reduce surface runoff volumes and in consequence reduce discharge loads, the sewage system has to handle. An effective nature-based solution increases the storage capacities within the area of interest as much as possible, while using open spaces that have not been used previously and/or while providing benefits to other areas of urban planning. Trees increase the storage capacity mainly by intercepting and evapotranspiring rainwater, their infiltration capacity is limited to the tree pits. But trees can normally not be implemented in large quantity in dense urban areas due to their requirements of open space. Green roofs on the other hand, provide storage capacity mainly by retaining rainwater in their substrates and can be implemented at larger scale on previously unused roof surfaces.

Furthermore, both types are multifunctional and can provide co-benefits for urban planning. The approach represents a first step in allowing planners as well as operators of sewage systems to estimate reductions in runoff volume when locally implementing UGI measures. These estimations could be further improved by integrating additional stormwater management practices and the drainage system in more detail into the modelling setup. Thus, conducting a larger systematic study of UGI scenarios would allow for including e.g. more UGI types, different species and LAI values as well as planting conditions. Such a study could enhance the provision of empirical evidence for climate resilient urban planning.


In March 2013 the Landscape Institute published an updated Mission Statement, ‘Green Infrastructure: An integrated approach to land management’. The document was described as,

“An opportunity to showcase a range of successful strategic GI work and completed
projects. The aim is to give public and private sector bodies, clients and natural and built environment professionals fresh insights into the benefits GI can bring by creating multifunctional landscapes and show how people can collaborate to deliver it.”

Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy

Melbourne trees are under threat, with almost 44% projected to disappear in the next 20 years, so the city had to come up with a plan to includes increasing canopy cover and improving biodiversity, vegetation and soil moisture. The city was received an award of excellence for research, policy and communication from the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, with judges calling their ‘Urban Forest Strategy – Making a Great City Greener 2012-20132′ a glowing example of ‘how to transform policy into practice to create a distinctive and liveable city’.



The City of Melbourne’s urban forest will be resilient, healthy and diverse and will contribute to the health and wellbeing of our community and to the creation of a liveable city. To link to full text click here

Key challenges

Melbourne is currently facing three significant challenges: climate change, population growth and urban heating placing pressure on the built fabric, services and people of the city. A healthy urban forest will play a critical role in maintaining the health and liveability of Melbourne. Over the next 20 years and beyond, Melbourne will experience a changing climate, becoming increasingly warm, dry, and liable to more frequent extremes of heat and inundation. The city’s urban heat island effect will intensify.

One of the important functions of the urban forest is to provide shade and cooling. Increased canopy coverage throughout the city will minimise the urban heat island effect and improve thermal comfort at street level for pedestrians. Increased water sensitive urban design will play an important role in managing inundation and providing soil moisture for healthy vegetation growth, as well as enhancing the city’s ecology.

Climate change science and international urban forestry research both indicate that a range of threats facing the urban forest will increase in the future, particularly vulnerability to pests, disease and extremes of weather. Melbourne’s residential, worker and visitor populations will increase. An associated growth in the urban forest, ‘green infrastructure’ and ‘ecosystem services’ would respond to these pressures, reduce the cost of grey infrastructure and improve the quality of the urban environment.


The recent period of drought and water restrictions triggered irreversible decline for many trees. This exaggerated the age-related decline of many significant elms and other trees. Modelling shows that within the next ten years, 23% of our current tree population will be at the end of their useful lives and within twenty years this figure will have reached 39%. To guide future planting, a series of tools and programs have been, and will continue to be, developed. Building the urban forest as a living ecosystem and ensuring that it provides the maximum benefits for our communities will rely on smart species selection, improving soil moisture retention, reducing stormwater flows, improving water quality and re-use, increasing shade and canopy cover, and reducing infrastructure conflicts.

Urban forestry is entering a new era in Australia and this strategy highlights how important it is, particularly in context of enhancing liveability and adapting to predicted climate change. An urban forest provides a multitude of benefits for ecosystems, the economy, and community health and wellbeing.


Photograph source: City of Melbourne

Principles, strategies & targets

The vision is of a healthy, resilient and diverse urban forest that contributes to the health and wellbeing of our communities, and to a liveable city that will create better urban environments for everyone. The principles outlined in the strategy are to guide decision-making to create a future forest. The strategy highlights proactive and adaptive management, and will transform an asset that has a current amenity value estimated at $700 million and a future value that is potentially priceless.

The strategy’s guiding principles are to:

  • mitigate and adapt to climate change
  • reduce the urban heat island effect
  • become a ‘water sensitive’ city
  • design for health and wellbeing
  • design for liveability and cultural integrity
  • create healthier ecosystems
  • position Melbourne as a leader in urban forestry

The strategies and targets proposed to achieve this vision are:

  • Strategy 1: Increase canopy cover Target: Increase public realm canopy cover from 22% at present to 40% by 2040.
  • Strategy 2: Increase urban forest diversity Target: The urban forest will be composed of no more than 5% of any tree species, no more than 10% of any genus and no more than 20% of any one family.
  • Strategy 3: Improve vegetation health Target: 90% of the City of Melbourne’s tree population will be healthy by 2040.
  • Strategy 4: Improve soil moisture and water quality Target: Soil moisture levels will be maintained at levels to provide healthy growth of vegetation.
  • Strategy 5: Improve urban ecology Target: Protect and enhance a level of biodiversity that contributes to a healthy ecosystem.
  • Strategy 6: Inform and consult the community Target: The community will have a broader understanding of the importance of our urban forest, increase their connection to it and engage with its process of evolution.

Assessing effectiveness of Flood Emergency Management Systems

A new framework has been developed to assess how effective Flood Emergency Management Systems (FEMS) are in Europe. Examining FEMS in five European countries, this study highlights the strengths and weaknesses of existing systems and makes recommendations for improving their effectiveness, particularly in relation to institutional learning, community preparedness and recovery.

Source: Gilissen, H. K., Alexander, M., Matczak, P., Pettersson, M. & Bruzzone, S. (2016). A framework for evaluating the effectiveness of flood emergency management systems in Europe. Ecology and Society, 21(4):27. DOI: 10.5751/ES-08723-210427. This study is free to view at: www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol21/iss4/art27/

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of floods and society must be able to respond to this evolving threat. To achieve this, FEMS, which are designed to ensure that emergency professionals are prepared for floods, should include assessments of risk to underscore flood-specific emergency planning, promote inter-agency working, professional training, facilitate community preparedness and support immediate recovery activities, such as restoring essential services and supplies. Whilst FEMS are embedded within broader legal and policy frameworks for integrated emergency management and civil contingencies, the pressing challenges posed by floods provide a strong case for examining FEMS in isolation.

This study, partly conducted under the EU STAR–FLOOD [see reference below] project, presents a new framework to assess and monitor the effectiveness of FEMS in European countries from legal and public-administration perspectives. To build the framework, the researchers conducted an appraisal of existing international academic and grey literature published since 1970, relating to emergency and disaster-management systems for any type of hazard at international, national and subnational levels. This informed the identification of seven key indicators that could be used to evaluate the performance of processes and actions in emergency flood management:

  1. Planning: development of an emergency plan to establish priorities, actions and decision-making in the event of a flood emergency;
  2. Institutional learning: procedures to be in place to promote learning at frequent intervals (e.g. post-event reviews and inquiries, opportunities for knowledge exchange across responding agencies);
  3. Exercising emergency arrangements: planning and operational procedures should be tested at multiple scales;
  4. Joined-up working: distribution of responsibilities within and between emergency actors must be clearly defined, effectively coordinated and collaborative;
  5. Community preparedness: should be supported by emergency professionals (e.g. raising risk awareness and direction on what to do when a flood occurs);
  6. Provision of resources: (financial, human resources, equipment, and decision-support tools) needs to be ensured and arrangements need to be established for sourcing and allocating additional resources as required;
  7. Recovery-based activities: arrangements should be in place to support evacuation, for temporary housing, restoration of essential services, help for businesses to function, dealing with physical damage and management of environmental impacts, such as pollution and contamination.

To put this framework into use, the researchers outlined key benchmarks against which a country’s performance can be scored; for this, they used a scale of one to five (absent/minimal, emerging, moderate, significant and outstanding).

The researchers then collected information from a variety of sources to evaluate the extent to which benchmarks are achieved in five European countries: France, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the UK (specifically England). The information was drawn from the analysis of emergency-management policy documents and legislation, as well as stakeholder interviews and workshops with key practitioners and policymakers involved in emergency management and flood-risk management more broadly (for example, government departments, municipal and local authorities, and emergency responders).

National Flood Emergency Framework

The National Flood Emergency Framework for England (December 2014) sets out the government’s strategic approach to achieving the aims set out below and is intended for use by all those involved in planning for and responding to flooding from:

  • the sea
  • rivers
  • surface water
  • groundwater and
  • reservoirs

The concept of a National Flood Emergency Framework was promoted by Sir Michael Pitt in his report on the summer 2007 floods. Its purpose is to provide a forward looking policy framework for flood emergency planning and response. It brings together information, guidance and key policies and is a resource for all involved in flood emergency planning at national, regional and local levels. It is a common and strategic reference point for flood planning and response for all tiers of government and for responder organisations.

More precisely, the purpose of the Framework is to:

  • ensure delivery bodies understand their respective roles and responsibilities
  • give all players in an emergency flooding situation a common point of reference – bringing together information, guidance and key policies in a single planning document
  • establish clear thresholds for emergency response arrangements
  • place proper emphasis on the multi-agency approach to managing flooding events
  • provide clarity on the means of improving resilience and minimising the impact of flooding events
  • provide a basis for individual responders to develop and review their own plans and
  • be a long-term asset that will provide the basis for continuous improvement in flood emergency management

Responding to floods in Europe: new framework assesses effectiveness of Flood Emergency Management Systems

Of the five countries, England’s FEMS were found to be the most effective, with all seven indicators achieving significant or outstanding ratings. In the absence of statutory rights to flood protection, a diversified approach to FEMS has existed for over 65 years in England; thus, flood emergency management has served as a crucial strategy for minimising the consequences of flood events. Dedicated policy for flood emergency management is seen, with multi-agency flood plans as a standard component of common practice. Moreover, formal legal mechanisms underpin effective integrated working between emergency responders (e.g. duties to cooperate, and formation of Local Resilience Forums) and certain responders are actively involved in activities to enhance community preparedness for floods.

In Sweden, given the low distribution of flood risk, flood protection management is organised at the local or municipal level on a relatively ad hoc basis by those municipalities affected by flooding, rather than being established at the national scale. Whilst this is considered to be an efficient strategy and provides the necessary flexibility for municipalities to adapt to local risks, there is a risk that some areas may be neglected. Moreover, the lack of national arrangements and supportive mechanisms may make it difficult for certain municipalities to mobilise the necessary resources, according to the researchers.

In France, emergency management has evolved over the past few decades and has been integrated into local disaster-management planning and policies, in line with broader initiatives towards decentralised governance. ‘Professionalisation’ of the public is one of the major aims of the French FEMS, where voluntary fire brigades play a key role. Municipalities can optionally call in voluntary civil-protection reserves to assist in response activities. Efforts to enhance community preparedness are becoming nationally more consistent. However, recovery guidance and regulation varies regionally and this is an area for improvement identified by the researchers.

In the Netherlands, historically, there has been a strong tradition of flood defence and protection, with a statutory right to be protected by the state from floods. Nonetheless, recent efforts have sought to diversify the range of strategies implemented, in order to manage flood risk more holistically and address the country’s increased vulnerability to flooding under climate change. However, certain aspects of flood emergency management (i.e., institutional learning, community engagement, and recovery) are less well developed. Moreover, the organisational structure requires some improvement, the researchers say.

In contrast to the other countries, the FEMS in Poland is still emerging in several aspects, particularly with regard to institutional learning, community preparedness and recovery-based activities. The occurrence of significant flood events (1997) has prompted establishment of the crisis-management institutional framework and efforts to improve the effectiveness of FEMS, yet gaps are seen between policy and practice. The researchers identify small-scale examples of good practice, such as the ‘flood leaders’ initiative in Wroclaw, but say these are yet to be scaled-up and implemented nationwide.

Although the researchers found that all countries had different approaches to flood-risk management, shaped by diverse political and administrative cultures and socio-economic conditions, they have produced some common recommendations to improve the effectiveness of FEMS:

  • Specific provisions for flood emergency management could prove beneficial in countries where flood risk is projected to increase. Lessons could be learned from the multi-agency flood-planning groups and subgroups within Local Resilience Forums, as seen in England, which provide further clarity on roles and responsibilities at times of flood emergencies;
  • National guidance could be provided for flooding in countries with a low risk of flooding, or where flood-risk areas are widely distributed, to help deliver consistent support and establish good practice at the local level;
  • Specific training for flood emergencies is necessary to test planning, responsive procedures and communication systems, as well as helping to raise community awareness of flood risks;
  • Efforts to encourage community preparedness require better communication of flood risks and need to be situated alongside wider efforts to normalise adaptation within society.
  1. STAR-FLOOD (STrengthening And Redesigning European FLOOD risk practices Towards appropriate and resilient flood risk governance arrangements) was supported by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme. http://cordis.europa.eu/result/rcn/153561_en.html


Contact: h.k.gilissen@uu.nl