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Inundated with the right information to protect against floods


The floods of 1997 and 2002 devastated much of Europe. But can we learn and be better prepared to cope with future extreme weather? The IST project OSIRIS has developed some practical solutions to help address the challenge.

The so-called ’Flood of the Century’ in 1997, caused havoc the length of the Oder valley, flooding swathes of land in Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. The death toll was 55; the cost of damages estimated at some 3.5 billion euro; and the human cost, in terms of the trauma and loss of property and possessions, unquantifiable.

Some five years later, intense rainfall and violent storms caused another equally, if not more, devastating floods across vast areas of southern and eastern Europe, in particular in the Elbe river basin.

Three pilots in two river basins

The OSIRIS project responded by targeting citizens, enterprises, local authorities and emergency centres located in three pilot sites of two river basins: the Loire and the Oder. Their objectives: to raise awareness of the risks and involving citizens in prevention measures; to prepare effective protection and rescue strategies before, during and after a flood; and to improve access to, and quality of, information.

Various different approaches to reaching these goals were tried and tested. These ranged from information portals, more appropriate for larger river basins, where flooding can be forecasted and anticipated with 2-3 days time lag, to a local flood warning system which included a phone alert system. Such localised systems are necessary for smaller basins where flash floods that can be only be anticipated by a few hours occur.

By the time the project ended in March 2003, end-users were sufficiently convinced of the value of OSIRIS results to continue investing in their development and application. "We’ve been fortunate to have end-users in the partnership who have been really committed to the post-project phase," says Marc Erlich project coordinator within SOGREAH Consultants, an independent engineering consultancy with 800 environment and water specialists.

Etablissement Public Loire representing local authorities at all levels from the whole Loire basin, for example, is currently working on the industrialisation of two prototypes developed by the OSIRIS project. The first is a decision-support system to help local mayors prepare emergency action plans in the event of a flood. The tool is based on an open source solution, so that it can be easily adapted to other user environments.

The second is a Web-based information portal, adapting the OSIRIS prototype already developed for Klodzko district in the upper Odra (Poland), to the Loire valley. The portal ’Great Water’, now implemented on nationally by the French Institute of Meteorology and Water Management aims to raise awareness of flood risks and preventative measures and create networks of different interest groups.

"During the 1997 flood in Poland whole communities became isolated and had no access to information," says Erlich. "This portal enables networks of citizens, schools, teachers or NGOs, to communicate and exchange information on risk prevention measures."

Virtual bridges across national boundaries to manage floods

Another OSIRIS prototype attracting a lot of interest is the Web-oriented system providing information on current and forecasted water levels along the Oder valley.

The involved crisis management stakeholders in Frankfurt-am-Oder have to cope with heterogeneous information resources with a variety of proprietary formats. The demonstrator allows access to primary and secondary information resources via the Internet. It supports the typical decentralised organisation of involved organisations and authorities tackling with crises in a federal country such as Germany. Transboundary collaboration with Polish partner city Slubice on the opposite bank of the river Oder is operational and has to be strengthened through the mutual exchange of information and resources. The demonstrator architecture is document-oriented to avoid the central administration of databases, given the limited resources and staff with ICT experience within the crisis management organisation.

Users can access relevant information through an interactive map showing relevant flood prone areas situated on Polish and German sides of the river. Two information access terminals, on both river banks were implemented. "This is the first step in order to provide integrated information on a transboundary river basin," says Erlich. "It could be used as a useful model for many other rivers that cross national boundaries."

Tara Morris | IST Results
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