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Putting citizens centre stage in flood prevention

Europeans not only directly benefit from EU-funded flood prevention initiatives, but can also be integral to their success. An excellent example of this is the ongoing WESENSEIT project, which aims to rely on citizens to monitor and report on their own environment.

The project, which was launched in October 2012, reverses the notion that potential threat warnings should trickle down from authorities to those living in areas at risk. Indeed, it aims to strengthen Europe’s response to water management by directly engaging with those who live on the front line. Citizens – such as volunteer flood wardens in the UK or civil protection volunteers in Italy – are encouraged to help by taking measurements using new specially designed mobile apps, and sending information and images by phone to the relevant authorities. WESENSEIT, which ends in September 2016, is currently running tests in Italy, the Netherlands and the UK. In Italy for example, an evaluation involving some 500 volunteers simulating a flood in the city of Vicenza was completed at the end of March 2014. The project, which is funded under the FP7 programme, takes full advantage of the untapped possibilities that mobile phones and social media offer, and enables citizens to be fully active in capturing, evaluating and communicating valuable information on water levels. This should help to create cost efficiencies for over-stretched local authorities and act as early warning systems. The project should also create business opportunities for budding app developers, who will be able to develop and test their innovations within the solid infrastructure that the project is creating – and help to make a positive difference to the lives of local people. Other recent EU-funded projects have also focused on innovative means of flood management and prevention. The IMPRINTS project, for example, developed an early warning platform to cut responses to flash floods down to about two hours, and even less – potentially giving people more time to get out of harm’s way. The IMPRINTS platform is based on better rainfall predictions, using meteorological models and weather radar networks. The project has been an important success, with water services and hydro-meteorological operations in Spain, Switzerland and France now using the project’s innovations to refine their own real-time forecasting systems. Similarly, the URBANFLOOD project developed sensors to monitor flood embankments and provide an early warning of their risk of failing. The underground sensors detect any changes in water levels, along with other factors such as temperature, moisture and earth movements that can lead eventually to flooding. The information is then assessed by the project’s modelling software, which can trigger an alert if there is a problem. Taken together, these three projects underline the importance that the EU places on flood prevention. Recent events in England, central Europe and elsewhere have served to remind us of the human and economic costs of flooding. The number of people who will be affected is predicted to double over the next 70 years, with annual damages increasing from EUR 7.7bn to EUR 15bn. For more information, please visit: WESENSEIT Project factsheet:


United Kingdom

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