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A Large-Scale Systems Approach to Flood Risk Assessment and Management

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - SYSTEM-RISK (A Large-Scale Systems Approach to Flood Risk Assessment and Management)

Reporting period: 2018-01-01 to 2019-12-31

Floods affect more people worldwide than any other natural hazard. With more than $ 100 Bn average annual losses, floods are of high relevance for society and economy. Current approaches for assessing flood risk often ignore interactions and changes in the atmosphere, catchments, river-floodplains, and socio-economic systems. As a consequence, risk analyses are uncertain and might be biased. However, reliable risk estimates are needed to prioritize investments in flood risk mitigation and for the insurance sector. To advance this field, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie European Training Network SYSTEM-RISK works on ‘A large-scale systems approach to flood risk assessment and management’. SYSTEM-RISK research considers the complete chain of processes involved from the meteorological events to the consequences, the manifold interactions, and temporal changes in flood risk systems. It focuses on the Atmosphere-Catchment System, the River-Dike-Floodplain System and the Socio-Economic System. Novel tools are developed for implementing the systems approach which allows considering upstream-downstream interactions within river systems, for instance, due to levee breaches, taking into account temporal changes in risk, such as the effect of private precaution on flood losses, and processing big data volumes and simulating large-scale yet high-resolution floods. These novel tools allow to comprehensively consider flood risk drivers, to understand and factor in human behaviour, to improve the integration of actors in risk management practice, to quantify the spatial redistribution of risk on large scales, and to assess risk management strategies in terms of risk reduction and equity in risk distribution. The close exchange between scientists and policy-makers, flood risk managers and private stakeholders makes sure that risk management practice can profit from the System-Risk perspective.
Technical and soft-skill training has been conducted as a series of three one-week events organized by different consortium partners. ESR collaboration has been strengthened during the Kick-Off meeting, two interim workshops and the final international SYSTEM-RISK conference. A Flood Task Force activity has been conducted to provide ESRs with an opportunity for learning from an actual flood event about successful risk management, but also potential pitfalls and failures in flood risk management. The ESRs have been active in communicating their work in numerous international conferences, outreach events including the EU researchers’ night, and have published more than 25 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles.
Work-Package 1 ‘Spotlight on the Atmosphere-Catchment System’ advanced scientific knowledge and develop innovative tools and approaches relative to three main elements of large-flood hazard assessment, characterization and modelling. This includes spatially coherent large-scale flood hazard scenarios, robust and objective assessment of drivers of flood hazard dynamics and simplified tools for flood hazard assessment and mapping.
Work-Package 2 ‘Spotlight on the River-Dike-Floodplain System’ improved the understanding of flood risk system behaviour in terms of river – dyke – floodplain interactions and developed innovative tools and approaches to assess the spatial distribution of risk at large scales. The main contributions are related to accounting for system behaviour in hazard and impact assessment, spatially coherent flood hazard modeling and mapping, and to support robust flood risk management under uncertainty.
Work-Package 3 ‘Spotlight on the Socio-Economic System’ investigated a range of different systems and different spatial and temporal dimensions looking into the governance frame, long-term mitigation and adaptation actions, business-supply disruption, and property damages. Progress has been made regarding the understanding of socio-economic flood impacts, interconnections and feedbacks influencing precaution, and insights into the value of empirical data.
The publication of peer-reviewed papers is a key pillar for disseminating the scientific findings from the ESR research. One successful example of the exploitation of research results is the online implementation of the ‘Smartflood’ tool. Smartflood is a web-based tool for a data-driven riverine flood hazard mapping at large scales. It offers a cost-effective alternative for consistent flood risk assessment over large areas. A second example is the LISFLOOD FP toolbox which is an open-source Python CLI package encompassing most methods commonly used to prepare input data for large scale flood inundation studies using the LISFLOOD-FP hydrodynamic model. These tools support large-scale flood mapping and risk assessment work worldwide.
The SYSTEM-RISK research programme encompasses several innovative elements: the broadening of flood research by analyzing the complete risk chain with a focus on large spatial scales, the treatment of the flood risk system as a complex system, and the analyses of the interactions of its components by extending the traditional sequential approach of the flood risk chain to an approach with interdependent components and feedbacks. Further, this includes probing of how the dynamic nature of flood hazard, exposure and vulnerability influences flood risk systems, investigating the uncertainties and limits of predictability related to the multiple interactions and analyzing the implications of applying this systems approach to governmental policies and insurance appraisal.
SYSTEM-RISK aims at enhancing research- and innovation-related human resources, and skills to realize the potential of individuals and to provide new career perspectives. The discussion between the public and private sector, and academia has been stimulated by participating in international conferences and organizing the final international SYSTEM-RISK conference. These inter-disciplinary exchanges have moved the discussions about the usefulness of and requirements for implementing a systems approach to flood risk assessment and management to the broader context of the climate crisis and systemic risks. Limitations and potential of innovative tools have been discussed against the background of increased complexity and soundness of model approaches. Balancing both aspects is acknowledged by the community as very relevant to implement a systems approach. Importantly, a joint opinion paper calling for an ‘Evolutionary leap in large-scale flood risk assessment’ has been published to fuel the debate about enhancing the EU policy strategy for flood risk management. These contributions of SYSTEM-RISK research are timely to shape the next revision of flood risk management plans due for the EU Member States in 2021. The implementation of the directive needs adjustments regarding methods accounting for more process interactions in flood risk systems. Two policy briefs ‘Advanced tools for implementing a systems approach to large-scale flood risk assessment and management’, and ‘Improving flood risk assessment and management through a systems perspective’ provide arguments and science-based facts for the benefits of adopting a systems approach.
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SYSTEM-RISK ESRs and (some) supervisors at Gornichem dike relocation (NL)