Related - Floodplain Manager June 2019

Dam Repairs to Lower Flood Risk

Urgent repair work is needed on Melbourne’s Upper Yarra Dam to prevent the risk of catastrophic flooding.

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Built in 1957, the Upper Yarra Dam has a capacity of 200 GL and is Melbourne’s third largest water source. However, inspections of the dam revealed the need for internal erosion repairs and reconstruction of the middle and upper layers of the embankment. This would involve substantially reducing the amount of water held in the dam with the works expected to take up to two years to complete. The proposed repairs aim to prevent a dam failure that could place 50,000 to 150,000 people at risk, and cause loss of life within the realms of 30 to 1,000 people particularly in the Yarra Glen region. Melbourne Water will oversee the upgrade which is due to start in September this year. Throughout the works, Melbourne Water will manage the reservoir level and activate an emergency response plan if heavy rains create a risk of flooding (Read here).

Sea Level is Rising but not in My Backyard

A new report by the University of NSW found that while about 80 per cent of the coastal community believes sea level is rising, only about half think it will impact them.

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Coastal regions of NSW are likely to be under increasing threat of climate change driven sea level rise in the future. However, a survey of 1,000 coastal community members found 75 per cent of coastal accommodation business owners believed sea level was rising but only 35 per cent believe that it would affect them.  On the other hand, 85 per cent of general coastal users think that sea level rise is occurring but only 55 per cent think it will affect them.

Homeowners in Collaroy, one of Sydney’s northern beaches which was severely affected by storms in 2016, are constructing a three metre high, government funded, revetment to mitigate the impacts of future storm surges.  They may be less sceptical about sea level rise and its impacts on them.

Similarly, in Tasmania the coastal towns of Snug and Conningham are dealing with coastal erosion problems in the aftermath of multiple storms in the last year. The communities have banded together to place rocks and sandbags to protect the shoreline from further retreat but these works have not been subject to engineering design nor approved by Council (Read here and here).

Flood Risk Ignored by Australian Small Businesses

Despite being the costliest of all natural hazards from a recovery perspective, Australian small businesses are turning a blind eye when it comes to flood exposure.

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Lynette Schultheis, the senior vice president and operations manager at FM Global, believes that: “Many people don’t choose to adequately understand their exposures, the likelihood of risk or the potential impact” and that this often stems from a misconception about the perceived meaning of flood frequencies. Insurance brokers are encouraged to educate business owners on the flood risk of their property in order to implement robust and tailored flood mitigation strategies. Schultheis suggests that this can be achieved through encouraging owners to use Flood Map (a free online flood mapping tool developed by FM Global) to identify high-risk flood zones at their current sites, key suppliers’ sites as well as any future sites, and by implementing permanent and temporary flood protection measures and a flood emergency response plan (Read here).

National Award for Warning Research

Collaborative research into natural hazard warning systems and public campaigns has won a national award for science impact and innovation.

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Researchers from the University of Technology Queensland, Macquarie University, and Wollongong University sought to equip emergency service agencies around Australia with better-targeted long-term public safety campaigns, as well as evidence-based warning messages delivered to at-risk populations in the face of imminent natural hazard threats. This included the testing of wording and structure of warning messages to better understand how, and by whom, messages are understood and translated into direct action. The findings have aided the development of national level initiatives such as The National Emergency Management Handbook Public Information and Warnings and the companion guide Warning Message Construction: Choosing Your Words, published by the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience, which draw upon the research to more effectively address high-risk and non-English speaking communities. Furthermore, the researchers found trends in flood fatality data between 1900 and 2015 in relation to gender, age, activity and the circumstances of the death. These findings have allowed the identification of high-risk groups such as: (a) children, teens, young adults and their parents, (b) those who drive into floodwaters and (c) 4WD owners. The broad reaching insight gained from such research has influenced the style and structure of official public messages and information campaigns by state-based emergency agencies (Read here).

Rising Seas Threaten Australia’s Major Airports

Predicted Sea level rise of greater than two metres by 2100 could threaten most of Australia’s major airports.

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Most major airports in Australia are situated on reclaimed wetlands and sit just above present day sea level. For example, Sydney and Brisbane airports are less than four metres above present day sea level, making them vulnerable under the predicted scenario of sea level rise. Airports and other forms of coastal infrastructure are critical to the Australian economy with the aviation industry alone contributing approximately $16 billion to the economy in 2017. While there still remains uncertainty about the extent of sea level rise estimates due to the challenges in predicting rates of ice sheet retreat, a sea level rise of just one metre could place $200 billion worth of Australian infrastructure at risk. This uncertainty makes adapting current coastal assets through mitigation infrastructure both costly and ultimately redundant when modelling predicts that even coastal infrastructure at higher elevations may still be inoperable when the combined effect of storm surges, waves, elevated groundwater or river flooding are considered. Therefore, experts suggest that coastal infrastructure should instead be subjected to risk analysis for a two to three metre sea level rise predicted under the worst case scenario (Read here ).

Do Online Tools Help Everyone in Floods?

The availability of flood data and tools online is on the rise but researchers point out that they aren’t always universally accessible.

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Online tools such as crowdsource mapping and social media are becoming increasingly important in disaster resilience allowing users to understand and respond to a crisis and share and contribute vital on-ground information to the online community. This was demonstrated with the recent Queensland floods where 85% of people surveyed used Facebook as a source of information over televised news broadcasts. Researchers suggest that these online tools may not be encompassing all community members at risk, especially considering varying levels of vulnerability to natural hazard events and unequal access to digital technologies. For example, people with mobility issues, caring roles, or limited access to resources such as money, information or support networks will be more vulnerable and online tools may not always be inclusive of these groups. Additionally, these vulnerable groups may also experience lower digital inclusion with the majority of the 1.3 million Australian households with no internet connection being represented by the elderly, unemployed, or migrants. Therefore, online tool creators should be acutely aware of such marginalisation and endeavour to create platforms whereby participation can be improved by taking steps to make the tool more accessible such as translating into different languages (Read here).

Flood Costs for Infrastructure

Researchers at the University of Oxford have estimated the cost of natural disasters to the world’s roads and railways.

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According to a paper in the journal of Nature Communications damage to road and rail infrastructure due to natural disasters could result in an annual cost of approximately $20.8 billion globally. An estimated 73% of this damage would be as result of surface water (caused by extreme precipitation) and river flooding. Researchers used global road and railway asset data and hazard maps to calculate the exposure and risk to transport infrastructure from natural disasters, including tropical cyclones, earthquakes, surface flooding, river flooding and coastal flooding. It was found that 27% of global transport infrastructure is exposed to at least one hazard with damage costs expected to be within the range of $4.4-$43 billion and that small island developing states such as Papua New Guinea are particularly vulnerable. However, the greatest absolute damages were observed in high income countries such as China and Japan. The results highlight the need for using risk information in planning assessments to protect infrastructure assets from natural hazard related damages (Read more here and here).

Flood Resilience Education for School Children

The University of Cumbria, UK, has hosted 400 primary school students at its campus to learn about the risks and dangers of flooding and how they can help build up resilience.

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The Lune Valley in the north west of England is rebuilding after floods devastated the region in 2015 and 2017. In a bid to raise awareness of the impact of floods on the community and the importance of resilience, students from 11 primary schools in the region have attended an event created in partnership with the University of Cumbria, Lune Valley Flood Forum, local statutory agencies, charities, and nature and wildlife bodies. The event comprised of six “learning zones” for children to explore including: first hand recounts of floods affected residents; demonstrations of how rivers systems work; and what can be done to be prepared for future flood events. Additionally, a “talking heads” film production was launched comprising information and resources to create a new teachers’ flood resource on the Lune Valley Flood Forum website(Read more here ).

FEMA Releases a Flood of Insurance Data

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has released tens of millions of records from its National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

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The data release includes over 50 million policy transactions from the past decade alone and will help illuminate how the NFIP operates, where flood damages occur, and what the costs are to the nation thus providing invaluable insight to scientists, decision makers and the public alike. Already, maps are being produced with the data from 1970-2018 which show trends that reflect major American flood disasters such as those in 2005, 2008, 2012, and 2017. Data relating to the numbers of repeatedly flooded properties, the level of program enforcement by participating communities, and rates of flood insurance uptake have not yet been fully explored, and FEMA has encouraged data visualisation enthusiasts to tell their own story with the data. The data however does have some limitations, wherein the information about specific properties has been withheld for privacy reasons. This has ramifications for homeowners who may intend to use the data to make informed decisions about where to live, whether to purchase flood insurance, and how to prepare for or mitigate flood damage based on a properties flood history. Furthermore, a property that has never been covered by an NFIP insurance policy will not be included in the dataset making the flood risk and history of some properties still out of reach (Read more here ).

A Push for Flood Risk Reports to be Free for Every Property in the USA

There are plans to calculate past, current and future flood risk of every property in the USA and make it freely accessible for all.

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Several national and international university researchers have joined forces with the tech non-profit First Street Foundation to calculate flood risk for all American properties and release it for free through its easily accessible and understandable online database, Flood IQ. Flood maps created by FEMA are often incomplete and rely solely on historic observations without using changing environmental factors to forecast future risk. This can cause underestimations of a property’s flood risk as demonstrated during the recent Midwest flooding whereby thousands of homes were destroyed despite being classified as low-risk by FEMA maps. Reflecting on the cost of $1 trillion for flooding since 1980, First Street Foundation and the research team highlights the importance of publicly available, up-to-date, complete and environmental contributor encompassing data. In order to create a complete flood risk data set for every property in America the scientists will use a probabilistic flood model that accounts for tidal flooding, storm surge, pluvial (rainfall) and fluvial (riverine) flooding. They will then adjust the models to account for anticipated future sea level rise, increased precipitation and intensified cyclonic activity. The team also plans to analyse the flooding history of individual homes over the past 50 years. It is hoped that these efforts will help to create the first ever comprehensive and publicly available flood risk dataset (Read more here ).

Google Maps Adds Visual Information and Warning Systems during Times of Crisis

Visual information about natural disasters and a new navigation warning system added to SOS alerts in Google Maps.

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SOS alerts already provide readily accessible authoritative, real-time information during times of crisis. Google has recently incorporated detailed visualisations for hurricanes, earthquakes and floods to aid user understanding of the situation on the ground. Although the flood component of this system is so far only available in India, users are able to see flood forecasts that show where flooding is likely to occur in addition to the expected severity in different areas. The resultant flood visualisation maps use a variety of elements including historical events, river level readings, and terrain and elevation of a specific area in order to generate maps based on hundreds of thousands of simulations in each location (Read more here ).

UK Drafts National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy

The UK Environment Agency has produced a draft National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England to update the 2011 strategy.

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The draft report has the overarching premise of creating a consistent approach to flood risk across the country. It discusses a wide range of resilience tactics including flood and coastal defences, natural flood management, ensuring new development is safe from flood risk, and adapting property to enable quick recovery. The title and vision for the strategy – “a nation ready for, and resilient to, flooding and coastal change – today, tomorrow and to the year 2100” – encapsulates the need to move forward from relying on flood and coastal mitigation infrastructure alone, and look towards achieving nationwide resilience. The report reflects on what can be learnt from significant floods occurring since the 2011 publication which have instigated $4.7 billion in funding being allocated towards better protecting 300,000 homes between 2015 and 2021. The report also outlines the responsibilities of national, local, and community management bodies with respect to flooding and coastal change. The Environmental Agency discusses a number of case studies of flood resilience efforts across the UK to suggest a set of strategic guidelines and tools to achieve them such as property flood resilience, flood warning systems, evacuation and relocation protocol, flood infrastructure, and natural flood management. It is hoped that with increased funding and assumption of responsibilities across all management levels that the nation may become more flood resilient and prepared for future flood and coastal change risks (Read more here ).

Inland Flood Defences Save the UK Billions of Dollars Annually

UK’s current network of river barriers and defences saves $2 billion a year in flood damage according to research.

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Modelling, based on thousands of simulations of weather events with and without flood defences, was commissioned by Flood Re and conducted by Risk Management Solutions (RMS), to quantify the financial contribution of river water defences in the UK. The data revealed that without the defences in place, inland flooding would cost the UK on average, three times as much on an annual basis as it does currently (Read more here ).

Floods Change People’s Perspective on Climate Change

Observing widespread devastation in their neighbour and broader community cements people’s belief in climate change and the threat it poses in their lifetimes.

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A survey of 1,000 randomly selected people from six communities in the Colorado region following floods in 2013 formed part of a joint research effort to understand how peoples’ experience of the inundation influenced their beliefs about climate change. People from within and outside flood zones and from diverse political backgrounds were asked to rate, on a scale of one to five, if they agreed with the ideas that climate change was a severe threat, that it will affect them personally, and that it contributed to the 2013 floods. The survey also delved into participant perception on how flood damage impacted themselves, their neighbourhood and their community. Contrary to predictions, researchers found that neighbourhood and community-level damage were more strongly linked to climate change belief than personal property damage. This finding is thought to originate from the cultural portrayal of climate change which tends to be associated with more broad-scale events (Read more here ).

US Millennials More Likely to Buy Flood Insurance than Baby Boomers

A survey of 1,000 Americans reveals that Millennials are almost three times more likely to purchase flood insurance in the US than their Baby Boomer counterparts.

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The survey by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) found that millennials (born 1981 to 1996) were also more likely to purchase flood insurance than Gen Xers (born 1965 -1980). The survey also found that less than half (41%) of Americans who agree that having flood insurance is important have purchased flood insurance (17%), and it is suspected that only 3% of those actually have flood insurance due to misunderstanding about what is covered in homeowner insurance plans (Read more here ).

Assessing Social Vulnerability to Flood Hazards

A paper published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Science has assessed social vulnerability factors to flooding in the Dutch province of Zeeland.

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Traditionally flood-risk analyses conducted by the Dutch Government have focused on physical risk, however against the backdrop of the 2007 European Union Floods Directive encouragement of a more integrated approach, the current study has taken into account social vulnerabilities of residents. The researchers used fine-scale data to construct a social vulnerability index for 147 districts of the Dutch province of Zeeland which had previously experienced widespread devastation during the 1953 North Sea flood. Using a simplified social vulnerability index calculation prominent in American studies, researchers selected 25 geographical and institutionally relevant variables for inclusion in the analysis. The results showed that seven of the 25 variables explained 66% of the total variance. The most contributing factors of social vulnerability in Zeeland were identified as: urban density, low income, population change, female gender, distance to train stations, fewer self-employed, and more employed in service industries. For example, low income households would most likely be at greater social vulnerability risk due to lessened ability to prepare for and act in disaster situations. The results also demonstrated that the southern districts were more socially vulnerable due to an intersection of high contributing vulnerability factors (Read more here ).

Chances are Climate Change has been Increasing Extreme Precipitation

In a paper published in the Journal of Water Resources Research, scientists have used world wide historical rainfall data to analyse the likelihood that global warming was driving the frequency and magnitude of extreme precipitation events.

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The analysis focused on the 1964–2013 period when global warming accelerated.  Researchers extrapolated the number of extreme rainfall events from a subset of 8,730 out of 100,000 global precipitation stations. A time series was constructed for both annual frequency and average magnitude of the extreme rain events for each weather station. The results showed that frequency of extreme rainfall events increased over time, with a 7% increase between 2004 and 2013. Researchers also found that increased rainfall events were more common in Eurasia, northern Australia, and the mid-west of the USA. If these observed trends continue, it is likely that the frequency of extreme rainfall events will continue to rise with the global temperature (Read more here ).

Flood Mapping from Space

Cloud to Street, uses troves of high-cadence, high-resolution satellite imagery to build country-wide flood monitoring and dynamic analytics systems for the most vulnerable on Earth.

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In the wake of the 2017 flood in Impfondo in the Republic of the Congo (RoC), which claimed the lives of 5,000 people, Cloud to Street emerged as a system able to detect, measure, and monitor floods even in the most under-resourced and rural communities worldwide. The system has been used in 11 countries and helps identify critical assets at risk, design insurance products for new customers, protect wetlands, access new catastrophe insurance, and devise other ways to prepare for and respond to catastrophic flooding and climate change. For example, in December 2018 Cloud to Street’s tools identified the risk posed to 16,000 refugees who had fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and had settled in low-lying floodplains that were at high risk of flooding. The system allowed authorities to act swiftly to relocate refugees in high-risk areas to safer camps. Cloud to Street enables locally optimised flood frequency maps, high flood risk alerts, near real-time flood impact analytics and other tools that are designed for specific end users’ decisions, without the need for sophisticated hydrology knowledge that might be out of reach for vulnerable communities (Read more here ).

Japan’s Real-Time Disaster Damage Predictor

The cmap.dev website provides real-time predictions for the number of buildings at risk during natural disasters in Japan.

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Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance Co., Yokohama National University and Aon Benfield Japan launched the website, which is available in Japanese and English, and will have hourly forecast updates of natural disasters including typhoons, heavy rain or earthquakes. The number of damaged buildings in each city, town, and village will be estimated using actual weather or seismic data. The website will allow users to quickly access information about a disaster and establish an appropriate response plan (Read more here and here ).

International Floods

There were 29 international floods reported across 28 countries throughout June 2019. At least 152 people died and over 465,000 were displaced.

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Internationally significant floods included:

China

At least 61 people have died and 388,000 displaced as a result of flooding and landslides in the southern and central provinces of China. Around 9,300 homes have been destroyed and 3.7 million hectares of crops, causing direct economic losses of about $1.93 billion. (Read more here, here, and here).

Mongolia

At least 12 people have died in Mongolia as heavy rain of up to 82mm between 15 and 16 June, caused flooding in parts of the capital, Ulaanbaatar and nearby areas including Lun, Bayantsogt, and Bayankhangai in Töv Province.  (Read more here and here).

Diary

2019 IMA International Conference on Flood Risk
Where: Swansea, UK
When: 12-13 September, 2019
For more information visit here

2019 International River Symposium
Where: Brisbane, Australia
When: 20-24 October 2019
For more information visit here

2019 The International Emergency Management Society (TIEMS) Annual Conference
Where: Goyang, Korea
When: 12-15 November, 2019
For more information visit here

2020 Floodplain Management Australia Conference
Where: Empire Theatre, Toowoomba, QLD
When: 19-22 May, 2020
website

2020 Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) Annual National Conference
Where: Fort Worth, Texas, USA
When: 7-12 June 2020
For more information visit here

2020 International Conference on Flood Management
Where: The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA
When: 17-19 August, 2020
For more information visit here

Resources

The HASARD mapping algorithm enables systematic, automatic and reliable space borne Synthetic Aperture Radar-based (SAR) mapping of terrestrial water bodies.

The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology has expanded on the HASARD application by using pairs of satellite images to systematically, rapidly and automatically produce, record, and disseminate accurate floodwater maps. This allows users to access European Space Agency (ESA) image collections and high-resolution data-sets in a fully automatic fashion. Users have immediate access to images uploaded Grid Processing On Demand (GPOD) environment enabling rapid mapping for informing flooding-related disaster risk studies at a global scale.(Click here).