New web platform for planning flood prevention in cities

Source(s): The GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences
Flooded street and lamp
Juanlu Fajardo/Pixabay

Heavy rain and flooding are currently making headlines - as they did last winter. Floods like these, but also rising sea levels and storm surges, together with storms, represent the greatest natural hazard in terms of economic damage and can also threaten life and limb. SaferPlaces, a new web service for flood prevention, will help cities and municipalities to identify areas at risk and to plan protection and prevention measures systematically and efficiently, for example on buildings, dikes or by creating infiltration areas. The interactive online tool is being developed within the framework of the EU Climate-KIC initiative with the participation of the GFZ Potsdam German Research Centre for Geosciences and is already available as a prototype. It relies on open data and is based on new climatic, hydrological and hydraulic, topographical and economic modelling techniques.

As climate change progresses, extreme weather events are increasing, making flood and flood prevention a permanent task in many regions of Europe as well. In densely populated cities and towns, the damage potential is particularly high.

Information on the extent, frequency and consequences of floods is becoming an essential basis for urban planning. To enable municipalities to plan protection and prevention measures in a targeted and efficient manner, a web-based tool for this purpose has been developed as part of the three-year EU project SaferPlaces. Under the leadership of the consulting company GECOSistema, and with participation of the GFZ, three other research institutions and universities are involved in the project, as well as three other companies and the three pilot cities of Cologne (Germany), Rimini (Italy) and Pamplona (Spain).

Web service for online flood protection planning

"What is special about our system is the platform idea," says Kai Schröter, who heads the project at GFZ. "The effects of measures can be calculated and presented directly on our platform, from the inundation to the loss incurred. Corresponding scenarios can thus be played out and discussed directly by the multi-disciplinary teams in planning meetings, for example." User workshops have already taken place in Cologne with the municipal drainage companies, flood protection authorities and insurers.

To ensure that this works quickly and easily, all calculations take place in the web cloud: The users do not need any extra software, but only a browser to enter the available data. "In this way, we also want to explicitly address smaller cities and municipalities and make our tool usable in many countries and cities," Schröter emphasises.

Generally available data as a basis

The calculations are based on open data, i.e. generally available data sets such as precipitation amounts and frequency, discharges and water levels of rivers and the sea, frequency of rainfall, flow rates in rivers as well as the short- and long-term forecasts that already exist for the next two to three decades. In addition, there is information on topography, the landscape and infrastructure of the respective regions.

Mapping hazards and planning measures

First of all, the hazards and damages can be mapped: Where does the greatest damage occur? Where does the water spread when heavy rain falls, rivers burst their banks or sea levels rise? Which buildings and infrastructures are affected and how?

Measures can then be planned on this basis. They range from modifications to existing buildings, such as raised buildings and sealed basement windows and entrances, to new or improved dikes and flood protection shields, to the creation of decentralized retention areas and infiltration ditches such as low-lying parks and green spaces that can remain flooded for weeks if necessary.

User-friendliness thanks to simplified calculation approaches

In order to be able to directly simulate the effects of the measures on the platform, the researchers - in contrast to existing software and modelling systems - explicitly pursued simplified calculation approaches. In order to keep the computing effort low, they had to develop algorithms that require as little computing capacity as possible.

Researchers at the GFZ model damage to infrastructure

While other project partners modelled natural hazards such as pluvial, fluvial and coastal flooding taking into account the topography, i.e. the shape of the landscape, the GFZ research focused on modelling damage to residential and commercial buildings. For this, additional information on the type of land use, building types such as detached houses or commercial buildings, but also on the socio-economic characteristics of the inhabitants such as their income level were taken into account. "Since we use probabilistic models, we can also describe the uncertainty associated with the predictions," Schröter emphasises.

The first phase of the project ended in July. "The three original pilot applications are running and are already quite mature, also in terms of user friendliness," Schröter sums up. In the meantime, further case studies have been added with Fuenlabrada and Coslada (Spain), Milan and Cervia (Italy), as well as Byronbay (Australia).A global application of flood hazard calculations is also possible now.

Further developments

In the future, commercial use is to be established, for example through the acquisition of licences.

In mid-July, after a successful project outline, SaferPlaces was invited to submit a full application for funding from the EIC Accelerate programme by October. In this way, the EU supports projects in reaching market maturity.

The project partners

The international consortium led by GECOSistema includes the CMCC - Euro-Mediterranean Centre on Climate Change, Helmoltz Zentrum Potsdam - GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences (Section Hydrology), the University of Bologna, the Technical University of Madrid and MEEO Meteorological Environmental Earth Observation.

The funding

The project has been funded over three years until July 2021 by the EIT Climate-KIC, a Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) working to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon, climate-resilient society.

For more information, please visit the project website:

The prototype web service can be accessed at:

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Hazards Flood
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