EU funds IT projects to help with flood monitoring and protection

More than two thirds of European cities have to deal with flood risk management issues on a regular basis

The EU is investing in IT to help it and its citizens protect themselves from floods.

So far, the European Commission has invested in apps, software and sensors used to send flood alerts and monitor flood emergencies in real time, the Commission said in a news release on Thursday. The projects could be used in the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS), the first operational European system monitoring and forecasting floods across the continent.

One project that aims to prevent and manage floods is Imprints, an initiative of 18 research institutions from seven countries including France, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K. as well as the Commission's Joint Research Center. It has developed an early warning system, potentially giving people time to get out of harms way, the Commission said.

The flash flood warning system is based on probabilistic weather forecasting data. By using better rainfall predictions, meteorological models and weather radar networks, the software is able to predict water flows and provide a full early warning system for flash floods, the Commission said. The system can also predict the amount of debris the floods might carry and any potential damage to local infrastructure. This system is used in Spain, Switzerland and France and its flash flood indicators are used in the EFAS system, the Commission said.

Among other projects that aim to reduce flood damage is another early warning system called WeSenseIt, set up by partners from the public and private sectors from seven European countries. That project relies on apps that will allow citizens and flood wardens to share tagged images and information of areas of concern. The project also plans to monitor social media to help with flood management, according to the project's site.

This "citizen water observatory" is tested and validated in three case studies that have been proposed by civil protection agencies in Italy, the U.K. and the Netherlands. In Italy for instance, an evaluation involving about 500 volunteers simulating a flood in the city of Vicenza was completed at the end of March, the Commission said. The WeSenseIt project ends in September 2016.

Yet another flood project that is already completed is called UrbanFlood. The project was a cooperation between Dutch organizations and authorities, a Polish computer institute, the Russian subsidiary of Siemens and HR Wallingford, a U.K. consultancy firm. UrbanFlood was set up to develop sensors and related technology to monitor flood embankments and provide an early warning of their risk of failing.

The sensors can monitor the state of embankments and any changes to water levels as well as moisture, earth movements and temperature. That information is processed by software that can trigger an alert. The software can also be used to calculate how fast a site is likely to be flooded when a dam breaks and suggest the best way for inhabitants to move to a safer area, the Commission said.

More than two thirds of European cities have to deal with flood risk management issues on a regular basis, according to the UrbanFlood website. These are issues that will worsen as climate change effects result in more extreme conditions, it predicted.

"Early Warning Systems (EWS) can play a crucial role in mitigating flood risk by detecting conditions and predicting the onset of a catastrophe before the event occurs, and by providing real time information during an event," it said.

Over the next 70 years, the number of people affected by flooding will double each year while damages will also increase, according to the WeSenseIt project

The Commission plans to keep investing in research and innovation into flood management and prevention, it said. Together it has invested €11 million (US$14 million) in these three projects.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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