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Safeguarding society from the impacts of extreme weather

DNV GL Strategic Research and Innovation is developing an integrated emergency management and preparedness system with the purpose of improving resilience to the impacts of extreme weather events.

Rapid population growth and urbanisation combined with extreme weather events are causing a rapid increase in the vulnerability of communities that are exposed to hazardous events. As a result, disasters are increasingly taking a heavy toll on life and property.

Cost of flood damage norway

Costly. The average annual cost of flood damage in Norway is about 200 million NOK. Photo: Istock.com/DNVGL

Cost of disasters

Each year for the past decade, an average of 258 million people have lived through some kind of disaster. This is the equivalent to almost half of the world’s population. According to the Red Cross, an average of 354 natural disasters occurred throughout the world each year from 1991 to 1999. Between 2000 and 2004, this figure more than doubled to an average of 728 natural disasters per year, and each year the death toll from disasters is growing greater – from 84,570 in 1995 to 249,896 ten years later.

In economic terms, during the decade of the 1980s, the average annual cost of natural disasters worldwide was around $50 billion. In the last two decades, natural disaster costs worldwide went from about $100 billion per year to almost twice that amount (Figure 1).

In Norway, during the period between 1990 and 2010, a total of nine extreme weather events were reported (three floods and six storms) affecting nearly 6,200 people. The average annual cost of flood damage in Norway is about 200 million NOK.

After a major flood in south eastern Norway in 1995, a governmental commission gave several recommendations on how to reduce flood damage in the future. The cost of the damage caused by the 1995 flood amounted to about 1.8 billion NOK. One of the recommendations of the commission on flood protection measures was to produce flood inundation maps for the areas with the largest damage potential.

World map and distribution of economic losses caused by natural hazards

Figure 1. World map and distribution of economic losses caused by natural hazards that were registered during the period of 1994 – 2014. (source: CatNet®, SwissRe)

More recently, in May 2013, a period of intense precipitation forced the evacuation of about 1,500 people in Eastern Norway with clean-up cost estimates reaching nearly 290 million NOK. In addition, in January 2014, a series of winter storms and cold temperatures caused havoc in the Norwegian northern territory while the Norwegian insurance industry expected claims to top 30 million NOK. Just this past October, some 143 people had to be evacuated in Flåm and 250 people were evacuated in Aurland due to heavy rainfall.

A call for preparation

Growth both in urban and non-urban areas, calls for an adequate preparation to reduce the impact of disasters. Relevant stakeholders need to make effective plans and preparations and be ready to respond and recover from emergency situations. An effective emergency plan requires research, discussion and making choices today about solutions for the future. By using the information resources that are currently available and by developing new and improved resources, emergency situations can be addressed or even prevented.

Emergency management plans and processes should be maintained and updated over time, enabling the testing and refining of existing plans, integrate new partners, and inform relevant stakeholders. For this reason, a common understanding of emergency management processes is important.

Being well prepared

Be prepared. Societies can reduce the impact of climate disasters by being well prepared. Photo: Istock.com/DNVGL

With this in mind, DNV GL is developing an Emergency Management and Preparedness system (EMAP) with the objectives: to protect life, property and the environment. Within the emergency management and preparedness space DNV GL has identified the need to utilise disaster risk information in a more effective and integrated manner as well as to monitor these in real time to improve disaster risk assessment and management in vulnerable areas.

EMAP is being developed based on three founding principles:

  1. Data handling: Information must be collected and maintained in advance of an emergency event. Accurate and integrated classification of spatial data as well as inventory of spatial data and services makes it possible to translate raw data into useful information. Spatial and temporal data has to be analysed and updated in real time giving insight in correlations between elements at risk and the hazardous event.
  2. Risk assessment: The basic foundation of developing an emergency management program is the analysis of risks and hazards to determine values-at-risk and which measures are necessary to reduce exposure, respond effectively and recover quickly. This allows identifying potential impacts resulting from the interruption of time sensitive or critical processes and analysing what could happen if a hazard occurs.
  3. Emergency activities: Emergency efforts must be steered efficiently in order to adequately guide responses to affected areas and coordinate relief efforts. This must take into consideration planning for the safety of every individual before, during and after a disaster.

Joining forces

EMAP is still at a concept stage at DNV GL Strategic Research and Innovation, and it will be tested in different case studies and in collaboration with relevant stakeholders. The aim is to develop a system that improves emergency preparedness and response by integrating different emergency preparedness approaches currently available and finding new ways of taking spatial and temporal information into account during an emergency response.
Joining forces and creating partnerships is essential for effective emergency management systems. Looking ahead, DNV GL will take an active role at interacting and finding synergies between EMAP, current systems in use, and the requirement of the different stakeholders.

This article has been published earlier at KLIMA magasin (CICERO) in December 2014.

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