In August 2002 Europe was struck by a disastrous flood when the Elbe and Danube overflowed, affecting the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Croatia. The cities of Dresden and Prague particularly suffered extensive damage. In response to this disaster, the European Commission's in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), launched the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS).
In 2010, when a big flood hit Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and Serbia, the situation was quite different. National authorities had improved their communication strategies between the countries. Furthermore, EFAS allowed for combined efforts to result in an overall much more efficient response to the crisis. "It was a big success for EFAS; floods were forecast and flood alerts were issued well in advance" says Jutta Thielen del Pozo, a meteorology researcher who leads EFAS at the JRC. The Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) operated by the European Commission, which coordinates civil protection internationally was also alerted.
"Aid management was improved during the 2010 crisis, and MIC also used our forecast extensively to keep track of the situation in the many countries affected, resulting in the emergency being successfully dealt with," says Thielen del Pozo.
"Our mission is to give an overview, to inform the National water authorities and international civil protection services a little bit earlier, so they are prepared and can organise actions and aid quicker," says Thielen del Pozo.
There are now 32 EFAS partners, mainly national and regional hydrological authorities. EFAS sends warnings to these partners from 3 to 10 days in advance. These partners can also consult the EFAS Flood Portal on a daily basis. The portal issues maps of Europe where danger zones are indicated by "hot spots".
EFAS collects weather information and forecasts, such as rainfall, twice a day from different weather services in Europe and from over 2000 ground stations that cover all the river basins in Europe. "You would see a hot spot when there is a probability for exceeding certain thresholds," says Thielen del Pozo. And when these data reflect a danger for floods, EFAS informs the partners. In 2011 EFAS issued 9 alerts.
Besides earlier warnings, EFAS has also increased communication between national authorities, as meetings and training for members are organised, "The Danube is shared by 18 countries and our meetings have contributed to exchange of information between the authorities. This is important because river conditions in one country can cause problems in another country downstream.
"The Rhine is another example, and a common trans-national forecasting system has been developed between the Netherlands, Germany France and Switzerland " says Thielen del Pozo, but for many other river basins EFAS is the only system providing trans-national overviews and forecasts for the entire basin.