The Relevance of Early-Warning Systems and Evacuations Plans for Risk Management

  • Carolina Garcia
  • Simone Frigerio
  • Alexander Daehne
  • Alessandro Corsini
  • Simone Sterlacchini
Part of the Advances in Natural and Technological Hazards Research book series (NTHR, volume 34)


Early-Warning Systems (EWS) include the provision of timely and effective information, through identified institutions, that allows individuals exposed to hazard to take action in order to avoid or reduce risk and prepare for effective response. EWS are extensive frameworks that integrate different components of risk governance and disaster risk reduction policies with the main purpose of minimizing loss of life and reducing the economic and social impact of a threatening event on the physical assets and populations exposed to hazards. This section describes and analyzes different types of EWS with the aim to connect scientific advances in hazard and risk assessment with management (emergency preparedness and response) strategies and practical demands of stakeholders and end-users. Besides a structural approach, an Integrated People-Centred EWS (IEWS) is also presented. The system is mainly based on prevention as a key element for disaster risk reduction and aims not only to increase the level of awareness and preparedness of the community and decrease its vulnerability, but also to strengthen institutional collaboration, in particular at a local level, in order to assure sustainability of the efforts in the long term and to strength the risk governance process. In this way, the whole disaster cycle can be covered, trying to apply the most advanced technology available and also making the solutions easier to use by people not accustomed to manage these techniques in their daily tasks.


Geographical Information System Early Warning System Disaster Risk Reduction Civil Protection Emergency Preparedness 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Decision Support Systems


Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs


Deutsches Komitee Katastrophenvorsorge e.V.


Disaster Management Training Programme


Disaster Readiness through Education


Disaster Risk Reduction


Distant Early Warning System




Early-Warning Conference


Early-Warning Systems


Educational Itineraries for Risk Reduction


Emergency Preparedness and Response Strategies


European Commission


General Packet Radio Service


Geographical Information Systems


Global Positioning System


Ground Based Radar Systems for Movement Monitoring


Information and Communication Technology


Integral Risk Management of Extremely Rapid Mass Movements


Integrated Flood Risk Analysis and Management Methodologies


Integrated observations from near shore sources of Tsunamis


Integrated People-Centred Early-Warning System


International Risk Governance Council


Istituto di Ricerca per l’Ecologia e l’Economia Applicate alle Aree Alpine


Landslide early-warning integrated system


Living with Landslides Risk in Europe


Plan de Prévention des Risques


Platform for the Promotion of Early Warning


Rischi Naturali nel tratto Mediterraneo Occidentale


Risk Reduction Education for Disaster


Seismic Early Warning for Europe


Sensor based Landslide Early Warning System


Short Message Service


Synthetic Aperture Radar


Terrestrial Laser Scanning


TErrestrial Trunked RAdio


Tsunami Risk and Strategies For the European Region


United Nations/Environment Programme


United Nations/International Strategy for Disaster Reduction


World Meteorological Organization

13.1 Introduction

Early Warning (EW) is defined as ‘the provision of timely and effective information, through identified institutions, that allows individuals exposed to hazard to take action to avoid or reduce their risk and prepare for effective response’ (UN/ISDR 2006). Early Warning Systems (EWS) include not only the warning itself but are extensive frameworks that integrate different components of risk governance and disaster risk reduction (Basher 2006). These components interact long before the crisis may start with the main purpose of minimizing loss of life and reducing the economic and social impact of an event on the physical assets and population exposed to hazards. The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR – PPEW 2005) has implemented a permanent platform for the promotion of Early Warning ( whose efficacy is defined by four interlinked components (Basher 2006): (1) prior knowledge of the risks, (2) technical monitoring and warning service, (3) dissemination and communication of understandable warnings and (4) knowledge and preparedness to act (response capabilities).

EWS face various challenges associated to the difficulties and problems to integrate multiple components. Regarding the decision-making on EWS, the uncertainties inherent to any predictive process may lead to wrong decisions, even in highly-developed EWS and with well-prepared personnel. Wrong decisions can either lead to missed alarms when the mitigation action is not taken when it should have been; or false alarms when the mitigation action is taken when it should not have been (Grasso et al. 2007). For this reason, the levels of uncertainty of the information must always be communicated to the users, together with the EW, since the lack of clear and honest information can confuse people and undermine their confidence in government (Grasso 2007). Furthermore, it is fundamental that local governments, local institutions and communities are constantly involved in the entire policy-making process of the risk governance and during the elaboration of the EWS in order to increase the awareness and preparedness levels. This involvement implies to decentralize the decision-making process enhancing responsibilities of local governments and communities (EWC-II 2003).

For being effective and assuring a timely warning, EWS must be integrated into policies for disaster mitigation and risk governance. At the same time, governance priorities must include protecting the public from disasters through the implementation of disaster risk reduction policies which are only completed if EWS and the other non-structural countermeasures are included. On this regard, WMO (2010) and EWC-II (2003) propose some key elements for integrating EWS into disaster risk governance policies including:
  • strong political commitment from the government, supported by Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) plans and clear legislation, that allows to strengthen the legal frameworks;

  • coordination among national services for sharing information and dissemination of warnings that take exposure and vulnerability of the elements at risk into account;

  • promotion of communication and dissemination systems, that ensures warnings are received at all community levels, through clear protocols and procedures regularly tested, evaluated and maintained;

  • emergency preparedness, including education to appropriately use of weather-, water- and climate-related information and early warnings;

  • implementation of local to national emergency response plans with clear and regularly updated procedures practiced through simulation exercises;

  • assignment of clear roles and responsibilities for all organizations and stakeholders at different territorial levels in order to improve efficiency, credibility, trust and cost-effectiveness of the risk management procedure;

  • elaboration of feedback mechanisms between national to local governments, national services and the community, to facilitate evaluation and improvement of the warning system;

  • in-depth collaboration, by developing institutional networks and participatory strategic plans with multi-disciplinary research and multi-stakeholder participation, and;

  • promoting the availability of economic and human resources in order to establish proper priorities to allow their secure allocation.

As pointed out by Chang Seng (2010), the most appropriate governance on EWS is to encourage: (1) a multi-hazard approach; (2) enhanced bilateral and multilateral cooperation among the stakeholders, (3) innovative partnerships, (4) capacity building, (4) sharing and exchange of local experiences and (5) scientific knowledge.

In this section, different types of EWS (structural and non-structural) and emergency preparedness and response strategies developed in Europe are described and analyzed. Then, an Integrated People-Centred EWS (IEWS) is proposed with the aim to increase the level of awareness and preparedness of the community at risk and to decrease its vulnerability, to strengthen institutional collaboration and to assure sustainability of the efforts in the long term. All these topics are expected to contribute to improve risk governance and disaster risk reduction policies and strategies on the base of the practical demands of stakeholders and end-users.

13.2 Status of EWS for Natural Hazards in Europe

The European Commission (EC) has identified in several documents on risk management the need for adaptation as a consequence to climate and environmental changes (EC 2009). Integrated approaches are needed for connecting scientific advances in hazard and risk assessment with management strategies and practical demands of stakeholders and end-users. In many cases, the scientific outcomes remain rooted solely within the scientific community (IRGC 2005). This is mainly due to the complexity of human-environment interactions which are often too complex to be properly recognized, represented, and modelled. This fact generates that the approaches developed by the scientific community are often not easy to be implemented by the stakeholders/end-users community.

Nowadays, in the context of the EU Environmental Assessment Directive in risk prone areas, it is well recognized that shared knowledge is the key element to get to a harmonised decision-making tool structure for hazard and risk management. In this way, the whole disaster cycle can be covered, not only applying the most advanced technology available but also making the solutions easier to use by people not accustomed to manage Decision Support Systems (DSS) and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) techniques in their daily tasks (Muntz et al. 2003). Through the dissemination of knowledge, by specific public education programs, all people who may be threatened by a disaster may learn in advance what to expect and how to react. This will lead citizens to improve their awareness, develop their preparedness and response capabilities, strengthen institutional collaboration and, in so doing, protect themselves more efficiently.

Western European countries have a long experience in dealing with natural hazards and scientists of these countries present a strong understanding of the natural phenomenon. However, there is still a strong tendency to focus most of the efforts in risk assessment and structural mitigation, usually leaving preparedness and prevention widely neglected. There are obviously marked differences among all the Western European countries but there are also strong similarities on the socio-economic and political conditions that constitute the base for this generalization.

For example, in Germany, the Committee for Disaster Reduction (DKKV 2007) acknowledged the critical importance of preparedness as a fundamental element for DRR. DKKV also affirms that if a participatory approach is used, involving responsible bodies and population in all phases of disaster reduction, the likelihood of achieving DRR is greatly improved. Even if this approach is applied in most of the DRR initiatives funded by Germany in developing countries, the application of this strategy in the German territory is generally neglected. A survey on risk perception was developed by Plapp and Werner (2006) in zones affected by flooding and earthquakes in the south of Germany. The survey showed that the population perceived lack of possibilities to protect themselves from a hazard or to create shelter against it, lack of possibilities to prepare for the hazard, and lack of precise, timely or reliable predictions and warnings. Furthermore, responses indicate that research on natural hazards is rather unknown, not noticed or even not memorized by the public. Despite of considering that one of the main causes of the disasters are inappropriate land use planning, the public assumes that there are too little possibilities to prepare and to response to a hazard event. The previous results show the low perceived self-efficacy and strong lack of preparedness in the population, probing the necessity to develop risk communication strategies that emphasize preparedness and offer information about possible self-preventive measures.

In Iceland, the study of Bird et al. (2009) about an evacuation exercise for volcanic crisis, describes an example of how a population can still have low levels of risk perception regardless of being aware of the multiple hazards they face. This, together with a failure from the emergency personnel in providing adequate information about preparedness and evacuation procedures, generates a low response capability, leading to the failure of the whole warning system.

Italy is one of the most multi-hazard prone countries in Europe. It is characterized by a marked heterogeneity among the regions, both physiographically and culturally, that explains why each region has its own risk management legal framework. In the whole country, the National Civil Protection authorities are the ones in charge of monitoring and managing the largest emergencies in magnitude and consequences, while the development of the local contingency plans is competence of each municipality. The National Law 225/1992 specifically establish the responsibility of the mayors to elaborate the local evacuation plan of the municipality, to manage the emergency and to educate and to keep the citizens informed in order to prepare them for possible crisis. In spite of that, the preparation activities organized by municipalities are present in just few regions and most of the actual educational activities are still isolated efforts (such as EDURISK) of some academic institutions (as the National Civil Protection and the National Institute of Geology and Vulcanology – INGV) to increase awareness and preparedness in case of large future events. Some Italian regions have completely acknowledged the main principles of the National Law 225/1992, tailoring them to their own requirements (for example, the Regional Decrees ‘Direttiva Regionale per la Pianificazione di Emergenza degli Enti Locali’ and ‘Direttiva Regionale per la gestione organizzativa e funzionale del sistema di allerta per i rischi naturali al fine di Protezione Civile’ – Regione Lombardia 2007, 2009) while some others did it only partially or not at all.

The location of most of the Netherlands territory below sea level makes it highly susceptible to flooding. For this reason, the Netherlands have develop a flood defence system with the highest safety standards worldwide (Van de Ven 2004). As pointed by Ten Brinke et al. (2008), the result is that Dutch society has come to rely on this defence system to the extent that other possible measures for flood risk management, in terms of spatial planning (pro-action) or contingency planning (preparation, response, recovery) have received little attention. The same authors affirm that ‘the population and economic growth in the area protected by mainly preventive measures have increased the country’s vulnerability to the extent that a flood would result in massive economic and social disruption’. For the previous reason, it is necessary to invest more on response and recovery in order to broaden the historical flood defence strategy into a true risk policy by taking stronger account of the consequences of possible flooding (Ten Brinke et al. 2008).

United Kingdom (UK) is a model for the evolution to a more participatory and people-centred approach related to risk flood management. This includes the establishment of: (1) resilience forums, in the context of the legal emergency preparedness framework denominated Civil Contingencies Act (UK Cabinet Office 2004), (2) programs for education at schools such as the ‘Japan-UK Disaster Risk Reduction Study Programme’, (3) flood emergency plans, that take into account the needs of the communities and, (4) education campaigns, to promote self-help and preparedness among the vulnerable residents (DEFRA 2009). Furthermore, the legislation in force since April 2009 imposes a new statutory duty on local authorities ‘to inform, consult and involve citizens and communities in the design, delivery and assessment of services’ (Filey Flood Working Group 2009). This statute highlights the responsibilities of people to protect themselves and their properties (Ten Brinke et al. 2008). These efforts are mainly focused on flooding while preparation toward other hazards is not so strongly attended. Additionally, it is important to mention that prevention, related to structural works, is generally weak in UK (Ten Brinke et al. 2008).

In France, the municipalities at risk, marked out by the prefect of the ‘Département’, have to elaborate risk prevention plans (Plans de Prévention des Risques – PPR). The French PPR are often cited as an example of efficient use of spatial planning in risk prevention. They are regulatory hazard-zoning documents that delimit certain hazard zones with restrictions for construction and further development (Fleischhauer 2006). The PPR contain a presentation of the risk setting (it can be single or multi-hazard oriented), maps presenting historical events, existing hazards, stakes and assets, and finally risk zoning maps. The maps portray three types of zones: red (high risk, no further construction allowed and in some cases expropriation can be considered), blue (medium risk, construction allowed under some restrictions, e.g. compliance to codes) and white (low or no risk, no restriction). These documents are not risk maps per se, as they also include the current and planned use of parcels. For example, there can be ‘white zones’ prone to hazards (e.g. cultivated areas in flood plains). In the French legal framework, the insurance of buildings and goods against natural hazards is compulsory and compensation comes from a fund managed by the State.

Although there is still a general lack of participatory activities and involvement of the community in the EWS in Western Europe, several countries have developed many interactive educational tools of excellent quality, mostly targeted to the school population (Becker et al. 2009). These products have been produced in part by European projects, such as RINAMED (2002–2004), EDURISK (since 2002), OIKOS (since 2007), RiskRED (since 2006), FloodSite (2004–2009), DREAD-ED (2008–2010), Be-Safe-Net (since 2007), among many others. It appears, however, that today there is a lack of strategies to disseminate these products and broadly educate the population.

There is also still a general lack of efforts from the scientific community and researchers to divulgate their studies and results using dissemination media accessible for the public and a simple language that allows the understanding of the message by all the general community. Recent scientific projects funded by the European Union on EWS do not seem to call for any involvement of the exposed population: SLEWS (2007–2010), SAFER (2006–2009), DEWS (2007–2010), LEWIS (2002–2005); NEAREST (2006–2010). For the risk reduction projects, there are some notable exceptions such as: TRANSFER (2006–2009) which includes, among its objectives, programs to enhance local community awareness and preparedness against the tsunami and marine hazards, as well as other types of hazards, and guidelines for community participation and emergency plans; SAFELAND (2009–2012) which couples a foreseen participation of policy-makers, public administrators, researchers, scientists, educators and other stakeholders with an improved harmonised framework and methodology for the assessment and quantification of landslide risk at a local, regional and European scales but not the public. As pointed by IRASMOS (2005–2008), in several European countries the most important threat regarding natural hazards is the poor knowledge of the people about natural hazards and their missing competence to live with risks. This may lead to a non-adequate behaviour in case of an emergency or to problems in the implementation process of countermeasures and of land-use planning. It is, therefore, fundamental to improve the efforts in preparedness, communication and education initiatives, including elements such as EWS and emergency plans.

13.3 Recommendations for the Setup of Structural EWS

13.3.1 Risk Knowledge Constraints

Risk assessment provides essential information to set priorities for mitigation and prevention strategies and designing EWS. In particular, as indicated by UN/EP (2010) and Kollarits et al. (2010), the distinction between stepwise-onset hazards (also defined as slow-onset or ‘creeping’ hazards) and sudden-onset hazards (also defined as rapid-onset hazards) is relevant.

Any process that is developing in a time span shorter than the intervention time required must be considered to be ‘sudden’ from the point of view of EWS. According to Kollarits et al. (2010), stepwise-onset hazards are those whose effects take a long time to produce emergency conditions (such as large river floodings). This natural hazard type is characterized by the fact that: on the one hand, historic data and forecasting information (from gauges, meteorological network and established threshold values) are typically available allowing longer forewarning times and well established warning and alert stages in the hazard management cycle and, on the other hand, the evolution of the scenario/event follows a regular sequence of processes which are usually quite well-known on the basis of the historic knowledge of similar events and that can be foreseen and predicted based on validated models and real-time monitoring data. On the contrary, sudden-onset hazards are characterized by a highly dynamic/composite evolution of event scenario and by a limited reaction time. In particular, small catchments in mountain areas are very frequently affected by rapidly evolving events. Extreme meteorological conditions, causing torrential rains within a very short time span in a local watershed, can trigger different processes such as landslides, rockslides, rockfalls, debris flows and torrential flash-floods leading to complex multi-hazard scenarios. According to Kollarits et al. (2010), rapid/sudden-onset and slow-onset events can provide different amounts of warning time. Even in the case of existing forewarning systems installed, the warning time is very short in case of rapid-onset hazards. When time allows, after an attention/alert phase, a pre-alarm or a very short alarm phase follows immediately before the impact.

13.3.2 Technical Constraints

Especially for rapid/sudden onset events, the provision of timely and effective information can be most often fulfilled by using structural monitoring systems whose selection should start from a clear statement on (Corsini 2008):
  • ‘why’ the monitoring has to be carried out (e.g. what is the purpose of monitoring);

  • ‘when’ the monitoring has to be performed (e.g. the period of interest for data);

  • ‘what’ has to be monitored (e.g. the object and the observational parameters to monitor);

  • ‘where’ the monitoring must be performed (e.g. the choice of the specific environmental site conditions).

As regards the questions ‘why’ and ‘when’ and given the assumptions that, at the occurrence of a damaging event no previous monitoring data are available, the following direct relationships between ‘risk management phase’ and ‘period of interest’ exist:
  • a response period, defined as the period generally limited to the 1–3 weeks that are needed to control the development of the event and to keep updated the on-going event scenarios;

  • a recovery period, defined as the period generally lasting 1–3 months and needed to control the residual development of the event;

  • a prevention period, defined as the period generally lasting 1–3 years or even 3–10 years and corresponding to the time needed to analyse the cause-effect relationships, define future possible event scenarios, and put in action the risk prevention strategies;

  • a preparedness period, defined as the period generally lasting in the order of 1–10 years or more, and that is the time needed to make cost-effective the set-up and the maintenance of an EWS.

The definition of ‘why’ and ‘when’ monitoring must be carried out can lead to the exclusion of specific monitoring systems on the basis of practical constraining factors. The following typical situations, linked to ‘what’ and ‘where’ monitoring must be carried out, can be considered:
  • accessibility of the site: if, in the period of interest, the site is for any reason inaccessible, then all of the in-place sensing systems are to be excluded and remote sensing is thus the only possible option;

  • visibility of the site from a panoramic stable ground position: if, in the period of interest, the site is not visible from a panoramic point, due to topography of the area or vegetation coverage, then all of the terrestrial remote sensing systems are to be excluded;

  • visibility of the site from aerial position: if, in the period of interest, due to topography of the area or vegetation coverage, the site is not visible from air, then aerial or satellite remote sensing systems are generally to be excluded;

  • value of expected movements: if, in the period of interest, the factor exceeds the range of movement that a given system can cope with/without damage, then that system is to be excluded. This is crucial for systems placed into boreholes, such as inclinometers or piezometers.

Once accounted for such factors, the selection for a specific monitoring system goes forth to the specific characteristics of the systems (range, resolution, installation and maintenance effort, possibility to transfer and process data in real-time or near real-time, etc.). For instance, the effort needed for installing a system, the possibility to reach the location with the needed equipment and the feasibility that in the period of interest the system could operate with the required data acquisition and availability configuration, are certainly to be considered. Besides technical factors, available budget and system costs are important constraints controlling the definitive choice of the structural monitoring system.

The specific technical factors that must be considered for implementing an EWS are:
  • data acquisition frequency: in-situ sensors are appropriate for continuous and discontinuous monitoring, while only a few well-tested remote sensing systems (such as, for instance, total stations) are appropriate. In other cases such as, for example, GBInSAR (Ground Based Radar Systems for Movement Monitoring) or TLS (Terrestrial Laser Scanning), continuous data acquisition is still to be considered somehow experimental, even if it is quite likely that it will become routine in a few years from now;

  • data availability timing: in-situ sensors are appropriate for near real-time and real-time monitoring, while only a few well-tested remote sensing systems (such as, for instance, total stations) are appropriate. In other cases (such as, for example, TLS), their near real-time usage is rapidly becoming an available option;

  • data spatial extent: in-situ sensors provide spatially localised data, while remote sensing systems provide spatially distributed data or, alternatively, multi-point data;

  • long term stability and probability of malfunctioning: IREALP (2005) suggested a classification of systems based on four instrument classes with decreasing level of stability and increasing probability of malfunctioning;

  • operative conditions: IREALP (2005) suggested a classification based on the duration of monitoring and the accessibility of the instruments after installation and divided instruments in four classes (class 1.0 – long period-non accessible, class 1.1 – long period-accessible, class 2.0 – short period-non accessible, class 2.1 – short period-accessible).

Another key technical issue in EWS is the reliability of data transmission procedures and infrastructure, as monitoring networks designed for EWS deliver data timely and certainly. Therefore, EWS must adopt redundant data transmission systems so to ensure against possible failures. Commonly used data transmission platforms are Radio (e.g. TErrestrial Trunked RAdio – TETRA – that is a digital trunked mobile radio standard used in Civil Protection), General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), Satellite Internet access, W-Lan. Each of these systems has pro and cons related to data band-width, reliability in hostile meteorological conditions and likelihood of blacking out during the emergency situation and so on. The preference for one communication protocol rather than another must be based on a clear layout, on the system design phase and on the operative constraints.

Finally, EWS on a technical level are not all about sensors and data transmission, but are also about data storage and management and real-time data analysis. Data warehousing, via public or commercial facilities, is increasingly used to manage large databases that must be accessed and queried by several clients. This operative procedure will soon take a role on EWS, as more sensors will be deployed and more data will have to be shared. As regards real-time data analysis, it is common standard that the data management software can perform customised data download duties, pre-processing, and graphitising. Essential for EWS is the possibility to define attention, alert and alarm thresholds, based on a specific set or subset of parameters, by using logic, mathematic, statistic and even more complex rules for combination.

13.4 Recommendations for the Setup of Non-structural Integrated People-Centred EWS (IEWS): Examples of the Consortium of Mountain Municipalities of Valtellina di Tirano (Italy) and of the Barcelonnette Basin (France)

A methodology to integrate EWS and emergency plans into a local disaster plan has been elaborated in the Consortium of Mountain Municipalities of Valtellina di Tirano (Central Alps, Northern Italy). Taking into account the actual state of disaster management and risk reduction initiatives in the study area, it was decided that the methodology that fits best with the present conditions would be a non-structural approach such as an Integrated People-Centred Early Warning System – IEWS (Garcia 2011). The methodology (Fig. 13.1) focuses on prevention as a key element for disaster risk reduction and aims not only to increase the level of awareness and preparedness of the community and decrease its vulnerability, but also to strengthen institutional collaboration, in particular at local level, in order to assure sustainability of the efforts in the long term and to strength the risk governance process (Garcia et al. 2010; Garcia 2012).
Fig. 13.1

Hazard map of the Consortium of Mountain Municipalities of Valtellina di Tirano (Comunità Montana Valtellina di Tirano). The area spreads over 450 km2 in the Italian Central Alps (Lombardy Region, Northern Italy) with approximately 29,000 inhabitants. In the detailed box, it is possible to appreciate different hazard levels delimitated by municipal boundaries (Garcia 2011)

13.4.1 Characterization of Risk Knowledge

The current regulatory maps for hazard and risk and the risk management present several constraints, some of which related to the fact that there are no legal standardized procedures to produce hazard, risk and vulnerability maps with a sound scientific basis. The current risk maps are derived from spatial planning maps, and the criteria used to produce the maps may differ among municipalities. As result, in the current regional risk map, the risk levels differ among municipalities even in geologically homogeneous areas (Fig. 13.2). The suggested risk assessment should be holistic and integrated and not hazard focused as nowadays. An integrated vulnerability analysis that involves economic, physical and social aspects should be developed. The results of the vulnerability analysis need to be integrated with accurate hazard maps in order to obtain a more reliable risk zoning. The risk maps, instead of being a secondary product of the spatial planning maps (as they currently are), should be used to improve them.
Fig. 13.2

An Integrated Early Warning System (IEWS) (Garcia 2011)

It is essential to put research into practice by disseminating scientific results among decision-makers and local technicians, using a simple and understandable language. The experience in the study area with the emergency response tool shows the importance of performing follow-up activities once the scientific products are handed out to local authorities. Otherwise, the utility of what in principle could be an excellent scientific tool will be reduced due to the lack of continuity on its maintenance, constant updating or underestimation of its full potential. It is fundamental to share responsibilities among different actors in order to improve the current situation, and scientists must team work with local authorities for updating the emergency response tool and communicate it to the population.

13.4.2 Recommendation for Process Monitoring and Warning

Taking into account the extension of the study area and the extreme variability in its morpho-climatic conditions, it seems that the current number of meteorological stations installed in the study zone is not enough to correctly define and analyze the different microclimates presented. Unfortunately, the high cost entailed to increase the amount of stations installed makes it highly difficult. An economic, even if not simple alternative to improve the forecasting and monitoring, would be to create a network of low cost rain gauges monitored by inhabitants of the area that should also be prepared to recognize local changes in the dynamic of the territory. The network should be coordinated by local authorities and Civil Protection and should be in constant communication with local/regional authorities and scientific bodies.

13.4.3 Recommendation for Risk Knowledge Communication

A survey applied to the population in the study area (Garcia 2011) indicated, among others, to evaluate the preferences of the people regarding the warning communication and dissemination. The survey assessed the practicability and efficiency of the warning methods used until the present, as well as the levels of trust of the population towards the different authorities providing the warning (Garcia 2011). Results show medium levels of trust towards the local authorities who, at the same time, are perceived to be moderately prepared. The preferred media to issue the warning is mainly an acoustic signal followed by television reporting.

In order to improve the communication and dissemination element, it is fundamental to involve the people at risk during the whole process, before and during the emergencies, with constant and widely available briefings. Additionally, in order to assure that the message arrives to the whole population, it is important to use multiple warning methods, including long-range acoustic signals. The message should be disseminated by an institution respected and trusted by the population at risk. Finally, the methods for communication and dissemination should be locally adapted, taking into account not only the technical and legal constraints, but also the preferences of the population expressed on the survey.

13.4.4 Preparedness and Response Capability

On regard to the preparedness and response capability of the population, the survey showed that nearly 90 % of the population knows about the existence of large events in the past. In spite of that, at the present time, the population presents:
  • low levels of preparedness and perceived risk;

  • lack of general knowledge related to natural hazards and emergency management, and;

  • a high transfer of responsibility on risk reduction from the population to the authorities (Garcia 2011).

These combined results indicate that it is fundamental to perform activities to increase preparedness and to improve the response capability of the population exposed to hazards. Therefore, small scale communication and education campaigns have been developed in some schools of the study area in collaboration with several local/regional/national institutions such as the Mountain Consortium authorities, IREALP ( and Legambiente ( Considering the answers of the survey and using the scientific products, an educational and communication campaign with participative workshops was designed by an interdisciplinary group to cover the specific information needs of the population. The education strategies were addressed to the local community and practitioner stakeholders, with the aim to increase the awareness and preparedness for future events. However, these activities are not enough; it is necessary to divulgate the emergency plans (available in each municipality encompassed within the Consortium) among the whole local population and to perform regular large scale campaigns, developed by local authorities with the collaboration of scientific and local institutions.

Recently, the European Commission stressed the importance of co-operation in disaster relief operations by pooling the resources, improving the response techniques and enhancing public awareness. Consequently, the necessity to combine Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Decision Support System (DSS) became a critical task in EW and emergency management (Chieh et al. 2007; Lazzari and Salvaneschi 1999; Junkhiaw et al. 2004). MacEachren et al. (2005) underlined the necessity of a mutual and dialogue-based frame for data sharing as key factor before and during a crisis phase. The idea of simple, intuitive and easy-to-use instruments deals with their intensive use in the field of Civil Protection for managing and overtaking a crisis phase (Muntz et al. 2003). Additionally, Armstrong and Densham (2008) suggested the importance of multi-participant seminars, public dissemination programmes and workshops to improve citizens’ awareness and general knowledge on disasters issues.

User-friendly and visual-based strategies to support the emergency requirements were designed and applied in order to minimize the adverse effects of a harmful event in the study area through effective precautionary, rehabilitation and recovery actions to ensure a timely, appropriate and effective organization and delivery of relief and assistance following a disaster (DMTP 1994).

The co-operation among researchers and local stakeholders has led to the development of contingency plans, drawn up according to the national and regional laws in force, to quickly respond to an emergency applying the most advanced technology available and also making the solutions easier to use by people not accustomed to managing these techniques in their daily tasks. Therefore, the key-action was to integrate the main mapping and analysis tools of GIS with workflow management modules (DSS) and communication tools and positioning devices (ICT) to share information during the emergency and to control the location of squads operating on the field (Fig. 13.3).
Fig. 13.3

Front view of the tool used for designing preparedness and response activities, represented as a classical GIS template where mapping and analysis tools are available

These plans are based on a clear sequence of actions to be put in practice before and in the aftermath of a critical event in order to: (1) define in advance a straightforward flow of actions in case an event occurs; (2) identify people in charge to perform each action; (3) prepare them to take actions; (4) keep them aware of resources really available to overcome the crisis phase (Sterlacchini and Frigerio submitted; Frigerio et al. 2011).

As stated before, the mayor of each municipality is responsible for emergency management. Anyway, the Consortium of Mountain Municipalities (acting as a local government entity) has the authority to prepare the Civil Protection plans for all the twelve municipalities encompassed within the Consortium (sometimes not properly self-sufficient for budget, resources and structures), although each mayor is the person in charge to manage the emergency and take actions during a crisis phase within his/her own municipality.

In the study area, data were derived from official available databases and on-site surveys (Frigerio et al. 2010), including information on hydrogeological hazard scenarios derived from statistic and/or deterministic analysis, urban spatial planning maps, data from Registry Office concerning the population, historical data on past landslides and floodings, historical data concerning damage and casualties due to past events, repair and reconstruction costs, structural and functional details of buildings and infrastructure and environmental consequences.

More precisely, the system provides tools to cope with emergency preparedness and response activities, taking advantage of data processing capabilities by GIS, workflow management modules by DSS and communication and positioning systems by ICT (Sterlacchini and Frigerio submitted). The system provides solutions to:
  • design and manage Civil Protection plans by a GIS and DSS-based architecture to store and analyze spatial and tabular data and manage a step-by-step list of instructions (Fig. 13.4). Emergency managers can handle the features involved, compulsory documents, relations among ‘objects’ (e.g. facilities, equipments, etc.) and their ‘users’ (e.g. holders, managers, etc.), workflows. Many documents (e.g. evacuation, occupancy of public area, etc.) are standardized but can also be customized on-demand and every object may be printed out to pose solutions for crisis requirements (e.g. manuals or personnel badges). Therefore, the managers are ‘guided’ in many activities by a graphical workflow able to suggest them the actions to be sequentially executed and related instructions of execution as well as the identification of people in charge to take actions, the list of documents to be issued during or after each phase of the emergency, the utilization of resources really available to overcome each phase of the emergency. The workflows are designed during peace-time and tested in training exercises. Consequently, uncertainty and hesitation can be reduced, improving the crisis response and coherence of each action.
    Fig. 13.4

    Workflow and graphical charts. The ‘Step Property’ (‘Proprietà Passo’ in Italian) related to the action ‘Keep the contact with Region, Province and Local Crisis Unit personnel’ (workflow in background) includes a list of people in charge to take actions. Each person (‘Soggetto’) is thoroughly described in a different window (in foreground)

  • transfer knowledge by a web-service module (Fig. 13.5), to allow data access and sharing with different levels of permission. Every emergency plan has been uploaded on Civil Protection Central Office server of the Consortium and periodically updated. The Central Office has read/write permissions on all emergency plans stored, while each municipality has read/write permissions only on its own plan. All the people involved in Civil Protection actions can access both GIS and DSS modules and some training courses and education campaigns on natural risks affecting the territory have been provided by this module.
    Fig. 13.5

    Webpage of the Consortium of Mountain Municipalities of Valtellina di Tirano. On the bottom right corner there is the WEB access to the system designed to manage hydrogeological risk scenarios and Civil Protection activities

  • sharing information during the emergency by a communication module. This module allows the transfer of information and procedures providing tools to dial phone numbers, posting reports, receive GPS signal, sending SMS and email (Fig. 13.6).
    Fig. 13.6

    Communication module. Similar to a personal agenda, it manages all the contacts related to the people potentially involved in emergency. A double click on a contact opens a personal chart with all general information and relations with structures, resources, etc.

The system is already running in the Consortium of Mountain Municipalities of Valtellina di Tirano, and in advanced stage of development in the Barcelonnette basin. In the French study site, it was fundamental the collaboration among CNR (National research Council of Italy), CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) and the University of Strasbourg from the scientific side and ONF-RTM (Restauration des Terrains en Montagne) and the Préfecture of Alpes de-Haute-Provence (France) from local stakeholders/end-users side. In the study site, the Prefect of the “Département” points out the municipalities at risk that have to set up the risk prevention plan. All the municipalities composing the Barcelonnette basin have to provide a risk prevention plan.

In both study sites, the efforts towards the attention of emergencies or in preventing the disaster have to be balanced. Particularly concerning the Italian study site, although all the elements of EWS are present, they display multiple shortcomings, are independently developed, have no structure and are poorly linked. As a result, it is possible to say that several components of EWS exist as non-coordinated risk management strategies but they have to be brought together and connected in order to establish an EWS. The designed methodology (Fig. 13.2) proposes several actions to integrated the different risk management strategies into a structured IEWS adapted to the necessities of the local population and of the technical and administrative entities.

The methodology has strong legal, social, technical and scientific components, and presents several phases, including:
  • hazard, vulnerability (both social, physical and economical) and risk assessment;

  • analysis of the legal framework;

  • application of a comprehensive survey to evaluate the levels of perceived risk, knowledge, awareness, preparedness and information needs of the community;

  • proposal of prevention and monitoring strategies, and;

  • development of preparedness activities.

13.5 Conclusion

The failure or success of (structural and not-structural) EWS and emergency preparedness and response strategies (EPRS) is dependent on how well-connected all their components are (Garcia and Fearnley 2012). Regarding the governance and decision-making on EWS and EPRS, whereas the emission of the warning is based on technical information and risk monitoring, it is a political decision the one required to give the order for the warning and to act in a threatening situation. The political decision to act is not only performed by the authorities and institutions at various levels, but is also a responsibility of the local communities. Therefore, in order to increase the effectiveness of EWS and EPRS and to strengthen the risk management and governance process, all stakeholders, including local governments and communities, must participate in the entire policy making process, so they are fully aware and prepared to respond (Sagala and Okada 2007; Chang Seng 2010; Garcia 2012).

EWS should become a national and local priority for the governments. It is therefore important to show the governments the economical benefits of EWS with a cost-benefit analysis of previous successful EWS backed with very strong governance systems, such as the ones in Japan and United States of America (EWC-III2008; Chang Seng 2010). As pointed by EWC-II (2003), investing in EWS is neither simple nor inexpensive, but the benefits of doing so, and the costs of failure, are considerable. As stated above in the chapter, the provision of timely and effective information to people, likely affected by a prospective damaging event, is most often fulfilled by using structural EWS, the structure of which has to be as effective as possible from a cost-benefit point of view. For this reason, structural EWS should start after answering the four “W” questions (Corsini 2008) indicated previously.

Considering Integrated People-Centred EWS, it is necessary to assure that this kind of EWS are adapted to the local risk culture and that are fully integrated into the risk governance process, in order to decrease the amount of people directly affected by a disaster. This means to develop institutional, legislative and policy frameworks at national and local level, in order to provide an institutional and legal basis for the implementation and maintenance of effective EWS. The policies developed should help to decentralize disaster management and to encourage community participation.

When advanced warnings are available and the general public is well aware of the multiple hazards they may face, disaster preparedness and response strategies are the following topics of major concern. In this way, the whole disaster cycle can be covered, trying to apply the most advanced technology available and also making the solutions easy to use by people not accustomed to managing these techniques in their daily tasks. As discussed in the chapter, an integrated system to cope with disaster preparedness and response is presented. It couples data processing capabilities by GIS, DSS and ICT tools. Consequently, municipal contingency plans can be to set up, managed, and coordinated in advance, before a crisis phase occurs. The main aim of the system is to identify and prepare people in charge to take actions, define the activities to be performed, be aware of available resources, and optimize the communication system for the transfer of knowledge: co-operation and information available on-demand in case of emergency improves the response to the negative effects of a disaster and increases the effectiveness of rescue, relief and assistance operations.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carolina Garcia
    • 1
    • 2
  • Simone Frigerio
    • 3
  • Alexander Daehne
    • 4
    • 5
  • Alessandro Corsini
    • 4
  • Simone Sterlacchini
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Environmental and Territorial SciencesUniversity of Milano-BicoccaMilanItaly
  2. 2.Regional Independent Corporation of the Centre of Antioquia (CORANTIOQUIA)MedellinColombia
  3. 3.Italian National Research Council – Research Institute for Geo-Hydrological Protection (CNR – IRPI)PadovaItaly
  4. 4.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of Modena and Reggio Emilia UniversityModenaItaly
  5. 5.Department of GeosciencesUniversity of Missouri – Kansas CityKansas CityUSA
  6. 6.Italian National Research CouncilInstitute for the Dynamic of Environmental Processes (CNR – IDPA)MilanItaly

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