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FRAMES: developing Multi-Layered Safety in the North Sea Region

Adaptive capacity is needed when developing multi-layer safety; lessons learnt from a learning evaluation of pilot projects in the North Sea region

Multi-layered safety and the learning evaluation approach
In many European countries, dikes and barriers are the primary defense to protect societies against floods. While on paper, preventing floods is the best option, in reality, floods are occurring more frequent, and their impact on societies continue to be enormous. That is why governments are also looking into measures that will limit the impacts of floods. For instance, by taking into account the size of the floods when deciding where to built what, and by clearly communicating to citizens what to do in case of a flood. This might sound logical and simple, but the reality of putting this multi-layer safety approach into practice, turns out to be very complex. That is because a transition towards new approaches cannot happen without a change of culture; actors already involved in flood management need to adapt their visions, new actors will enter the field – and everybody has their own agenda, interests, level of knowledge, responsibilities, viewpoints and motivation. Cooperation between all these actors is essential, but does not come naturally. Every culture has its own history and language, resulting in a challenge in effective communication and  collaboration. A change in culture requires a certain ability of adaptation, not only from authorities, but also from all stakeholders involved and the society as a whole. In scientific literature, this is called ‘adaptive capacity’.

This concept of adaptive capacity has been applied by the research group Resilient Deltas while working on the European Interreg project FRAMES (Flood Resilient Areas by Multi-layEred Safety). In FRAMES, governments and knowledge institutes from five North Sea countries (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands) worked together and implemented 16 pilot projects in the period between 2016-2020. The goal was to learn how implementing different measures can decrease the impacts of floods. The knowledge institutes distilled lessons learnt by performing a so-called learning evaluation.

Small steps towards a multi-layer safety strategy
The 16 pilot projects were very diverse in nature and have contributed to the development of adaptive capacity of authorities and local stakeholders. The adaptive capacity was developed in the form of new knowledge, stronger relationships between stakeholders and improvement of policy and agreements. It turned out that the stakeholders were not enthused by the development of novel types of measures – they were familiar with most of these. The challenge consisted mainly of how to implement them. Despite insecurities with regards to the scale and speed of climate change, there is a higher need for joint leadership, not visionary leadership. From the learning evaluation, it became clear that many of the pilot projects are focused on creating coherence by means of incremental improvements, in stead of changing the entire system in one go. The pilot projects worked on connecting flood risk management to the society and this led to new knowledge and tools to increase the social engagement with water safety. Spatial planning will not be robust unless the plans are drafted with all stakeholders pitching in; this way, impacts can be decreased and joint, integral goals can be reached. Critical infrastructure is an example of how impacts can be decreased by working together with water safety experts in conducting risk analyses for critical assets. In the United Kingdom and Flanders (Belgium), for instance, the multi-layer safety concept was combined with natural flood management, landscape management and urban development. Given the predicted impacts of climate change, it would be smart to be able to adapt these plans to changing circumstances, or, in scientific jargon, adaptive planning. It would also make sense to link actions aimed at limiting the consequences to an optimal  recovery scenario of a society after a crisis.

The pilot projects have led to small steps towards the development of a future proof flood risk management strategy in the regions that were part of this project. The developed adaptive capacities can support the authorities and stakeholders in the upscaling of pilot projects. Based on the lessons learnt from FRAMES, the HZ has developed a decision support system, a toolkit, and an overview of how the multi-layer safety concept has been applied in multiple European countries. The knowledge developed, lessons learnt and other products can be accessed via the wiki developed by the HZ:  www.frameswiki.eu

Working together on regional challenges in Zeeland
In cooperation with the Province of Zeeland, the Safety Region of Zeeland, Rijkswaterstaat Zee en Delta, and local stakeholders, the HZ also worked on two pilot projects: a risk analysis of critical infrastructure in Reimerswaal (dike ring 31) and a study on evacuation strategies in Zeeland, and especially the ‘bathtub of Ritthem’.

For the Reimerswaal pilot, the research group has delivered applied knowledge and the tool Vitale Assets from the project Vitale infrastructuur in de veerkrachtige delta . Witteveen+Bos has developed measures for flood proof critical infrastructure based on the unique cooperation between managers of critical infrastructure and water safety experts in the pilot project of the Province of Zeeland.

The other pilot project in the Province of Zeeland looked into evacuation possibilities in the so-called ‘bathtub of Ritthem’. In case of a flood from the Western Scheldt side, this area with parts of the cities of Middelburg, Vlissingen and the town of Ritthem located in it, can flood up to 5 meters. HKV Lijn in Water has looked into the (im)possibilities of designating the Sloe area as an evacuation hub. The HZ conducted a perception study of floods and the support for vertical evacuation (finding elevated shelter in your own house or nearby). A survey was distributed in the entire Province of Zeeland, and group interviews were organized with inhabitants of the bathtub of Ritthem to get a better understanding of their considerations. The HZ found that there was a strong need for active communication from the government about flood risks and evacuation strategies fit for the local situation.

New knowledge and skills for future water managers
HZ students actively contributed to the development of knowledge during FRAMES. Students from the bachelor Delta Management went on an excursion and mapped the areas. Lessons learnt from FRAMES will also return during lectures given at the HZ, for instance during the course Risk Management of the first year of Water Management when students learn all about flood risks and the possibilities to decrease these. Students enrolled in Master River Delta Development will use the developed knowledge and approach in Living Labs to work towards the transition of a climate proof delta.

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