Performance of the flood warning system in Germany in July 2021 – insights from affected residents

Thieken, Annegret H.
Bubeck, Philip
Heidenreich, Anna
Von Keyserlingk, Jennifer
Dillenardt, Lisa
Otto, Antje
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Abstract. In July 2021 intense rainfall caused devastating floods in western Europe and 184 fatalities in the German federal states of North Rhine-Westphalia (NW) and Rhineland-Palatinate (RP), calling into question their flood forecasting, warning and response system (FFWRS). Data from an online survey (n=1315) reveal that 35 % of the respondents from NW and 29 % from RP did not receive any warning. Of those who were warned, 85 % did not expect very severe flooding and 46 % reported a lack of situational knowledge on protective behaviour. Regression analysis reveals that this knowledge is influenced not only by gender and flood experience but also by the content and the source of the warning message. The results are complemented by analyses of media reports and official warnings that show shortcomings in providing adequate recommendations to people at risk. Still, the share of people who did not report any emergency response is low and comparable to other flood events. However, the perceived effectiveness of the protective behaviour was low and mainly compromised by high water levels and the perceived level of surprise about the flood magnitude. Good situational knowledge and a higher number of previously experienced floods were linked to performing more effective loss-reducing action. Dissemination of warnings, clearer communication of the expected flood magnitude and recommendations on adequate responses to a severe flood, particularly with regard to flash and pluvial floods, are seen as major entry points for improving the FFWRS in Germany.

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Thieken, A. H., Bubeck, P., Heidenreich, A., Von Keyserlingk, J., Dillenardt, L., & Otto, A. (2023). Performance of the flood warning system in Germany in July 2021 – insights from affected residents. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 23(2), 973–990.