Helping Europe prepare for when natural disaster strikes

EU-funded researchers have created a tool to assess the impact of natural disasters on transport infrastructure in order to save both lives and money.

The tool, developed through the EU-funded INFRARISK initiative, was presented during the final project conference at the end of September 2016. The ultimate goal of the innovation is to help policy makers and industry experts identify ways of improving the resilience of bridges, roads and rail networks in the face of catastrophic events such as earthquakes, floods and landslides.

Over the past decade, some 80 000 people have died in Europe as a result of natural disasters. Putting in place considered prevention and mitigation schemes will help to save lives.

In order to address this challenge, the project has developed the INFRARISK Decision Support Tool (IDST). This consists of a computer programme that has been developed from information extracted from case studies on road and rail networks all across Europe. These case studies looked at where transport infrastructure was damaged, and provided an assessment of overall transport conditions.

From this, a series of modules incorporating information on natural hazards and how they affect infrastructure was put together by the team. Importantly, these modules take into account the ‘cascade effect’ of disasters. For example, a landslide not only makes roads and railway networks inaccessible, but also isolates whole populations. This has knock-on economic consequences and implications for how emergency services and rapid response teams organise themselves.

The key point of the IDST is that effective contingency planning must take into account the ripple effect caused by unforeseen natural disasters. This is an economic as well as human consideration. While natural disasters are relatively rare in Europe, when they strike the impact on infrastructure can be huge. Economic losses from natural disasters over the past decade have been put at around EUR 95 billion.

Furthermore, at present only 4 % of the money spent in Europe in response to natural disasters that affect infrastructure is applied to prevention; the rest is invested into immediate response, emergency and reconstruction. If decision makers are made aware of the most likely scenario of an earthquake on, say, a key stretch of motorway however, then decisions covering construction and insurance could be made to help mitigate its economic impact. This would help the region to recover a lot quicker should disaster strike.

The INFRARISK project also developed a methodology of stress tests, which can be applied to simulate the potential impact of specific natural hazards on other critical infrastructure networks such as power transmission lines. The project’s integrated approach to risk assessment very much takes into account the interdependence between various types of infrastructure networks, enabling decision makers to take a more holistic approach to disaster prevention. The project also organised audio-visual training activities for engineers and risk managers in order to help them becoming accustomed to using the IDST tool and to effectively analyse the results.

The project’s prototype IDST has been developed with both existing infrastructure and future infrastructure in mind. Ultimately, the positive results discussed at the project’s final conference show that it is possible to identify the risks and vulnerabilities in infrastructure networks, and find ways of helping decision makers minimise risk against natural extreme events.

For further information, please visit:
project website

last modification: 2016-10-08

Privacy Policy