Piloting a real-time surface water flood risk mapping service within ResilienceDirect to support local emergency decision-making

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Geography


The primary responsibility for preparing for, and reacting to, major emergency situations in England rests with local emergency responders who act individually or collectively through Local Resilience Forums (LRFs, Defra 2013). ResilienceDirect was set up by Cabinet Office in 2014 to facilitate data sharing amongst LRFs for emergency response and planning. Nationwide fluvial, coastal, and surface water flood risk mapping by the Environment Agency provides information about potential areas at risk. However, emergency services (e.g. Fire & Rescue; Ambulance) face the challenge of responding to flood emergencies under fast changing and dynamic weather conditions.

Surface water flood risk maps based on return period are useful for planning purposes. However their utility in flood emergencies is often limited due to the spatiotemporal heterogeneity of rainfall. This project aims to translate the recent development in high-resolution surface water flood modelling and numerical weather forecast into a real-time street-level surface water flood mapping service within the ResilienceDirect platform. In addition to surface water mapping, this project will also produce accessibility maps in real-time to assist the decision making of emergency responders. This will allow accessibility (e.g. time to travel) from individual emergency service stations (e.g. Fire & Rescue; Ambulance) to vulnerable places to be evaluated. The mapping results will help contingency planning by emergency responders ahead of potential flood events.

Central support from Cabinet Office, the Department for Communities and Local Governments, Met Office and Environment Agency will ensure the wider impact of this project. The project will be demonstrated in Leicestershire, coordinated by the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Resilience Forum and the 16 stakeholders it represents. Atkins will support applicability and link the project with three strands of activities in the company: surface water modelling, transportation modelling and resilience/ emergency mapping. Atkins will also help explore potential commercial applications of the project outcomes. Transport Scotland will support the project with knowledge of potential vulnerable areas (PVA) on the trunk road network in Scotland, aligned with known locations of flooding within their asset management system; Transport Scotland will help identify scope for expanding the service in Scotland beyond emergency responders, for utilisation on a national road infrastructure network, within the operations of Traffic Scotland.

Planned Impact

A real-time street-level surface flood mapping service could yield considerable benefits to the emergency responders within the LRFs. Through LLR LRF, this project would engage with at least 16 stakeholder organizations (e.g. Fire & Rescue, Ambulance, Local Authorities, and Police). Through the ResilienceDirect portal, these stakeholders would be able to access the mapping and analysis in real-time, ahead of potential surface water flood events. This would provide information to: (i) assist contingency planning before events strike; and (ii) guide operations during intense rainfall. This pilot project could, ultimately lead to a national real-time forecasting and mapping service for emergency responders, as clearly desired by the project partners (see letters of support).

A real-time surface water flood mapping service could fundamentally change the way emergency managers prepare for and respond to flood events with short-lead time, shifting from reliance on weather forecasts to direct visualization of flood impacts on the ground.

As a pilot translation project, it will generate longer term and wider impacts through the engagement of a broad range of public and private sector partners who have expressed strong interest in the project itself and the prospect of linking the project outcomes with complementary activities being undertaken within their organizations (e.g. Atkins and Transport Scotland).
Description A live real-time flood nowcasting system has been developed. We combine weather forecasts from the Met Office with city-scale flood modelling. These are computationally demanding tasks, so the work has involved installing high-performance servers and connections to stream live data from the Met Office to Loughborough.
Exploitation Route Forecasts of heavy rain are used to simulate street-level surface water flooding. The resulting live accessibility mapping and visualization tools will be used by city managers, the Fire & Rescue Service and Ambulance Service, to plan routes that avoid flooded areas or to strategically place equipment.

The pilot system is being evaluated by Leicester Local Resilience Forum, Cabinet Office, Met Office, and by private sector partner Atkins Global and Transport Scotland. Ultimately, the system could save lives by reducing travel times to emergencies during flood episodes.
Sectors Environment,Healthcare,Security and Diplomacy,Transport

Description The real-time flood nowcasting and accessibility mapping system is being evaluated by various stakeholders, including both public and private sectors. The live mapping will eventually be delivered to the Cabinet Office via WMTS server. This could be used by emergency responders across the country.
Sector Environment,Healthcare,Security and Diplomacy,Transport
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Description Additional funding from NERC to investigate the potential for applying the methods/tools to four other cities
Amount £20,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2017 
End 04/2017
Description Loughborough University School Seedcorn 2017
Amount £4,876 (GBP)
Organisation Loughborough University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2016 
End 07/2017
Description NERC follow on fund
Amount £100,837 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R009600/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 05/2019
Description Unlocking the potential of surface water flood nowcasting for emergency services in a changing climate
Amount £247,227 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/S017186/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2019 
End 01/2020
Description Collaboration with the Cabinet Office 
Organisation Cabinet Office
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Cabinet Office is a project partner on this project. We provide live API for four cities in the UK to Cabinet Office's data portal for emergency responders.
Collaborator Contribution Cabinet Office provides in-kind-contribution to the company and is committed to develop their data portal which will ingest our live API within their system
Impact n/a
Start Year 2017
IP Reference  
Protection Copyrighted (e.g. software)
Year Protection Granted
Licensed Commercial In Confidence
Impact We developed the world-first real-time high-resolution city-based surface water flood modelling system.
Title A realtime flood nowcasting system of surface water flooding 
Description We developed a system which allows us to forecast surface water flood risks to street-level resolution for a city in the near future, up to 48 hours in advance. 
Type Of Technology New/Improved Technique/Technology 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact The system can be used by emergency responders and city managers to support their decision making. There are commercial interest of this system from private sectors. This is being explored. 
Description Presentation in an engagement event organized by Leicester Resilience Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We held a session in the Annual Engagement day organized by the Leicester and Leicestershire Prepared (LLP). During the session, we presented the prototype web platform developed to those present. Feedbacks were gathered.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016