Enhancing Future Flood Resilience: A Systems Approach

Lead Research Organisation: Heriot-Watt University
Department Name: Sch of Energy, Geosci, Infrast & Society


There is a paradigm shift within flood risk management (FRM) from resistance-based approaches to resilience-based approaches. In an increasingly complex world, the resilience concept helps to deal with uncertainty and unexpected change. However, its polysemy has sparked debate in the literature leading to ambiguity in terms of conceptualising, measuring and applying the concept across different disciplines. For example, in the physical sciences, resilience is often conceptualised as preventing change with the aim of 'bouncing back' to normal conditions as quickly as possible after a disaster. In contrast, the social sciences often define resilience as enhancing coping capacity in various systems, concentrating on adaptive learning and transformative change. This lack of integration has been reflected in FRM where resilience methods have focused on flood prediction and assessing physical vulnerability, with much less attention on the social dimensions of FRM beyond the socioeconomic impacts of flooding.

This PhD will clarify what resilience actually means in the context of FRM through researching a new systems model to changing hydro hazards, with the aim of bridging the gap between the physical and social sciences. Instead of a purely physical approach to FRM, a systems approach explores the complex web of social and technical interactions and how they combine to affect critical system functionalities. A systems approach absorbs complexity through different levels of abstraction for both human and physical systems. One such method which may be used in order to identify the relations and interactions between components within a system is abstraction hierarchies. Graph theory metrics may then be applied to help identify the components that should be strengthened to increase city resilience to hydro-hazards. Specifically, the systems approach will help to determine the crucial points of failure when a city is subject to flooding, and what the failure of such a service would mean for different populations and their corresponding vulnerabilities. By modelling and comparing different cities within the UK, the drivers of resilience will become evident. It will also take into account changes over time - such as changing demographics and climate change - in order to promote longer-term resilience.

The research, therefore, aims to understand the complex interactions and interdependencies between critical infrastructure, hydro hazards, and human vulnerability which determines a city's resilience. This has been identified as a major research gap in the literature. The PhD is part of the Water Resilient Cities project which aims to assess the impact of climate change on flood and drought risk in the UK, accounting for uncertainties related to climatic projections and the modelling framework. This will help to develop adaptation strategies to these risks aligned with stakeholder needs.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509474/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1989516 Studentship EP/N509474/1 02/10/2017 01/04/2021 Kerri McClymont