5.7 How to raise awareness and action by citizens?

Flood Proof BasementThe level of government involvement in flood risk management differs strongly between the analysed countries. Yet, the STAR-FLOOD research revealed that in all countries efforts are undertaken to raise risk awareness among individual citizens and companies. Raising awareness aims to promote actions by citizens and companies to 1) prevent increase of, or even decrease, risks (by limiting or adapting new developments in flood prone areas); 2) strengthen the capacity to resist floods (by contributing to flood defences); and/or 3) strengthen the capacity to absorb floods (by water retention and/or flood proofing). Public awareness and involvement are also relevant in relation to disaster management during a flood (see § 6.2.2) and in relation to recovery after a flood (see § 7.2.1).

The Floods Directive obliges all EU Member States to assign areas at risk of flooding and to establish flood risk maps. These maps are publicly available. It is however still a challenge to appropriately communicate the risk in to all inhabitants of flood prone areas. In general, private parties are more aware and involved when they are regularly confronted with flood events. The possibility for citizens and businesses to take measures by themselves, and communication and advice by the government in this regard, also contribute to awareness and actions. Yet, in most of the analysed countries, citizens rely on the government to protect them, even if this is not in line with the government’s policy and legislation. Such misplaced expectations limit citizens in taking measures.

In the Netherlands, the government provides inhabitants with high protection levels in order to keep the land attractive to live and invest in. Awareness of individual flood risk and possible mitigation measures is low, and actions by individuals to flood proof their own properties are usually inefficient. In England and Belgium, where the potential consequences of flooding are lower and more local, and protection levels are also lower, floods are experienced more often. Furthermore, it is more efficient in those countries to take local, private measures. Below two good practices from these countries are described.

Finally, public say and involvement in the decision-making process is important to achieve the ultimate aim of legitimacy (see §2.3.3). This applies to setting objectives and standards, to selecting strategies in policy and law, as well as to selecting concrete measures to deal with flood risk in specific areas. Cost and benefits of such measures should be distributed in a fair manner, which means for instance that stakeholders that are disproportionally damaged by a defence or mitigation measure should receive adequate compensation for that.

5.7.1 Encouraging local action to reduce flood risks: England




In England flood risk maps have been publically available online since 2000. Since then, the types and amount of information and presentation have improved significantly. The Environment Agency website shows the risk based on a postal-code search, in order to make this information easily accessible. Furthermore, the provision of flood maps from the Environment Agency to professional and public stakeholders supports a host of activities, such as spatial planning, emergency management and awareness-raising amongst at-risk communities. In this context, flood modelling and mapping can be thought of as an essential bridging mechanism.

Significant efforts are made to encourage citizens to adopt some responsibility for managing their risk to flooding and implement property-level measures. From 2009 to 2011 Defra provided £5.2m of funding to support a property-level flood protection scheme, leading to the installation of property level measures in 1,109 properties within 63 at-risk communities (JBA Consulting, 2012). Following this, the ‘Flood Resilience Community Pathfinder Scheme’ was launched in 2012. It is a plan that supports the communities to increase their flood resilience without just starting to build defences everywhere.

Through this scheme £5m was made available to 13 selected local authorities for the purpose of enhancing local responses (and ownership) of flood risk. Activities ranged from voluntary monitoring of river levels (e.g. in Calderdale), establishing community resilience groups and local ‘champions’ (e.g. in Blackburn), to developing voluntary flood warden schemes and community flood plans (e.g. in Buckinghamshire), (Defra, 2012b). Such initiatives represent attempts to prompt bottom-up activities and ownership of flood risk amongst at-risk communities.

At the individual, household and community scale, self-governance is observed in England in a number of forms. These include;

  1. Installation of property-level resistance and resilience measures;
  2. Purchasing insurance products or opting to ‘self-insure’;
  3. Formation of local community groups; these may be involved in campaigning and lobbying for structural defences or other flood management measures; whereas others are involved more actively in undertaking flood management;
  4. Community flood warning systems; Due to dissatisfaction with the official flood warnings in Thames Ditton (River Thames, West of London) the community has developed its own processes of observing the river and a communication system which inputs the advice of trusted local lock-keepers; they then work together to decide upon and activate a collective community response (Parker et al., 2009).

There are a number of barriers to developing consistency. For instance, the uptake of property-level measures and development of community flood action plans is understandably greater in areas that have recently experienced flooding. Another challenge is how to sustain these efforts as the frequency between flood events increases or people move away from an area. There is also a lack of resources to support community engagement officers. Furthermore there is no standard fund through which households/communities can apply in order to purchase property-level measures; often this is a private investment on behalf of the householder (STAR-FLOOD Deliverable 3.3, see §8.2.1).

5.7.2 Informing house buyers and tenants on flood risks: Belgium




To increase their risk awareness, property owners in Belgium that want to sell their property have to state the property’s flood vulnerability in real estate advertisements, in order to inform the would-be buyers and/or tenants of a real estate. This duty to inform is an obligation to inform the would-be buyer or tenant that the real estate is situated in a flood prone area. As properties with such a bad advertisement sell worse, the duty to inform may encourage property owners to take mitigation measures to be able to sell their properties better. In the advertisement certain icons have to be used, based on the flood risk:

  1. ‘Effectively flood prone’ (recent flooding or frequency <100years)
  2. ‘Potentially flood prone’ in case of extreme conditions or failure of dyke infrastructure

This instrument will be reviewed shortly, as property owner’s claim that property prices in flood prone areas decrease disproportionally to the risk.  A website is available with detailed information[1].

In order to be able to reduce damage a guidebook on protection measures is available. It is a brochure and animation film, produced by the Flemish Environmental Agency (VMM), called ‘Floodsafe Buildings and living safely in flood areas’[2]. It gives information and advice about; what to do, where to obtain information on insurance, and procedures to follow in case of a new design and possible measures to take to protect a building in case of flood risk (STAR-FLOOD Deliverable 3.4, see §8.2.1).

[1] More information (in Dutch), Overstromingsgevoelig vastboed: http://www.integraalwaterbeleid.be/nl/beleidsinstrumenten/informatieplicht/informatieplicht-overstromingsgevoelig-vastgoed#richtlijnen voor publicatie

[2] More information (in Dutch), Built and live safely in flood prone areas: http://www.integraalwaterbeleid.be/nl/publicaties/brochure-overstromingsveilig-bouwen-en-wonen