EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

The safety paradox in flood protection: the importance of communicating and contextualizing uncertainties

Britta Höllermann1,2, Mariele Evers1, and Georg Johann3,4
Britta Höllermann et al.
  • 1University of Bonn, Department of Geography, Bonn, Germany (;
  • 2Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Department of Geography, Munich, Germany (
  • 3Emschergenossenschaft / Lippeverband, Essen, Germany (
  • 4HochwasserKompetenzCentrum e.V., Cologne, Germany

The flood events of 13-15 July 2021 in Germany brought the relevance of flood prevention acutely and once again to our attention. As the earth's atmosphere heats up, nature has more and more intense events in store for us, which push our flood protection and management measures to their limits and beyond. For planning purposes, but also in case of an event, it is therefore highly relevant to improve the communication of uncertainties and the assessment of their potential impact, e.g. in the climate or flood forecast, in a target group-oriented manner.

In Germany and in the European Union, the conditions for flood risk management have been improved since 2007 with the implementation of the European Flood Risk Management Directive (FRMD) and the amendments to the Federal Water Act. Many new instruments such as flood hazard and risk maps, building regulations or the category of flood emergence areas were introduced. For example, flood hazard and flood risk maps and corresponding management plans have been prepared on the basis of historical discharge data, water levels and hydrological and hydraulic modelling. However, recent examples have shown that the objective of the FRMD to reduce flood-related risks to human health, the environment, infrastructure and property has only been achieved to a limited extent.

In this paper we discuss why the developed maps and plans do not lead to a sufficient risk perception and why, in case of a flood event, it is often not clear what actions need to be taken when and by whom. For this, we want to highlight three aspects in particular:

1) Data: importance of using measured data and dealing with historical flood events, which are only comparable to a limited extent to today's and future conditions, which are shaped by the influences of climate change.

2) Actors: importance of involving different actors in the flood risk management planning process to strengthen risk perception and responsibility.

3) Communication: Importance of communicating uncertainties target group-specific and visualising uncertainties and their possible impacts context-specific.

For effective and sustainable flood risk management, we therefore believe that we are in need of a communication and dissemination strategy in order to contribute to a transparent description of the roles of the actors and their responsibilities. Consequently, the already developed tools (e.g. flood hazard /risk maps) should be supplemented by involving regional actors, uncertainty information and its effects should be classified and communicated to all decision-making levels in a way that is appropriate for the target group.

How to cite: Höllermann, B., Evers, M., and Johann, G.: The safety paradox in flood protection: the importance of communicating and contextualizing uncertainties, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-9160,, 2022.