A summer of disasters: DRMKC support to EU’s crisis response

This summer saw exceptional floods and wildfires in Europe, and an earthquake and conflict on the same day in August. Scientists at the JRC build tools and study risk, but they are often also involved in the rush of the response. Here are a few anecdotes from this summer.

What happened: In July, extreme floods hit Western Europe (see earlier story). Flood forecasts by the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service indicated a high probability of flooding for the Rhine and Meuse River basins. 25 EFAS notifications were sent to the relevant national authorities between 10 and 14 July. Observed water levels broke historic records in various catchments.

Inside JRC: The floods team in the JRC has worked since the 2002 floods of the Danube River on building a continental flood forecasting system and, with version 4.0 of EFAS being released in 2020, EFAS forecast skill was significantly improved. On the 10 of July, the team saw forecasts exceeding anything previously simulated for a large region in Germany and Belgium. They worried that something went wrong with the calibration, but the forecasts turned out to be correct.

What happened: In August, the floods were followed by forest fires on many fronts. The European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) monitors wildfire danger and burnt area in the EU and beyond, providing situational awareness to the civil protection teams. A new Decision Support System (DSS) helps to deploy the EU’s RescEU fleet of firefighting planes to the most dangerous fires. August saw 5 simultaneous RescEU activations. The DSS system was designed to handle 2 large fires, but could easily handle 5.

Inside JRC: Like everyone else, the wildfires team in the JRC was challenged by the remote way of working due to COVID-19. It was difficult to access the powerful servers of the EFFIS system from home. That prompted the team to accelerate the migration of all servers to the cloud. Luckily they did: the extreme fire summer season increased access to the servers 10-fold, causing exceptional stress on the servers. But these were easy to scale up in the new cloud environment. Every crisis brings opportunities.

What happened: 14-15 August 2021 Haiti M7.2 earthquake and Afghanistan collapses. The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System detects the earthquake and sends an automated alert. The Copernicus Emergency Management Service is activated and produces satellite-based damage maps within 31 hours. Meanwhile the Conflict Mapping team produces a detailed map on the situation in Afghanistan based on open-source information.

Inside JRC: Ferragosto is a traditional holiday in Italy to have barbecue with friends. When the GDACS alerts arrived on Saturday, the JRC teams jumped to action. They made an exceptional effort to produce quick situation reports, manage a complex activation of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service, and perform social media analysis to extract pictures of damage. The reports and data on Haiti were sent to the European Response Coordination Centre and to the UN’s Virtual On-Site Operation Coordination Centre, feeding them straight to the operational teams. The map on Afghanistan was sent internally to EU Institutions and EU Member States on early Monday to support their situation awareness.


COVID-19 showed that disaster management needs an all hazard approach, including pandemics. But we shouldn’t prepare for the last disaster, but have the foresight to prepare for the next one. The JRC’s long-term commitment to disaster research for the needs of the European Civil Protection Mechanism and the global disaster reduction agenda allows it to transform research results into operational systems. This is recognized by JRC’s new role as co-lead of the Science Pillar of the Union Civil Protection Knowledge Network.

Inside JRC: Everyone was shocked by the toll of the summer’s disasters. Even working for decades in the field doesn’t prepare you for the emotions of the big disasters. So during this summer of extremes, with the IPCC warning for even more extremes to come, everyone in the teams started thinking of what we can do more. That is just the nature of scientists: always trying to find better solutions, never stopping at the status quo.

ECHO Daily Maps: https://erccportal.jrc.ec.europa.eu/ECHO-Products/Maps#/maps?mt=Daily%20Map

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