Tool risk reduction measures


«The primary objective of an Early Warning System (EWS) is to empower individuals and communities […] to act in time and in an appropriate manner to reduce the possibility of […] loss of life, damage to property and the environment, and loss of livelihoods.»

UCAR 2010: 1-6

What do you find here?


Heavy rain early warning systems increase flood preparedness and lead to substantial reduction of damages in case of a heavy rain and flood event. Local authorities are recipients but also re-distributors of heavy rain / flood early warning information.
As municipality, here you get to know, how to improve your interpretation, assessment and dissemination capabilities for early warning information.
As private person, you find here useful advice on how to receive warnings and to act in time and in an appropriate manner. You can also find an overview on existing early warning systems in Central Europe and browse our stories on implementation activities.

What is EARLY WARNING and how can it contribute to risk reduction?

Early warning information are standardised messages (signs, words, sound or images) that announce an imminent danger, e.g. from natural hazards. Heavy rain early warning information is dealing with the eponymous natural hazard “heavy rain”. Information is provided by higher authorities, regional or national institutions.  

But early warning information itself does not keep hazards from turning into disasters. It needs entire EARLY WARNING SYSTEMS for enabling individuals at-risk, communities and organisations to prepare and act appropriately – in advance and during impending hazard events.

Within an early warning system, the core role of the local administration or competent authority is to:

  • Built-up sufficient response capabilities for the area,
  • Strengthen the capacity of individuals’ at-risk and other local key actors to receive, analyse and act-on incoming warnings,
  • Enhance/complement existing early warning systems by local data,
  • Improve existing early warning systems by feedback to system developers.

In most countries of Central Europe, municipal personnel are a key actor for heavy rain early warning systems. They are the living link between incoming early warning information and local action (e.g. when mobilising emergency response). It is their task to know how to access and interpret warning information and how to organise dissemination and adequate action in advance.

Private persons are recipients and end users of early warning information. They need to:

  • Be aware of the natural hazard heavy rain and know their individual risk which is dependent not only from the rainfall but also from local conditions and from their and their families' vulnerability.
  • Rely on and use the early warning information provided by competent authorities.
  • Built-up capacities to receive, to analyse and to act-on early warning information.

How can I access early-warning information?

In Central Europe, early warning information are available from different sources. Institutions on different levels – from continental down to regional or community level – run early warning systems. Most early warning systems are accessible online via webpages or special applications for mobile devices. Early warning systems might be accessible also for citizens and private persons, but not all operators provide public access to warnings.

Make sure that you benefit from existing functional early warning systems. Find open access options below in our country-specific early warning systems overview.

Dependent on local risk and on available early warning information it might be helpful to additionally invest in local monitoring and observation. However, local monitoring alone cannot replace early warning information provided by competent authorities. It only provides supplementary information.

Prepare in advance: by installing apps designed for collecting official warning notifications and weather alerts or by signing up to mass notification systems you can turn your smartphone into an early warning system with individual setting for crisis type, area and so on. Some of these applications also provide recommendations for action or allow exchange and coordination with others. Find some options for Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic below in the early warning app overview.

Furthermore, it is beneficial to bookmark useful web pages for weather forecasts, flood warnings, local river levels. Find open access options below in the country-specific early warning systems overview.

How should I interpret early warning information?

Dealing with heavy rain means dealing with uncertainties. This is because of heavy rainfall events are very difficult to predict, the forecast lead time is very limited, and there is a high chance of forecast errors in spatial occurrence and/or timing of the event. Nevertheless, they are beneficial as they give an indication – also for appropriate emergency response measures.

Responsible persons in municipalities need to understand the early warning information they receive, in order to effectively interpret them and set the appropriate measures. Early warning experts could offer exchange with or training of municipality key persons if needed; good municipality substitute planning helps to have a competent early warning person on duty at all times. Qualification sources are e.g.:

  • Information as well as trainings provided by operators of early warning systems on interpretation and assessment of early warning information;
  • Information provided by more independent sources, like tutorials or free online trainings, e.g. from the EFAS (European Flood Awareness System) consortia.

When disseminating early warning information further to recipients, communicate the uncertainty level in a standardised and understandable manner.

Make sure that you know what to do when you receive a warning!

Make yourself familiar with information provided by web pages and apps. Predictability is limited. This is explained somewhere and is to be considered. Furthermore, warnings are often connected to guidance for action.

You can also contact your municipality to learn more about local emergency alerts, to get information material or to book even a seminar on how to better prepare for flood events and other natural disasters.

How can I prepare dissemination of early warning information to the key stakeholders and ensure adequate action?

The translation of early warning information into adequate action requires skills, experiences and also a feeling for strengths and weaknesses of the early warning system that you rely on.

Take the following precautionary measures in non-event phases:

  • Make sure that responsibilities are clear. Who interprets warnings, disseminates them to further recipients and triggers the alarm if necessary? A confirmation of receipt might be required.
  • Clarify the legal framework before starting disseminating early warning information to recipients.
  • Establish multiple communication channels and ensure consistency of warning language among them.
  • Ensure your warnings are clear and easy to understand.
  • Educate recipients/community on how warnings will be disseminated, how to interpret them and how recipients need to respond to warnings. Communicate priorities and boundaries of emergency operations in your area clearly.
  • Carry out system wide tests and organise exercises within the community at least once each year.

In non-event phases, work out and disseminate further recommendations for action to citizens. Make sure that they focus on private property protection and on flood protective behaviour of the public. With respect to heavy rain, always stress two key facts:

  1. Heavy rainfall can happen everywhere and is expected to increase in frequency and intensity.
  2. The predictability of convective heavy rain events is very limited and forecasts are uncertain.
The following information are mainly taken and adopted from the official flood information service of the British Government. Please also search for information from national, regional or local authorities in your language and based on flood / heavy rain risk management in your area.
  • Do not wait until it rains to start preparations; you won’t have time then!
  • Find out if you’re at risk.
  • Sign up for warnings.
  • Know how to turn off gas, electricity and water in your home.
  • Ask your municipality about flood protection advice and design your personal emergency plan.
  • Get permits before you build; PREVENT DAMAGES at your house and property by appropriate private protection measures.
  • Protect your property by advance measures: Visit our CATALOGUE OF 100 RISK REDUCTION MEASURES for further information.
  • Always report blocked ditches, swales and channels to your municipality.
  • Check your insurance: Make sure you have an insurance to protect your home or business. If you have a buildings and contents insurance, check if flood damage is included. A natural hazard insurance against damage caused by heavy rain covers all contents of the flat or house.
  • Connect to local flood groups on social media and contact your community for volunteering options: Your area may have community flood wardens. These are volunteers who e.g. monitor a specific local area and inform its residents when flooding is likely or you can volunteer in a fire or water brigade.

Early warning systems overview

Early warning systems are based on robust and reliable communication infrastructure hardware, operate 24 hours a day and use multiple communication channels. Some early warning systems consider multi-hazard-scenarios. Heavy rain and pluvial flood early warning systems deal either with meteorological or with hydrological data or with a combination of both types. Find here systems from different Central European providers:

Meteorological severe weather warning systems:

…are based on meteorological data, provide the most relevant information needed to prepare for extreme weather.

Flood warning systems:

…combine hydrological and predicted rainfall data.

Web applications:


Involve your target groups in the development

“Target group-oriented communication and training of the recipients on early warning information is probably the most important task when establishing an early warning system in an area.” (Florian Kerl, Saxon State Office for Environment, Agriculture and Geology, Germany; developer of the Saxon flash flood early warning system)

“In Croatia, the activities of alerting and notifying the population are done by the central state administration body in charge of civil protection duties, which also coordinates the actions of all the bodies included in an integrated alert system in Croatia. In the frame of RAINMAN, comprehensive analysis and mapping of pluvial flood risks and pluvial flood hazards for the City of Zagreb and for the City of Umag has been done. This analysis enabled definition of critical rain thresholds and consequently warning levels proposal. Internal testing of proposed thresholds against ALADIN and ECMWF forecasts is still under way as during the project there were no significant pluvial episodes to validate it. If the system proves to be beneficial, further activities on its administrative setup are foreseen to put it to operational use and available to broader audience as well as to cover other parts of Croatia with it." (Alan Cibilić, Croatian Waters, Croatia)

Development of a mobile warning app in Hungary

"Applications for mobile devices are nice tools and can make the defense works more smooth. However, the usability depends on the quality of the uploaded documents and plans as well as from the maintenance of the system."(Péter Gergő Katona, Middle Tisza District Water Directorate, Hungary)

Recommendations for the improvement of the warning and alarm tool of the City of Graz

"An automated heavy rain warning can help to use the available time between the first warning and the onset of flooding in the best possible way. The City of Graz uses a traffic light system for triggering predefined operational measures and for informing the population of Graz about the current hazard situation. Recommendations were developed for improving this system by consideration of all available data to receive more precise heavy rain warnings. In addition to the precipitation, other parameters influence the runoff in an area, such as preceding soil moisture, vegetation cover, snow melting, snowfall, degree of sealing." (Cornelia Jöbstl, Office of the Styrian Government, Austria)