The Umbria Region Case study

Bringing post disaster forensic analysis into the culture of civil protection organisations
The Umbria Region case study is a relevant example of a tiny net of villages and towns connected by a dense network of regional, municipal and secondary roads.

The main objective of the work carried out jointly by the Civil Protection Authority of the Umbria Region and researchers at the Politecnico di Milano has been the joint development of tools and methods to collect, store, structure post-flood damage data and then analyze such data in order to obtain a comprehensive representation of the damage, including as far as possible also indication regarding indirect damage. Such analysis should be provided in the form of reports developed according the multiple possible uses of the data as suggested by De Groeve et al. (2013). Whilst data were collected in the real events of the 2012 and 2013 floods, the effort in the context of the EDUCEN project has been to analyze the data and produce what can be labelled as a disaster forensic investigation, in the sense proposed by the Forin project (Oliver-Smith et al. 2016)

Introduction to the area

The Umbria region is located in Central Italy and covers 8456 km2 with a population of 883000 inhabitants (source: national statistical office, 2011). Most of its territory is made of the Apennines Mountains and hillside. 46% of its territory is covered by forests, 7% of which are preservation areas or protected parks. Urbanisation has taken place along the two main valleys: the Tiber Valley stretching from North to South for almost 100 km from the borders with Tuscany to the Todi Municipality in the South at the borders with the Lazio region; and the Umbria valley in the direction North-West to South-East, between Perugia and Spoleto for 40 km length with a larger width ranging between 5 to 10 km. Both valleys are highly networked with highways, main roads and railways. The Tiber river basin is the third national river by length and the second by area (12700 km2) and is characterized in its highest part by a complex topography with elevations comprised between 50 and 2500 m asl.

In the last century more than 100 flood, flash floods, debris flows events occurred in the Umbria Region, with peaks in the winter time in the months of November and February. The Tiber provoked several inundations, but significant damage has also been caused by its tributaries and by minor channels and creeks. In the last 10 years 6 exceptional events occurred (2005, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013) distanced by three drought periods (2003, 2007, 2012). The overall economic impact, to both private and public assets, amount to 1 Billion Euros damage for the last 10 years only.

In the case of the 2012 event, different floods occurred, ranging from flash floods to riverine inundations in small valleys due to the levees failures, affecting mainly the municipalities of Todi, Città della Pieve, Marsciano, and Orvieto. In the city of Orvieto the flood was very rapid, the almost 3 meters water depth peak was reached in the lowest zones at around 8:9 on the 12th November in the morning, but then water receded rather fast, starting at 3 p.m.. In the peripheral zone of Città della Pieve, the inundation started early on the 12th November in the morning and the 2 meters water depth lasted for three to four days.
In the November 2013 event, the situation was more mixed and complex with respect to the previous year. In fact a mix of hazards occurred, ranging from floods, landslides, debris flows with more or less sediment content. Furthermore, while the 2012 inundations occurred over large areas in the affected municipalities, the 2013 was a typical “multi-site” event, with relatively minor single events, but all together affecting a rather large area along the Apennines and at the Eastern border with the Marche Region. For a comparison of the affected municipalities in the two events see figure 1.

Figure 1. Comparison between municipalities reporting flood damage in 2012 and 2013.

Methods and tools for post-disaster damage data collection

see also section VI, 6.2

Metods developed in the Umbria case stidy include the developed tools to collect and coordinate post-flood damage data across regional agencies and other stakeholdeers in order to achieve a comprehensive picture of the damage to multiple sectors, the tools developed jontly to perform the direct surveys for residential buidlings and economic activities, and the reporting system that has been standardized to be followed from now on in similar circumstances in the future. Particularly the standardization of the reporting system has been carried out within the EDUCEN project.

The following stakeholders have taken part in the development of the methdology and tools:

  • The leading role by the Regional Civil Protection Autority was played by the Functional Centre that has a key role in early warning and in the general management of emergencies;
  • The Emergency Control Centre of the Regional Civil Protection Autority;
  • Civil Protection Autority offices in charge of data management;
  • Researchers of the Politecnico di Milano;
  • Civil Protection volunteers (thirty volunteers) with professional expertise in geology, engineering, architecture.

The following stakeholders have been involved in the development and application of the methodology and tools.

The degree of involvement has been varying in terms of willingness and frequency of participation, presented from the more to the less active in the list:

  • Water management companies (in particular Umbra Acque, Vus and SII);
  • Municipal personnel (including civil protection officials);
  • Road management authority (provincial);
  • Power management company;
  • Regional Department of Economic Development.

Figure 2: The flooded industrial area in Orvieto. The hospital can be seen on the top of the hill

Figures 3 and 4: Photos of the flooded plain in Orvieto taken from a sourveillance helicopter

The damage the two floods of 2012 and 2013 provoked, its distribution and extent can be explained as the result of the interaction between a flood hazard that has pecurliar features given the orography and the morphology of the region and by the configuration of the exposed urbanisation and the vulnerability of structures and urban patterns. In fact the 2012 flood consisted in reality in a number of different inundations, that can be partly assimilated to mountain flash floods, as in the case of the city of Orvieto, and partly to riverine floods, as in the case of Todi or of Città della Pieve. The 2013 provoked more flash floods as the whole event occured in the Northern, more mountain section of the Tiber Catchment.

The floods in 2012 affected mostly new development and recent urbanization: historic centres were preserved as they are all built on crest or on hilltops; the damage that was provoked by the 2013 event in the historic centre of Città di Castello was due more to the intense precipitation that damaged fragile roofs rather than to inundations.

Particularly the 2012 even revelaed the fallacy and the limitations of flood hazard maps, that were partially inaccurate or wrong as in the case of the lower part of the City of Orvieto where the industrial site had been located by the 2000 masterplan, and partially not effective because they were not as mandatory as they should have been nor complied with satisfactorily by unaware planners, as in the case of Città della Pieve.

Figure 5: Distribution of damage across sectors in the 2012 and 2013 floods

The pattern and distribution of damage across sectors is certainly an important result of the analysis that has been carried out using the collected data as it can be seen in Figure 5.

Interesting similarities as well as differencies result from the comparison of the two events in terms of the most affected sectors. Infrastructures are in both cases the most damaged sector, amounting to 66% of the total damage in 2012 and to 68% in 2013 with a different composition. In 2012 roads were the most damaged (38%) and lifelines other than roads were damaged significnalty (14%) with the remaining 14% suffered by structural defense mitigation measures; in 2013 the latter were the most affected, 42% on the total, with a minor contribution of other lifelines (only 2%) and roads still very significant, as they represent the second most affected sector (24%). The difference can be explained on the basis of the pure geographical distribution of the event itself: lifelines including transportation systems are more present and relevant in valleys, while mitigation works, particularly for mountain rivers and landslides characterize the higher parts of a mountain catchment.

Damage to residential units is far less important than generally thought of, with 5% in the 2012 flood and 8% in the 2013. This again has to do with the geography of the system: the region is inhabited in a scattered way, in any location a limited number of houses is present, given also the low number of inhabitants that live in the region. The situation would be somehow different in a large riverbasin such as the Po floodplain. A remarkable share of damage in the 2012 flood was suffered by the economic sector, with 3% suffered by agriculture and 23% of industrial and commercial activities. The share of economic activities in 2013 has been much less, again due to the fact that such activities mainly flourish in the vallyes and far less in higher mountain zones.

The legacy of the work performed in Umbria

The Umbria Case study has not been a “simple” policy exercise but a real example of co-production of knowledge, intended as the blending of scientific, legislative and organizational knowledge (see Mejri and Pesaro, 2015). The starting point is in fact the belief that not only scientific knolwedge is relevant for post-disaster damage data collection and analysis, but also knowledge regarding the legislative system in one country as regard the declaration and the management of state of emergencies, knowledge regarding how public organizations work and how emergency and recovery are managed and what are the norms, the rules, and the practices that characterize such complex tasks.

In fact, the Umbria Region case study constitutes a real example of co-production of knowledge and tools, that have been established in a joint effort to respond to multiple needs, partly scientific and partly administrative. As mentioned already at the beginning a fundamental condition for such genuinely collaborative work is that both researchers and public officials are willing to exchange knowledge and expertise to develop something new they could not do separately. It also imply more than just meetings as tools need to be developed together and their applications tested in the field.

The experience developed jointly with the Umbria Region Civil Protection Authority is somehow unique at least as far as we know. We are firmly convinced that the success of the Umbria Region case is due to the fact that civil protection officials and researchers were able to meet on a common ground and integrate their perspective. What has permitted this process of sharing and blending of experiences, methods and tools, what has permitted to develop jointly the procedure and to apply it, is the fact that on both parts there were “pracademics” willing to cross borders between different types of knowledge (scientific, administrative, legislative) and who had experience in both fields (Duncan et al., 2014; Posner, 2007). According to Walker (2010), “a pracademic is a person who spans both the somewhat ethereal world of academia as a scholar and the pragmatic world of practice. Many engineering and management academics in particular, come to academia with a successful career in their practice. Indeed, a certain level of experience in that field is needed to understand the complexity, context and degree of tacit knowledge required to gain a sound understanding of practical problems that need rigorous investigation and attention”.

It has to be pointed out that the methodology that has been developed can be also adapted to other risks, so for example it has been applied to the seismic swarm that affected Central Italy between the 24th August 2016 to February 2017 with particular regard to damage suffered by the Umbria Region.
In the year and a half of the project a number of attempts have been carried out to “export” the experience to other regions. In fact the case is known in several arenas, the most important of which is certainly the Technical Group constituted by DG-ECHO and led by the JRC in Ispra on Disaster Loss Data for the improvement of national databases and enhanced civil protection capacity at the European level.

A number of meetings have been carried out with the National Department of Civil Protection in Italy (on the 5/11/2015 and on the 22/03/2016) to present the practice and provide hints for the ongoing development of post flood damage data collection to support compensation and also request for the Solidarity Fund. Other attempts have been carried out with some regions (in particular with the Emilia Romagna Region in a meeting with the Regional Agency for Environmental Protection, Arpa on the 24/03/2016, with the Trentino Alto Adige in the Bolzano Civil Protection Fair on the 23rd February 2016, with the Lombardia and the Valle D’Aosta regions in different informal meetings) and with the Po Riverbasin Authority. The potentialities of using real damage data to improve cost benefit analysis of mitigation measures have been also presented in two distinct meetings organized by the recently developed Agency under the Presidency of the Prime Minister (Italia Sicura, or Safe Italy). In particular the Umbria experience was shared in a restricted meeting in Rome (18th July 2016) to which also the Umbria Regional Civil Protection Authority participated and in an open seminar in Milan (8th September 2016) organized for practitioners at the Lombardia Region.

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