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Within the INDICATORS project the research focused on the vulnerability of different social groups, of critical infrastructure as well as on the vulnerability of the environment at the local level to water related natural hazards, with particular emphasis on floods. In this context vulnerability is seen as the starting point for innovative strategies to enhance human security, particularly regarding preventive civil protection and disaster management.

The project has been conducted by UNU-EHS in collaboration with the academic partners Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), and in close cooperation with partners from practice, the German Flood-protection Agency in Cologne and the City of Cologne as well as the Environmental Agency of the City of Dresden. The project has been financially supported by the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) in Bonn.

Time span

August 2006 – September 2009

Key goals

Major goal of the project was to apply a concept of vulnerability (with three major components - exposure, susceptibility, coping capacity) towards flood events for key areas (population, critical infrastructure, environment) that need to be protected in emergency situations. Therefore, criteria and indicators for the vulnerability components have been developed to allow a systematic assessment of vulnerability.

Vulnerability indicators are seen as a key for developing effective strategies for preventive civil protection. Moreover, vulnerability indicators can serve as an important tool within the framework of hazard and risk communication (early warning, preparedness, sensitivity).

Further, in order to enable the application and transfer of research results, the elaborated assessment methods have been presented in a guideline for municipalities, explaining step by step the assessment methods and required resources.

Working methods

In each project field (population, critical infrastructure, environment), a concept of vulnerability has been applied assuming that a combination of exposure, susceptibility and coping capacity determine the degree of vulnerability.

Quantitative (e.g. based on household interviews in Cologne and Dresden) as well as qualitative (e.g. based on expert interviews) methods have been deployed in the project.

The vulnerability assessments were based on flood scenarios, namely HQ scenarios. HQ scenarios describe a flood event with a special statistical interval of occurrences. Thus, an HQ100 scenario refers to a flood event that statistically occurs once in 100 years.

Finally, for all key areas Geographical Information Systems (GIS) have been applied in order to evaluate, link, and visualize data and results.

Due to the close cooperation with partners from practice named above, it was possible to evaluate and discuss the scientific findings with practitioners and to assure that the research results will be applicable in municipalities.


Results from the INDICATORS project have been presented at international conferences such as the ICLEI Resilient Cities Congress. Further, besides the guideline and the project report (see "Downloads"), results have been published here:

Birkmann, J., Bach, C., Vollmer, M. (2012): Tools for Resilience Building and Adaptive Spatial Governance, in: Raumforschung und Raumordnung, 70(4), p. 293-308.

Birkmann, J. & Krings, S. (2008): Die Vulnerabilität kritischer Infrastrukturen gegenüber (möglichen) Auswirkungen des Klimawandels. Zeitschrift Notfallvorsorge, 4, 25-30.

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