Handbook on flood prevention: 'Ready for use, but never finished'

Published on: 21 June 2024, 12:16 hrs

A passionate group of writers from around the world contributed to the International Handbook on Emergency Management for Flood Defences. Leading this group is Bart Vonk, coordinating advisor for water barriers at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. He explains the contents of the book and what they aim to achieve with it.

At the Singapore International Water Week on June 20, the soft launch of the International Handbook on Emergency Management for Flood Defences took place. This handbook provides guidelines for preventing casualties and damage during floods. When the book launches on November 1, Flood Defence Managers and other interested parties worldwide can download and apply the book for free.


'We dream for this handbook to potentially reduce or even prevent casualties and damage during floods,' says Bart. This is why all the writers contributed voluntarily. It is crucial that experts can help each other during high-water situations on a regional or even international level. Building a community is also a goal of the handbook. 'It is important to be able to collaborate during such situations,' Bart explains. 'For instance, during the floods in Limburg, various Dutch water boards were ready to assist, and help even came from Germany.'

Bart also aims for multiple regional communities worldwide to be connected through a global community, adding their practical experiences to this handbook. Building communities involves spreading our vision and telling the story. We are seeking 'early adopters' to spread the story within their networks. Bart: 'We held the soft launch in Singapore. People from around the world got a first look at the book. The handbook will be ready on November 1, 2024.'

'All content has been submitted, and the lead editor is now compiling the various contributions into a consistent handbook. During the Singapore International Water Week, we met many interested organizations who indicated they wanted to use the handbook and provide feedback on their experiences and desired changes. This way, we can keep adapting the book, making it belong to everyone.'

'The slogan we use for the book is ‘ready for use, but never finished.’ Our goal was to exchange contact information with at least 50 potential users. Whether we reached that number, I’m not sure, but I think we came pretty close.'

Preparedness and response

Regarding the content, the book explores the best ways to address an imminent disaster resulting from dike breaches. 'We want to document knowledge and experience in the book,' Bart explains. 'In the Netherlands, it was very tense in 1995, with dike breaches threatening to cause floods. Not until 2021 did we face a similar situation. Many people who had experience from 1995 were no longer working in 2021. You don’t want all that knowledge to be lost.'

The book focuses on 2 components of the Disaster Risk Management Cycle: preparedness and response. Preparedness involves having emergency plans, conducting training and exercises, developing accurate prediction models, understanding the hazards, and raising awareness. Response involves the decision-making process, inspections, and measures to prevent a dike breach.

The handbook is not a recipe book, as every situation is unique and each country faces different challenges. Bart explains, 'We used the PIME methodology, which stands for Principle, Issue, Method, Example. This forced us to write not about how we do it, but why we do it: the considerations. We believe this approach helps other organizations better translate the content to their own situations. The book provides examples (worldwide) for inspiration. It also covers crisis communication, the need for funding crisis organizations, and much more.'

The future

Bart reflects on a successful soft launch: 'It was an exciting moment for us. Would our dream, which we worked on for a year, inspire others? Would our handbook contribute to better flood protection? Would we find early adopters? To my surprise, I was asked at various events to present our handbook, such as during the round table of leaders of flood-resilient cities.'

'Our handbook was also mentioned in others’ presentations as a ‘straightforward and practical example.’ After the soft launch, several participants approached me to take our flyer and indicated they would contact us. An unexpected side effect was that several companies offered to promote this handbook within their own international networks. I think this is a huge step forward in spreading and using our handbook. This wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t attended this conference.'