Heavy rain forecasts now spark flooding fears everywhere from Bangladesh to Britain; the latter which experienced unprecedented levels of flooding in the summer of 2007. According to a UK government scientific adviser, the number of people at high risk of flooding in Britain is expected to more than double to nearly 3.5M by 2080.

In a world of continuous climate change, the need for preventive measures is required more than ever. UK-based Discovery Software is marketing a flood management tool which can assist in risk assessment and finding solutions for worldwide issues.

FloodRanger World is a 3D virtual world computer game which simulates flooding risks and defences to inform government policy and educate how to protect rivers and coastlines effectively. It can also help planners, NGOs and engineering companies develop strategies to cope with real-life flooding.

Although created as a game, planning strategies to cope with future worldwide floods have been dealt with realistically and the finished product can now be used by local authorities and governments in risk-assessing and planning flood defences.

Why is the software required?

The release of FloodRanger World is a very timely and relevant tool. Under the EU Floods Directive which entered into force in November 2007, Member States have to:

• Implement the requirements of the Directive in their own legislation by 6 November 2009.

• Undertake preliminary flood risk assessment by 2011.

• Develop flood hazard and risk maps by 2013.

• Draw up flood risk management plans by 2015.

As the first deadline approaches, FloodRanger can be a useful tool to analyse the effects of extreme weather to determine what flood defences are needed now and in the future. FloodRanger can be used as a practical tool in order to help member states to meet the EU Directive’s requirements. Investing now will help governments prepare to fight flooding, rather than paying the public price of climate change later. As Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the European Environment Agency commented, FloodRanger will let environmental scientists and town planners, amongst others, explore how different measures might affect the landscape in the long term.

Developing FloodRanger

The development of the original version of FloodRanger was funded by the Office of Science and Technology in the UK as part of a flood and coastal defence programme.

Discovery Software worked in collaboration with View the World and the final solution was to create a game that could be used by anyone to explore the pros and cons of different flood management strategies. FloodRanger has in fact been used in many different ways. It has been used by local UK authorities, including Norfolk, Lincolnshire and South Gloucestershire, to help educate staff, engage stakeholders in flood management issues and as a facilitating tool for discussions based around flood management.

It has also been used in different countries by government departments, non-government organisations (eg. London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and the United Nations), schools, universities and engineering companies (eg. Haskoning and AquaFence AS).

The subsequent development of FloodRanger World in 2006 was funded by a European Union research project called ESPACE. It was a joint project between the UK Environment Agency, Discovery Software and the Halcrow Group. The initial development phase concentrated on developing FloodRanger World projects for two areas, the Thames catchment and the Thames estuary in the UK.

Discovery Software then took the software a stage further to enable any user to add geographical data for their own region of interest for any part of the world. The UK Environment Agency’s Tim Reeder, who is the regional climate change programme manager for the Thames region, recently commented: ‘FloodRanger World was developed to help demonstrate the challenges that an uncertain climate will present to making long term decisions. It has helped demonstrate in an imaginative way the challenges of coming up with sustainable ways of managing flood risk into the future.’

FloodRanger combines mathematical modelling with climate change scenarios in a 3D computer visualisation environment. It allows users to define data specific to their own social, economic and environmental circumstances and run these against climate change and world futures models. Planners can take tough decisions, test out ideas and face the consequences in virtual worlds, before spending millions of dollars in the real world. The software allows you to explore many different management strategies and the randomness of the flood events makes the tool more realistic and different every time you play it.

How the software works

FloodRanger World may be setup for any location in the world and as a default comes with a predefined project for the Thames catchment in the UK. It comes in two parts, one which allows you to set up the game parameters and data for a study area and the second which lets you play the FloodRanger game for that area. The basic premise of the game is that you have a certain amount of money to spend on defences, water supply, housing and industry. You can add as many different scenarios and make them as severe or challenging as you wish and locally applicable. The idea of the game is to minimise the risk of flooding. Defences can be placed within certain sections of rivers or the coastline which should relate to real world management regions if possible.

As you add defences to your landscape a map showing current flood risk is updated. By comparing this map with the indicative floodplain you can ascertain how much risk still remains and whether you are willing to proceed with this.

Customising your own study area

A FloodRanger World project can be made for any location in the world. To make one for your area of interest you will need a minimum number of input datasets including:

• A digital elevation model.

• A grid showing urban areas.

• A grid indicating land and sea values.

• Grids for sites of special scientific interest, woodland and national parks.

• A vector file describing roads.

• Vector files indicating the spatial extent of management regions along rivers, along the coast and regional districts for the management of water resources.

If you wish FloodRanger World to automatically create river and tidal floodplain data for you, then you will also need to provide a river head points file and a grid indicating rain volume data. It is worth noting at this point that you can add your own floodplain data that may have been modelled in another application.

Once you have collated and formatted your input data you can start to create a new FloodRanger World project. There are a number of steps that you need to follow and these include:

• Inputting your own datasets and creating derivative datasets from them, for example, floodplain data.

• Defining new cards, creating cost surfaces for them and then adding initial defences to the game.

• Defining world futures and climate change scenarios.

• Setup initial baseline parameters and conditions including population size, taxes etc.

Various parameters and datasets can be modified and used to make the game more or less demanding, depending on your real world situation, and will meet different user’s needs. FloodRanger World has been designed to mimic the uncertainty of climate change to give users a realistic view of whether their flood defences will leave them washed out and water logged or high and dry.

Upcoming software

Discovery Software, in conjunction with the Halcrow Group, is also developing a coastal management simulator tool under a DEFRA funded research project. The tool is similar to FloodRanger but concentrates on coastal erosion, in addition to flooding, and its relationship to climate change. The tool uses a fictional soft rock coastline with a number of coastal communities and resources which require protection. Again the premise is to balance protection needs against the needs of those living in the area under the constraints of a restricting budget.

The coastal management simulator is due to be released at the end of 2008 and is aimed at coastal managers, local authorities and the education sector.

The authors are Kevin Morris and Catalina Cotica from Discovery Software, Paignton, Devon in the UK. Both FloodRanger and FloodRanger World are now available through Discovery Software Ltd at www.discoverysoftware.co.uk.