Real-time flood impacts mapping


There is growing recognition of the need for maps of flooding and its impacts, in real time, to support improved flood incident management. The Pitt Review, Flood Exercise Watermark and the Environment Agency’s Flood Incident Management Plan have all helped establish the high-level needs for this information.

However, less widely established are the detailed requirements of flood incident managers, and the options or methods available for delivering real-time flood maps.


We were commissioned by the Environment Agency to research the needs and options for real-time flood impacts mapping.

At the start of the project, we approached flood incident managers using a questionnaire and telephone interviews. The consultation included Environment Agency forecasting and flood warning staff, emergency services and those involved in the response to the Winter 2013-14 floods. They were asked what tools were available to them now, and what they would like to achieve in future.

One of the main priorities, based on the consultation, was ease of use and communication. Different flood incident managers also need information at different scales – in space and time – from local decision making at short lead-times, to regional or national-scale planning several days in advance.

With this in mind, we identified potential technical methods that could derive flood maps in real-time. Each was evaluated, resulting in a shortlist of six options which were further developed into ‘Proof of Concepts’.

The ‘Proof of Concepts’ explored whether the option was technically feasible, what information it provided, and how it performed for case studies of past flood events.


One of the main benefits of the project was to demonstrate the possibilities for real-time flood mapping, using data and models that are readily available. We identified and developed ‘Proof of Concepts’ for two broad classes of method:

  • Pre-computed model results – options that use a library of pre-computed results and select an appropriate flood map during an event. This approach benefits from fast, predictable run times.
  • Real-time modelling – options that run models ‘on demand’ during an event. These can benefit areas where flooding can be driven by multiple variables, which are more complex to represent through pre-computed simulations.

The findings from the project will inform future Environment Agency research and development.

Want to know more?

For more information on this project contact Neil Hunter, Head of Flood Modelling.

You can also find out more about our other hydraulic modelling projects in the Knowledge Hub section of our website.

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