Although ensemble prediction systems (EPS) are increasingly promoted as the scientific state-of-the-art for operational flood forecasting, the communication, perception, and use of the resulting alerts have received much less attention. Using a variety of qualitative research methods, including direct user feedback at training workshops, participant observation during site visits to 25 forecasting centres across Europe, and in-depth interviews with 69 forecasters, civil protection officials, and policy makers involved in operational flood risk management in 17 European countries, this article discusses the perception, communication, and use of European Flood Alert System (EFAS) alerts in operational flood management. In particular, this article describes how the design of EFAS alerts has evolved in response to user feedback and desires for a hydrographic-like way of visualizing EFAS outputs. It also documents a variety of forecaster perceptions about the value and skill of EFAS forecasts and the best way of using them to inform operational decision making. EFAS flood alerts were generally welcomed by flood forecasters as a sort of 'pre-alert' to spur greater internal vigilance. In most cases, however, they did not lead, by themselves, to further preparatory action or to earlier warnings to the public or emergency services. Their hesitancy to act in response to medium-term, probabilistic alerts highlights some wider institutional obstacles to the hopes in the research community that EPS will be readily embraced by operational forecasters and lead to immediate improvements in flood incident management. The EFAS experience offers lessons for other hydrological services seeking to implement EPS operationally for flood forecasting and warning.
- Flood warnings
- Risk communication