Journal cover Journal topic
Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 9, 1033-1046, 2009
© Author(s) 2009. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
30 Jun 2009
Significance of "high probability/low damage" versus "low probability/high damage" flood events
B. Merz1, F. Elmer1, and A. H. Thieken2 1Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ, Telegrafenberg, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
2alpS – Centre for Natural Hazard and Risk Management and University of Innsbruck, Grabenweg 3, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
Abstract. The need for an efficient use of limited resources fosters the application of risk-oriented design in flood mitigation. Flood defence measures reduce future damage. Traditionally, this benefit is quantified via the expected annual damage. We analyse the contribution of "high probability/low damage" floods versus the contribution of "low probability/high damage" events to the expected annual damage. For three case studies, i.e. actual flood situations in flood-prone communities in Germany, it is shown that the expected annual damage is dominated by "high probability/low damage" events. Extreme events play a minor role, even though they cause high damage. Using typical values for flood frequency behaviour, flood plain morphology, distribution of assets and vulnerability, it is shown that this also holds for the general case of river floods in Germany. This result is compared to the significance of extreme events in the public perception. "Low probability/high damage" events are more important in the societal view than it is expressed by the expected annual damage. We conclude that the expected annual damage should be used with care since it is not in agreement with societal priorities. Further, risk aversion functions that penalise events with disastrous consequences are introduced in the appraisal of risk mitigation options. It is shown that risk aversion may have substantial implications for decision-making. Different flood mitigation decisions are probable, when risk aversion is taken into account.

Citation: Merz, B., Elmer, F., and Thieken, A. H.: Significance of "high probability/low damage" versus "low probability/high damage" flood events, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 9, 1033-1046,, 2009.
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