#FloodHack - Help improve the Global Flood Awareness System

ECMWF | Reading | 16-17 January 2016


ECMWF hosted a hackathon for developing tools to save lives worldwide by stimulating and improving the Global Flood Awareness System, which provides global forecasts of extreme flood events. GloFAS is used by international institutes like the Red Cross and World Food Programme as an information tool during crisis. We were looking for innovative ideas to improve the current system to make it easier and more flexible to use, for example  to develop a lightweight version (mobile app?) of the system to facilitate system exploitation in the field or to use other available data sources to create new features. The #FloodHack was supported by the Copernicus Emergency Management Service.


  • Find all the projects on Devpost
  • Read all about the data on Hackpad
  • Review the hundreds of tweets tagged with #FloodHack
  • Have a look at photos of the weekend on flickr


Flooding has the highest frequency of occurrence of all types of natural disasters across the globe, accounting for 39% of all natural disasters since 2000. Flood events affect millions of people every year through displacement from homes, unsafe drinking water, destruction of infrastructure, and injury and loss of life. On average, each year, more than 5,500 people are getting killed by floods and more than 94million people are affected worldwide. With an increasing global population, including those living in flood-prone areas, the anticipation and forecasting of flood events is key to managing, preparing for and protecting from severe events, from local to national and international scales.

Producing forecasts at the global scale has only become possible in recent years, due to the emergence of new developments and capabilities of forecasting systems, integration of meteorological and hydrological modelling capabilities, improvements in data, satellite observations and land surface hydrology modelling, and increased resources and computer power. Global flood forecasts have little financial value and thus for example the current Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS) was created through the volunteer enthusiasm of a few individuals.

Although we can produce these forecasts, there is still a long way to go in order to make them usable in particular for NGOs. The GloFAS system is currently used in a pilot project by the International Red Cross for forecast based finance. The project recognizes there are often forecasts available but no humanitarian organization with resources to act before disaster, which can be far more effective than post-disaster response (http://www.climatecentre.org/programmes-engagement/forecast-based-financing). These pilots will disburse humanitarian funding as soon as a forecast threshold is crossed and before a potential disaster.

However, to be effective, the system needs to be accessible and usable to a wide range of individuals . This highlighted the limitations of the system, and more help and volunteers are needed to make it more usable and useful for a wider user base.


Data Model

Currently the flood forecast output format are PCRaster maps. Output maps are processed and the result of this phase are mostly shape files, geo-referenced images (PNG) and XML files that are displayed using MapServer through www.globalfloods.eu. Output maps also are available in netCDF and could benefit from new systems like ncWMS and THREDDS Data Server. At present we have daily forecasts starting from 2008 freely available on www.globalfloods.eu.


  • Analyse existing work/data flows in GloFAS and propose alternative data storage, formats and services depending on the data type and usage
  • Monitoring of the events through entire life-cycle focusing on data/services interoperability (coupling GloFAS with monitoring, crisis management and recovery tools)
  • Identify new external services to be coupled with GloFAS (e.g. satellite tracking, activation, social media monitoring, crowd-sourcing)
  • Support a new way of combining GloFAS with other available services like OGC:SOS and/or OGC:WCS
  • Support new ways of harvesting data to create new functionality

Forecast and data visualisation

The forecasts are mainly disseminated through www.globalfloods.eu. The web-portal is currently based on Django, HTML5, OpenLayers 3 and some JavaScript patterns.


  • Innovative ways of displaying the maps and time series. This could be for example more interactive tools, personalising displays etc.
  • Support new ways of storing and following events for improving the post-analysis (crowd sourcing, Common Alerting Protocol)
  • Support new methods of cartographic visualisation in web applications
  • Support development of new apps and their exploitation in different fields (transport, land use, agro-meteorological sensors, forestry) and for different user needs
  • Support the creation of a user-data-service, for example to get the annual averages (climate) for a certain area


Craig Hogan, Founder, Dev4Good

Craig is the founder of Dev4Good a UK based community of tech volunteers who meet to work on ideas/problems/projects for charities and organisations focussed on helping others.
By day he works as a professional software developer and by night tinkers with code, technology and the odd startup here and there too.

Ben Ward, Founder, Flood Network

Ben is founder of seed funded startup Flood Network, creating the largest network of flood sensors in the UK.

By getting out and building an Internet of Things demonstrator in Oxford Ben has showed how smart cities can address specific needs, and add community to the conversation using low-cost sensing techniques. Bringing over 20 years experience of designing and operating telecoms networks to the problem of flood response, he's spent the last few years really trying to understand how to apply the technology to problems that matter, uncovering the real value in IoT.

Simon Hodgkinson, Founder and CEO, Smart Earth Network

Simon is Founder and CEO of Smart Earth Network which brings conservationists and technologist together to reimagine the way we conserve nature using IOT and other technology. Simon has worked for 30 years as an international management consultant working in environment and technology, notably with Deloitte's where he was a partner.

Davide Muraro, Web Technologist, European Joint Research Centre (JRC)

Davide is experienced in web technologies development and GIS programming. He has been working for the Institute of Environment and Sustainability (IES) at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Ispra (Italy) as web developer for various EU projects mainly in the flood forecasting context like www.efas.eu and www.globalfloods.eu.

Karl Hennermann, Crisis Mapper, MapAction / ECMWF / Copernicus

Karl Hennermann is an experienced volunteer with the crisis mapping charity MapAction. With MapAction Karl deployed to flood events all over the world to help responders with mapping and information management. He also leads the technical team at MapAction. In his day job he previously worked in Higher Education and just started a new job at the ECMWF.


Prizes were awarded for the best submissions and ideas: 

1st Price £600 in vouchers

2nd price £300 in vouchers

3rd price £150 in vouchers

A donation equivalent to the above was made to the Red Cross for the Forecast Finance Project pilot site in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania).

Judging criteria

  • potential for innovation
  • relevance / usefulness
  • technical merit
  • design / user experience / polish
  • "wow" factor


The Hackathon took place at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts on 16/17 January from 9:00 (Saturday) -18:00 (Sunday).

Breakfast, lunch and dinner were provided on Saturday, breakfast and lunch on the Sunday. During the day participants also had the opportunity to visit the Centre's supercomputer - the 2nd fastest computer in the UK!

Bring your own laptop and other devices you want to work on as well as any necessary cables, chargers and other accessories. Power sockets and wifi will be available.


Saturday 16 January

08:45-09:15 Shuttles from the station to ECMWF (look out of someone with a #FloodHack sign, near the taxi ranks)

09:00 Breakfast and registration

10:00 Introduction to GloFAS and the challenges

11:00 Form teams and start hacking

13:00 Lunch

18:00 Tour of the ECMWF Data centre (incl. super computer & data archive)

19:30 Dinner

Sunday 17 January

08:00 Breakfast is served

13:00 Working Lunch

14:00 Show & Tell

15:30 Judges deliberate

16:00 Drinks and award ceremony

17:30 Doors close

17:30 Pub in Reading Town centre

More information on the system

GloFAS is a freely available tool to provide early warnings of major floods globally. It couples state-of-the art numerical weather forecasts with a hydrological routing to provide probabilistic forecasts of flood hazards in a global river network. GloFAS provides national institutes and international organisations (e. g. Red Cross, World Food programme) with crucial information of where extreme flows can be expected up to two weeks in advance.

GloFAS has produced daily flood forecasts in a pre-operational manner since June 2011 and has already shown its potential during the floods in Pakistan in August 2013 and in Sudan in September 2013. The system undergoes rapid development, and a new version was released on 2 December 2015.

The users of the GloFAS includes national and regional water authorities, water resource managers, hydropower companies, civil protection and first line responders, and international humanitarian aid organisations.

More information on GloFAS data and methods are available on the Data and Services page.

The Hackathon is supported by the Copernicus Emergency Management Service - Early Warning Systems and we are very grateful for the provision of the prizes.


Florian Pappenberger
Fredrik Wetterhall
Julia Wagemann