Project Highlights


  • The project builds on a recent national assessment in England which generated high impact understanding of whether emergency services (Fire & Rescue; Ambulance) can reach disadvantaged populations within regulatory timeframes during flooding.
  • This project will evaluate global population vulnerability in terms of emergency service accessibility during times of flooding under climate change scenarios.
  • Findings generated from this project can be used by national and international organisations to inform their adaptation strategies.


Vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected by flooding. One ‘adaptation tracking’ study (Lesnikowski et al. 2015) examined evidence of policy change between 2010 and 2014 in 41 high-income countries and found no progress in the reported inclusion of vulnerable populations in climate adaptation policy design. Understanding who gains and who loses from climate change impacts is an important step towards resolving any inequalities and/or designing more effective adaptation measures (Adger, 2006).

Globally, Ambulance and Fire & Rescue Services are the primary emergency responders to flooding, during which demands for services often peak. ‘Surge capacity’ is needed to deal with the spike in care demands during flooding (Arent et al., 2014). Surge capacity should consider the adverse impacts of damaged transportation networks on access to and evacuation of vulnerable population. Considering surge capacity and coping strategies requires emergency services to understand the socio-economic and geographic distributions of service vulnerability.

A recent study undertaken by Loughborough University (Yu et al., in review) revealed the alarmingly low area and population coverages by emergency services within regulatory timeframes for emergency incidents in England.

Whilst this collaborative research presented many important findings, it also opened up many research opportunities. First, the analysis is restricted to England and we expect to see significant geographical differences between countries and regions globally. Second, climate change is not factored in in this study due to the lack of future flood risk maps at the time of analysis. Third, actionable risk information often needs to be expressed in monetary terms for decision makers to consider adaptation strategies. The proposed PhD project is designed to fill in these gaps. The overarching aim of this project is to identify vulnerability ‘hotspots’ of global populations in terms of emergency service provision during times of flooding of various magnitude under climate change.


Figure 1: Care homes in England that fall outside (red pluses) of the Ambulance 7-minute service area (blue areas): (a) 1 in 30 year surface water flood event; (b) 1 in 100 year surface water flood event; (c) 1 in 1000 year surface water flood event (Yu et al., in Review). No climate change is considered in this study.


The research will take a “hotspot” approach to map the flood impacts on the spatial coverage of emergency services within certain timeframes (Coles et al., 2017; Green et al., 2017; Yu et al. in review) at the global scale.

This study will utilise emerging Big Geographical and Climate Data, including: (i) a global road network; (ii) current and projected global population, and (iii) global fluvial and coastal flood risk maps associated with 9 probabilities under 4 emission scenarios (present, 2050, 2080), provided by a project partner. Global analysis will be validated using the high-resolution analysis already undertaken for the UK and US using local flood risk maps for the current days. Global vulnerability hotspots will be identified. Economic assessment will further develop a methodology developed at Loughborough University.

Training and Skills

Training will be provided for the student to gain the core skills sets, in areas including:

  • state-of-the-art skills to analyse global datasets
  • geographical methods for evaluating risks
  • GIS, and relevant programming skills
  • modelling techniques for surface water flooding, on a global scale

This project allows students to develop several key skill sets identified by NERC as ‘most wanted’ for employment in environment sector.

A week of unpaid work shadowing within the Environment Agency will be arranged. Training at the Institute for Environmental Studies at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam will be arranged. Additional training needs will be reviewed periodically with the student.


Year 1: The student will get trained in the key skill sets, undertake literature review, finalise the project scope, and source further datasets required for the project. Initial data processing will be undertaken.

Year 2: The student will undertake further data processing (using programming scripts), especially the flood risk maps under climate change, into formats that geographical analysis requires. Sub-models will be developed to automate the process and generate the hotspot maps associated with each scenario.

Year 3: The final model will be generated by linking the sub-models together. The process of hotspots generation will be fully automated, which will allow specification of datasets (e.g. flood scenarios, country and vulnerable population locations), parameters (e.g. timeframe, traffic conditions and geographical regions). Model will be compared with our UK and US studies. Student will disseminate the model in national and international conferences and engage with stakeholders directly and evaluate how it can be used to support decision making.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

  1. Environment Agency: a project partner under the current NERC project on national assessment of emergency response vulnerability in England
  2. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam: a global leader in flood risk management


Further Details

For information about this project, please contact Dr Dapeng Yu (d.yu2@lboro.ac.uk). For enquiries about the application process, please contact SocSciResearch@lboro.ac.uk. Please quote CENTA18-LU8 when completing your online application form: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/study/apply/research/.