Dordrecht

Karin Noeverman, Thomas Jansen, Ellen Kelder, Sten Hagen (Dordrecht City Council); Helena de Jong (NLDA)

Dordrecht is a medium sized city with 118,826 inhabitants located in the South-western part of the Netherlands in the province of Zuid-Holland.

The municipality forms an island that is surrounded by rivers, a large part of the land is embanked in order to protect it during high water levels. To the west the city is protected by the Dutch Delta Works against the North Sea, and to the east the city has to cope with the river water from the Rhine and the Meuse.

Flooding as a result of a dike breach is the main disaster risk to which Dordrecht is exposed. Most of the city lies within the embanked area, which is formed by a dike ring that protects the ‘Island of Dordrecht’.

If a dike breach would occur the urban areas would be faced with an average water height between 2 to 4 meters on top of the local street level. The main vulnerabilities of Dordrecht are its location within the delta and the fact that it is an island.

In recent history Dordrecht has not experienced disasters. The last flooding of the embanked area occurred in 1953 which resulted in a large amount of damage. This same flood event resulted in a large disaster in the nearby province of Zeeland and some neighboring municipalities.

The worst flood disaster with the biggest impact in Dordrecht dates back to 1421. This disaster dates back a long time but it has had a major negative effect on the development of the city

Especially the 1953 disaster is well known in the Netherlands and included in history school books. In the night of 31 January 1953 a spring tide combined with a north-westerly storm caused dike breaks at over 900 locations in the South West of the Netherlands. 2000 km2 was flooded and 1835 people drowned. The effects of the flood were long-lasting, for the region but also for the country as a whole (Wesselink et al. 2007).

The effects of the flood were long-lasting, for the region but also for the country as a whole

Dordrecht only just escaped the disastrous effects of the Great Flood with the primary dike ring around the city remaining intact because the dike rings of the Hoeksche Waard and the Alblasserwaard broke and took the pressure away.

The water however did enter the northern part of the city and caused severe damage to buildings and infrastructures. In the following weeks, Dordrecht functioned as a sanctuary for refugees from hard hit surrounding areas, sheltering victims in public buildings and inhabitants’ homes (Leydesdorff 1994).

The area is prone to regular flooding of the quays and in the basement areas of houses

Currently most of the city is protected by embankments, with a small part of the old city centre outside these embankments. This is a unique situation within the Netherlands, where almost all the land is protected by embankments, especially if the land is inhabited. In Dordrecht a lot of the heritage of the city is located in the Historic Harbour area (unembanked). There are many national and municipal monumental buildings (e.g. houses). Because this area is unembanked, it is prone to regular flooding of the quays and in the basement areas of houses.

Rationale and general objectives of Dordrecht

Flooding as a result of a dike breach is the main disaster risk to which Dordrecht is exposed. Most of the city lies within the embanked area, which is formed by a dike ring that protects the ‘Island of Dordrecht’. If a dike breach would occur the urban areas would be faced with an average water height between 2 to 4 meters on top of the local street level.

It is estimated that preventive evacuation is possible for 12% of the population. There is a realistic chance that the evacuation would lead to traffic jams on the island

The main vulnerabilities of Dordrecht are its location within the delta and the fact that it is an island. Due to these factors in combination with the short prediction time of extreme storm events (1-2 days in advance) and dangerous weather conditions during storms, preventive evacuation of inhabitants of the island of Dordrecht is very limited.

It is estimated that preventive evacuation is possible for 12% of the population. There is a realistic chance that the evacuation would lead to traffic jams on the island, due to the fact that the neighboring municipalities are also threatened in such a situation and road capacity towards the safer areas is limited.

If evacuees are surprised by the rising water during their evacuation, their survival chance is severely lowered

If evacuees are surprised by the rising water during their evacuation, their survival chance is suddenly severely lowered. For these evacuees the alternative option of vertical evacuation is expected to reduce the number of victims.

Vertical evacuation is evacuation towards a higher/dryer place within one’s own house, neighboring buildings or shelters within a high zone in the threatened area.

Few examples of cultural related DRR activities have taken place within Dordrecht. We have used social media, dedicated water websites, water ambassadors and the water safety exhibition to connect with residents and establish a network in which we can enhance awareness with regard to water safety.

However these activities did never take into account the different cultural groups that are present within the municipality. We did learn that with these activities we often only reached white ‘elderly’ people. This means that many of the research DRR activities and plans only reach a certain group within the population. The majority of the population is not reached with the current DRR communication of the Municipality of Dordrecht.

Network of actors for Dordrecht CS

Dordrecht already cooperates with many actors on its DRR activities. All these actors are presented in the figure below, with civilian actors in the top left, companies in the top right, knowledge institutes bottom rights and governmental actors bottom left.

Image of networks in Dordrecht

The most important actors within the network of Dordrecht are those that contribute to the general DRR and evacuation plan for Dordrecht. The main actors next to Dordrecht in the creation process of this plan are the safety region Zuid-Holland Zuid and Waterschap Hollandse Delta. Other important actors that work on this are Rijkswaterstaat and the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment.

Potential activities within EDUCEN framework

Dordrecht has not yet outlined a methodological approach to its WP3 pilot activities. So far studies that will identify and analyse the different urban cultures / community groups have been discussed as an option.

This will be done by students with a combined study of literature research and fieldwork with interviews in Dordrecht. Furthermore a combined work effort has been discussed between Dordrecht and the WU in the field of risk communication; in order to reach the communities that have so far not been reached.

What Dordrecht hopes to have as an outcome from EDUCEN is summarized below;

  • To differentiate between relevant urban cultures / community groups / topographical groups for DRR for flooding
  • To connect with individuals or organisations representing such groups
  • To communicate (using e.g. games) the flooding scenarios, response plan and response capabilities to the different groups
  • To develop an understanding of the effectiveness of the response plan for the different groups, in order to increase their capacity for resilience.
  • To understand from these groups what their needs are regarding e.g. risk / crisis communication and support actions
  • To understand from these groups what their mechanisms (e.g. elements or networks) are to enhance the capacity for resilience
  • To formulate and communicate (realistic) response options for specific groups
  • To integrate culture into the development of a new response plan by referencing to the different groups
  • To set-up a registration of vulnerable individuals / groups in order to speed up support (e.g. evacuation) actions

Case study

The municipality of Dordrecht has used social media, dedicated water websites, water ambassadors and a water safety exhibition to connect with residents and establish a network throughout which people’s awareness with regard to water safety can be enhanced.

Many of these DRR activities and plans only reach a certain group within the population, which in general can be described as white elderly male residents

However, many of these DRR activities and plans only reach a certain group within the population, which in general can be described as white elderly male residents. Municipal DRR activities are often attended by representatives of this group, while other groups are often not reached with the current DRR communication of the municipality. The focus of Dordrecht as case study in the EDUCEN project is on cultural memory.

The flood event of 1953 has had a major impact on the city. Several features in present day Dordrecht are reminders of what happened during the flood of 1953. Examples of what can be found within the current public domain are: around 40 photos of the high water event are placed on street corners, there are monuments, and flood level marks of the water height during flooding can be found on buildings.

Besides these physical mementos many elderly people residing in the city have experienced the flooding themselves.

As personal experiences with flooding seemed to have boosted awareness with regard to water safety, the municipality of Dordrecht started to reach out to the elderly people and explore how their experiences with water, particularly with the event of 1953, shaped their current attitudes and perceptions of disaster and disaster risk management.

In order to investigate intangible forms of memory, five focus group interviews have been conducted with eye witnesses of the 1953 disaster. In total 18 (14 male, 4 female) persons participated in the interviews with each focus group consisting of 3 or 4 participants.

All respondents were eye witnesses of the flood but not all respondents lived in Dordrecht, some experienced the event in the province of Zeeland or South Holland where the consequences of the flooding were more severe than in Dordrecht.

The participants were young at the time of the disasters, many were not even adults with the youngest respondent being 6 at the time of the disaster. The central topic during these discussions revolved around people’s memories, feelings and behavior regarding flood safety in Dordrecht. They were also asked what role their memories currently play.

They had very vivid memories of the disaster. Cultural memory can function as a knowledge repository

What immediately became apparent from the interviews was that they all had very vivid memories of the disaster. In the conceptual part it was found that cultural memory can function as a knowledge repository, that cultural memory of disaster informs community interpretation of and reaction to new disasters, and that it has an explanatory function. An interesting result was that most respondents mentioned that they do not think of the Great Flood very often.

However, all respondents pointed out some specific occasions or situations in which their memories on the disaster were triggered. This indicates that both tangible forms of cultural memory such as memorials and adaptations in the environment do serve as a reminder and as a knowledge repository of what happened.

Furthermore is was found that several respondents started talking about having respect for the water. These statements suggests that the cultural memory of disaster is better understood by people who personally experienced the disastrous event than by people who do not have previous experience.

Despite their memories and their realization of the power of the water, the respondents remarked that they feel very safe today.

Whereas some note that the water is very unpredictable and chances are not zero that nothing will ever happen again, in general, the respondents feel protected by the Delta Works. Consequently, the majority of respondents do not engage in adaptive practices.

Red Cross exercise in Dordrecht

On 14 March 2015, the Dutch Red Cross organised the first Civic Assistance exercise (burgerhulpoefening) in the Netherlands, with the name ‘Get Ready2Help’.

The exercise was carried out in Dordrecht after a fictitious dike breach. Ready2Help is a civilian support network initiated by the Dutch Red Cross. It is intended to support the professional aid that provides the first action after an emergency. Ready2Help is established for other activities, to limit the consequences of a disaster and to give victims the best possible support. Via an app people can sign up to the network and they will get a text message when an emergency occurs in the neighbourhood where they could help.

During the physical exercise in Dordrecht a total of 300 Ready2Helpers were called upon to carry out activities during a training situation that the Red Cross considers to be realistic in a real deployment of Ready2Help. These activities included: filling of sandbags, reinforcing the embankment with sandbags, cleaning up the neighbourhood, provide support to residents with all kinds of work, and a deployment to safeguard cultural heritage.

Future work in Dordrecht

Actively transmitting cultural memory of disasters to next generations remains a large challenge in Dordrecht with regard to flood experiences. The municipality has explored the experiences of elderly with regard to the 1953 event and how these experiences shape their current attitudes and perceptions of flood risk management.

The next step is to apply the knowledge and awareness of elderly people to increase flood risk awareness among other populations in Dordrecht, particularly to youngsters. Youths present an valuable target group for several reasons.

Dordrecht currently explores the possibility of joining the case study of Volos in developing a serious game on cultural memory

Go to the Volos case study

First, they do not seem aware of water related risks in the city. Second, they are relatively easy to reach through schools or sports, and third, it is expected that they can transmit their knowledge to their parents and families, ensuring a considerable reach. Dordrecht currently explores the possibility of joining the case study of Volos in developing a serious game on cultural memory. This game uses memory on disaster and risk already present in the city to enhance disaster risk awareness among all residents via young people. Games are very well suited for transferring knowledge.

Games have a positive contribution to the learning process because they are experimental, the players can experience complex situations and test new strategies without having to deal with the real consequences of their decisions. Serious games furthermore create a fun environment which facilitates debate between people who are not otherwise not brought together.

For these reasons, serious gaming as a learning approach can be particularly relevant in cultural memory. A serious game on cultural memory of previous disasters in Dordrecht is expected to be developed early 2017.

The municipality of Dordrecht also wants to map and analyse the social networks in Dordrecht, which are seen as very useful in case of a disaster. There is also an important role for the Red Cross as an intermediate between the municipality and the citizens, in which the Ready2Help network is very valuable.