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Data interoperability a key for disaster risk reduction in Europe

In a number of European countries, there is a clear imbalance between long-term disaster risk reduction and short-term preparation, according to a new study. With increasing amounts of data, there is a potential for investments in long-term reduction measures, but data availability is not enough. Jenny Sjåstad Hagen, co-author of the study, writes about the importance of data interoperability.

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Written by Jenny Sjåstad Hagen, PhD candidate at the Bjerknes Centre and the Geophysical Institute at the University of Bergen.

A stronger science-policy interface has long been advocated; yet, recent surveys and interviews with stakeholders and Sendai National Focal Points in Europe conducted by the European Science and Technology Advisory Group (E-STAG) confirm a persistent imbalance between ex-ante and ex-post disaster risk reduction. In a number of countries across Europe, disaster risk reduction is dominated by emergency relief, response and recovery (ex-post), evidently leaving unexploited potential for long-term and short-term prevention and preparedness measures (ex-ante).

As goes unsaid, higher resistance and resilience prior to an event reduce the damage and recovery time. In other words, a greater focus on investments in ex-ante disaster risk reduction – based on available science, technology and data – can benefit the larger region of Europe in mitigating, managing and adapting to natural and natech hazards in a changing climate. 

Key to exploiting this potential is the availability, accessibility and interoperability of quality-controlled data. However, while availability of and accessibility to quality-controlled data from remote sensing products, ground sensors and monitor devices continuously increase, several barriers to data interoperability preclude the use for disaster risk reduction-oriented actions. A first step to enhancing data interoperability for disaster risk reduction is identifying heterogeneous factors to these aforementioned barriers originating in non-exclusive domains; this preliminary step is dealt with in the recent article written by a selection of E-STAG members.


Illustrative setup of the role of data interoperability in disaster risk reduction.

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The E-STAG was established in Sofia, Bulgaria, in April 2018 as a joint initiative from the European Commission and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. The E-STAG currently consists of 15 experts nominated by Member States (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Israel, Italy, Montenegro, The Netherlands, Russian Federation, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, The United Kingdom and Northern Ireland), four thematic experts (fire risk, space-based information, data interoperability, and disaster risk management) and two young scientists (Norway and Spain).

As a link between global platforms and national authorities, the E-STAG intends to strengthen the science-policy interface in Europe by providing scientific and technical advice, supporting the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, and contributing to the related Sustainable Development Goals. 

According to surveys and interviews conducted by the E-STAG, main barriers to data interoperability in Europe originate in the technical, economic and political domains, with prominent examples including lack of standardization, challenges in data disaggregation and restrictive data protection policies. Furthermore, data collected for specific purposes often lack the content, format or metadata needed for transfer and use in other contexts. Data interoperability affects all phases of the disaster risk management cycle from local to national and regional level.

Although initiatives have been established to enhance data interoperability at regional level in Europe – including the recent approval by the European Parliament of the Open Data and Public Sector Information Directive  – this article argues that barriers to data interoperability, once identified, should be addressed directly and bottom-up in order to tackle the imbalance between ex-ante and ex-post disaster risk reduction.  


Migliorini, M.; Hagen, J. S.; Mihaljević, J.; Mysiak, J.; Rossi, J-L.; Siegmund, A.; Meliksetian, K. and Sapir, D. G. (2019): Data Interoperability for Disaster Risk Reduction in Europe. Disaster Prevention and Management, Emerald Publishing. DOI: 10.1108/DPM-09-2019-0291

This is also publised at the web-pages of The Bjerknes Centre for climate research.