New platform for protection of Austrian infrastructure from natural disasters


"In the near future, Austria's energy, transport, communication and supply networks will require better protection from natural disasters," declares Dr. Heinz Kaupa, technical Director of the Board of VERBUND-Austrian Power Grid AG (APG). "That is why we are launching a new platform for the protection of our domestic infrastructure from natural disasters."

The language of damage statistics is clear: In the past four years alone, insured damage claims in Austria resulting from natural disasters have almost tripled from 123,000 to 319,000, as has the damage sum, from Euro 150 to Euro 393 million. "However, from a national economic viewpoint, the damage is even greater, by a multiple factor," says Kaupa. The supra-regional extra-high voltage grid shows just how expensive a power failure in the supply grids can be in Austria. Kaupa states: "A large-area blackout lasting just one hour causes national economic damage of approx. Euro 40 million."

"We are not so much concerned with making Austria's infrastructure more expensive," says Kaupa, "what we intend to do is make it safer. Our initiative, in which to participate we would like to invite all other infrastructural operators in Austria, aims at achieving three goals: one, to coordinate protective measures; two, to increase the security of supply, and three, to minimize consequential damages."

ÖBB creates natural disaster charts
"The Austrian national railroad, which, with its transport network extending over 5,700 kilometres, is particularly vulnerable to different natural disasters, is working hard at establishing protective measures to withstand climate change consequences," explains Dipl.-Ing. Herwig Wiltberger, Member of the Board of ÖBB-Infrastruktur Betrieb AG. Thus, currently, the new project "natural disaster chart" includes charting, prioritizing and long-term planning of the entirety of railroad tracks in Austria based on their individual endangerment potential.

Over the past years, ÖBB investments for disaster emergencies have increased significantly: Whereas in 2005 a total volume of Euro 51 million had to be invested, this sum had risen to Euro 77 million in 2006. Now, after an amount of Euro 60 million in 2007, another Euro 77 million is expected for 2008.

"We at ÖBB accept the challenges arising from the climate change in the sense of a comprehensive risk management, actively and progressively," Wiltberger comments. Thus, there a special natural hazard troop consisting of nine engineers and 110 additional skilled employees has been established. Among others, these are working on 165 kilometres of rockslide and avalanche control, an area of 2,700 hectares of rock and stone, as well as 2,800 hectares of protective forest area.

The internal early detection system INFRA, which also works with ÖBB own weather stations and sends out storm warnings, is already being used. An own improved module for floods and forest fires is being worked on. Existing alarm systems, for the March region, for instance, are to be dynamised.

Verbund Grid Company launches comprehensive program
"Even power grids can be damaged by natural disasters. This is why Verbund-Netzgesellschaft APG, Austria's leading transporter of electricity, is intensifying and promoting further development in the area of risk analysis, early detection and prevention," explains Dipl.-Ing. Klaus Kaschnitz, research coordinator at VERBUND-Austrian Power Grid AG. The 53 substations and the transmission lines of APG, extending over a distance of 3400 km, constitute the backbone of Austria's security of supply. Dangers posed to this infrastructure originate above all from avalanches, mudslides, rock or land slides, as well as flooding, lightning, storms, and snow or ice loads.

Therefore, APG has launched a comprehensive program for the protection from extreme natural hazards. This scheme involves inspecting and categorizing the degree of endangerment of APG systems that are exposed to particular external conditions.

"The fall of 2008 will see an important upgrade to the early detection system in Austria's power control centre," states Kaschnitz. In addition to the existing modules such as weather radar, satellite images, weather station data and lightning radar, this improvement will also include the integration of high-resolution forecast data of ZAMG/Central Institute for Meteorology & Geodynamics. Thus, in future, values expected for the respective next 72 hours with regard to precipitation, temperature, global radiation or snow line, with a lattice point resolution of 2x2 km, will be available at the APG power control centre. This way, in connection with automated alarm features, critical situations can be detected at an early stage.

Insurance companies: Collaboration with other sectors and science
"Since the middle of the 1990s, figures and consequences of natural disasters have been growing significantly in Austria as well," comments Mag. Rupert Pichler, meteorologist at the insurance company Allianz Elementar Versicherung in Vienna. "In the past four years alone, damages have quadrupled. Plus, more than virtually any other European country, Austria is exposed to a plethora of hazards posed by natural disasters." Pichler says that insurance companies are highly interested in prevention, but also in improved risk appraisal models. These models serve to aid first-time insurers in establishing precise capital requirements and optimal coverage. Pichler: "We are dependent upon collaboration with other sectors and science. This makes it easier for insurance companies to have some control over the natural hazard risk."   

Climatologist: Reducing vulnerability to weather extremes
"Climate research assumes that the mean global temperature increase in the 20th century of approx. 0.7 degrees (Celsius?) is attributable to two thirds to human activity," says Dr. Christoph Matulla, climatologist at ZAMG/Central Institute of Meteorology and Geodynamics in Vienna. "And the climate is changing ever more rapidly. Thus, from both a national economic and other perspectives, there's no time like the present to start reducing vulnerability to weather extremes by initiating innovative adaptation measures."