Czech authorities to hold three-day flood simulation exercise

Floods in Prague, 2002

The Czech Republic is still counting the costs from the two devastating floods that hit the country in 1997 and 2002. Just this week in fact the Agriculture Ministry released a report estimating the financial cost of the two great floods at more than 150 billion crowns, or 7.3 billion US dollars. To ensure the country is better prepared for another calamity, the emergency services are about to hold a three-day simulation exercise.

Floods in Prague,  2002
The devastating floods of 1997 and 2002 still bring back a lot of painful memories for people in this country. The 1997 catastrophe, mostly affecting North Moravia, left more than 50 dead and thousands of homes destroyed. In 2002, the floods came again, inundating towns and cities across the Czech Republic, including the capital Prague. This time the authorities were better prepared - just 17 people died - although damage to homes and businesses was enormous.

To make sure they're even better primed the next time round, the emergency services and local councils are about to stage a three-day simulation exercise, testing response mechanisms put in place after the two big floods. Petr Kopacek is the spokesman for the Czech fire brigade.

"The Czech Republic - its individual state and local authorities - are far better prepared for a largescale flood compared to 1997 and 2002. As far as the fire brigade's concerned, we've passed a whole series of measures in the last ten years to improve our flood readiness. They include new equipment, new communication plans, improving the emergency hotlines, introducing the new pan-European 112 emergency number and improving the operational and information centres."

Wednesday sees the start of a three-day simulation exercise, to test just how well the emergency services and local authorities respond to a similar catastrophe. The exercise, dubbed Vltava Labe 2007, will be held across six regions as well as the capital Prague, encompassing 135 towns and villages along the Vltava, Labe and Ohre rivers and bringing in representatives of the Interior, Defence and Environment Ministries.

The exercise aims to mimic the mounting difficulties that a real flood brings, ratcheting up the pressure each day and testing responses. On Day One, emergency co-ordinators will have to deal with reports of heavy rain and rising river levels, and local flood committees will begin sitting. On Day Two, officials will practice informing citizens and ordering the first evacuations - fictional of course. Day Three will see the flood waters culminate, and the Central Crisis Command will meet. The prime minister will decide whether to declare a state of emergency in the regions concerned.

Petr Kopacek told me no simulation can perfectly replicate reality. But with this extensive three-day exercise, the Czech authorities are testing their readiness to fight a devastating flood to the full.