Flood Protection

City of Dortmund, Germany


In Dortmund the fire brigade faced an unusual flood event in July 2008. A locally restricted but very heavy rainfall exceeded the capacity of the sewer system and caused damage. The response was not appropriate and too slow because of the unusual intensity of the event.


Dortmund, a city of half a million inhabitants, is located in the catchment area of three river-systems. Normally these rivers don’t represent any significant flood risk for the city. Nevertheless a three hour, locally restricted heavy rainfall led to flooding and high damage of property in 2008. The amount of precipitation reached the level of 200 mm, which is more than double the average of July 2008. The reason was a “stationary” thunder storm cell with hail and strong squalls.

The fact that the rain was locally restricted made for a particular challenge. Only few kilometres away in the fire brigade centre there was no unusual rainfall which led to officers misjudging the situation.


After this event a study was commissioned to evaluate the operation and to draw the right conclusions. The study found that the rainfall represented a 100-year event, exceeding by far any other rain since the beginning of intense rain recordings in 1937. It went on to state, that the urban drainage system was completely functional but not designed for such an event. It pointed to the need to take into account the EU Flood Risk Management Plan and to establish a municipal flood control officer.


Implementing the recommendations of the study led to the following activities:

  • Launch a flood protection working group
  • Elaborate an emergency plan “Civil Protection”, in cooperation with the Fire Department and the Federal Agency for Technical Relief
  • Elaborate an information flyer concerning flood prevention measures
  • Carry out a hydrodynamic sewer network calculation to assess the flood risk of the urban sewer system
  • Appoint a municipal flood prevention officer
  • Establish a general flood prevention plan (concerning water and sewage system) for Dortmund
  • Improve the technical facilities, purchase of mobile high capacity flood pumps


The implementation of the administrative requirements led to a flood checklist for land-use plans and the improvement of the response capacity.

Flood checklist for land-use plans:

Water bodies - Is the area of the land-use plan located within a flood plain of a water body? If so (regardless of the planning permission):

  • Is it ensured that the existing retention area remains?
  • Is it ensured that there is not storage of substances hazardous to waters in the land-use plan?
  • Is it ensured that no oil-heating will be realized?
  • It the area of the land-use plan located within a flood-prone area? If, was an appropriate risk assessment / analysis conducted?

Sewer system - How is the drain of the run-off rain water managed?

An improvement of responsiveness could be achieved by acquiring additional off-road vehicles and pumps.


The fire brigade in Dortmund is ready to respond effectively to the next unusual flood event. It was important to understand the specific and exact shortcomings in order to develop a targeted and effective response.

Further Information


Published: 04/05/2015


Detlev Harries

Fire and Ambulance Services Dortmund



Categories: Good Urban Governance crisis management and disaster preparedness Integrated urban development Cities and climate change
Regions: Europe Germany Dortmund


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