The 2017 Plinius Medal is awarded to Bruno Merz for groundbreaking contributions in the field of flood risk research and practice through introducing and implementing an integrated framework of combined vulnerability and hazard assessment.
Bruno Merz has transformed the field of flood risk research and practice by introducing an integrated framework of combined vulnerability and hazard assessment. He merged the separate strands of hydrologists, economists and sociologists into one coherent framework thereby allowing more reliable and comprehensive flood risk assessment. Merz proposed and implemented a new, comprehensive vulnerability approach that accounts for psychological, socio-economic and physical factors of a flood disaster, and is grounded on a rigorous empirical basis. The findings from the surveys have had a tremendous impact on how floods are dealt with in Germany and Europe. For example, they were instrumental in bringing about changes in the German Water Resources Act §31, which now requires private households to flood-proof their oil tanks. Merz developed multi-factor damage models that account for a multitude of controls. The new type of model has been enormously influential in the field as indicated by its routine use in damage assessment. As part of introducing his integrated framework, Bruno Merz substantially contributed to understanding how humans behave during flood crises. For the first time, he provided quantitative proof of the importance of private precautions for loss reduction, both for companies and private households. Merz determined how societies learn from disasters by conducting surveys over two decades. He pinpointed the change in behaviour that proved to be the most efficient in terms of loss reduction through time-varying vulnerability models. He then accounted for psychological biases in the damage models in order to align predictive damage models with empirical results from surveys. German media coverage of Merz’s research has dramatically increased the public awareness of the need for private precautionary measures and has educated the public on methods of reducing vulnerability. Merz implemented his integrated framework of combined vulnerability and hazard assessment through a consistent flood risk modelling approach. The approach reflects the entire flood risk cascade from the atmosphere to human behaviour and damage. The approach is also spatially fully consistent and accounts for changes in the probability of both hazard and vulnerability. His integrated approach is now found in the German flood management standards (DIN 19700) and the EU Flood Directive in that a risk-oriented approach is stipulated involving cost-benefit analyses of a portfolio of flood management instruments. Merz has built a strong research group, having successfully graduated 19 PhD students and currently supervising 12 PhD students. He has over 108 peer- review publications in leading international journals, which have been cited over 3000 times in ISI. In summary, Professor Bruno Merz has transformed the field of flood risk research and practice through introducing and implementing an integrated framework of combined vulnerability and hazard assessment, which makes him eminently worthy of receiving the Plinius Medal.