Deadly Floods in Belgium — A Monumental Intelligence Failure? [UPDATE : Belgium opens manslaughter investigation]

“The fact that people didn’t evacuate or get the warnings suggests that something is going wrong. If you’ve got some information about what risk you’re at and you can understand it, you can take action to protect yourself. These floods were huge. Probably they were like a fantasy or a kind of science-fiction movie for people.”

Hannah Cloke — Professor of hydrology at Reading University

July 20 2021 — Belgium and Germany knew that huge floods were coming. Yet, the early warnings were not passed to the population. Scientists believe that this ‘monumental failure of the system’ is directly to blame for the death of at least 200 people in Germany and Belgium. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

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UPDATE (July 29 2021) — On Wednesday, the prosecutors office in the city of Liege announced that a Belgian judge has opened an investigation for possible manslaughter.

The investigating magistrate will look at whether possible failings in the alert system caused the death of 41 people.

The judge — believed to be Jean-Marc Mottet — has the task of identifying who might be responsible for “involuntary homicide by lack of foresight or precaution.” 

Clear and Present Danger — There is no doubt whatsoever that Belgian authorities received early warnings of imminent flooding.

For instance, Intel Today can reveal that this warning was available on July 12 2021. Although, the warning is precise and accurate, nothing was done.

Despite this warning, and 23 others, the critical Vesdre dam was kept at near full level until July 13 2021.

When the authorities finally decided to open the dam in the middle of the night, the village downstream was devastated. A night-watch who witnessed the event describes the scene as a tsunami. The inhabitants of the village were not warned to evacuate.

The work of an investigating magistrate is secret. No information will be provided to the media. When his report is transmitted to the prosecutors office, they will decide whether to close the case or to prosecute the person(s) who might be responsible.

What if? If there is a trial, it already seems that the likely accused will argue that they acted in a case of ‘force majeure’.

For a defendant to invoke force majeure in Belgium law, the event proposed must pass three tests: 1/ Externality 2/ Unpredictability and 3/ Irresistibility.

About unpredictability — If the event could be foreseen, the defendant is obligated to have prepared for it. Being unprepared for a foreseeable event leaves the defendant culpable.

This standard is very strictly applied. In France, the Council of State adjudged that, since a flood had occurred 69 years before the one that caused the damage at issue, the latter flood was predictable. [CE 9 April 1962, “Chais d’Armagnac”]

The event that caused the death of 41 people was certainly not unpredictable. As a matter of fact, the flooding had been accurately predicted.

Intel Today can also reveal that the EFAS warnings are now forwarded to Belgian organizations which were not informed at the time of the disaster. Obviously…

END of UPDATE

“On Saturday 10 July, Belgium received the first warning that a flood was imminent. In the days that followed, 24 more alarms followed. Nevertheless, in many Walloon municipalities the first evacuations were only carried out on Thursday and an important reservoir was not drained until Wednesday. Did the government react too late?” Het Laatste Nieuws (July 21 2021)

UPDATE (July 22 2021) — The key facts which I explained in this post were quickly derided as ‘fake news’ by Green Party politicians.

Today, this information is confirmed in several Belgian Newspapers. People are baffled by the timeline and the total absence of leadership during these events.

EFAS issued the first warning on Saturday July 10. Twenty four very detailed warnings and predictions followed in the following days.

Yet nothing was done and no one even know what happened to these warnings? Local authorities claim they never received these alerts.

Despite these warnings, the critical Vesdre dam was kept at near full level until July 13. That is truly incomprehensible.

Philippe Henry (Green Party) will have to explain his decision to act so late. The head of the Wallonia government was forced to promise an investigation.

Professor Damien Ernst believes that its was a monumental error not to drain the reservoir as soon as the warnings arrived. If the right decision had been made, there is no doubt that most damages would have been avoided.

Evacuations were not ordered until July 14, and by then people had nowhere to run. They were drowning in their houses.

European Union environment ministers met in Slovenia on Tuesday to assess the bloc’s plan to contain climate change and Green party politicians are of course using this disaster to push their agenda on Global Warming.

Green party politicians blame this disaster on Global Warming. I blame the death toll on them.

I suspect that they intentionally mismanaged the crisis in order to maximize the damages and use this event to focus voters’ minds on the party’s environmental campaign goals.

If my suspicion is to be proven correct, the Green Party is a terrorist organisation.

END of UPDATE

Terrorism : the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.

Developed in the context of the Cold War, the concept of ‘Intelligence Failure’ is nowadays applied to topics such as human rights, drug trafficking, international crime and the environment.

Explanations for intelligence failure generally include one or more of the following causal factors: organizational obstacles, psychological and analytical challenges, problems with warning information, and failures of political leadership. [Intelligence Failure Theory — Thomas E. Copeland]

“Extreme flooding killed more than 100 people in Germany and Belgium on Thursday and Friday, with hundreds missing, despite clear advance warnings, in what one expert described as a catastrophic failure of Europe’s early alert system.” POLITICO

Intelligence Failures may occur at any of these stages:

Error in the collection of information

Failure to process and analyse the information correctly.

Failure to disseminate and share information.

Failure to act on intelligence.

In Europe, intense flooding is not uncommon. For instance, one of the worst affected towns this year is Schuld, a picturesque town in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Schuld has experienced two previous events of intense flooding, in 1790 and in 1910.

Today, Europe has a world-leading warning system.  After the cataclysmic floods across central and eastern Europe in 2002, the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) was set up.

Observations from the European Union’s Copernicus satellites combined with hydro-graphical records and readings of river levels allow weather scientists to make accurate predictions up to 10 days in advance.

On July 10 2021 — four days before the first floods — EFAS issued the first warnings to the German and Belgian governments about the high risk of flooding in the Rhine and Meuse basins.

Over the following days, the EFAS scientists produced minutely detailed charts correctly predicting the areas that would suffer the heaviest damage. 

There is not doubt that there was plenty of time to prepare at least the larger towns and cities with warnings or evacuations.

It is abundantly clear that this ‘Intelligence Failure’ is once again a failure of the political leadership.

The reader probably wonders how many lives might have been saved if the danger zones had been evacuated? Here is a clue.

The two rivers that caused the damages in Belgium and Germany– the Rhine, and Meuse — have their deltas in the Netherlands.

The Dutch authorities properly relayed the warnings to the population. Red alerts were issued timely, evacuations were ordered promptly and military were deployed to help.

The Netherlands has so far only reported property damage from the flooding and no dead or missing people.

In Belgium, warnings came late and underestimated the gravity of the situation. The mayor of Chaudfontaine — a town in the province of Liège — received an “orange alert” (warning him of rising waters) when the situation was already out of control.

Obviously, a red alert should have been issued much earlier. The death toll in the Kingdom has climbed to 31 and 70 people are still missing.

The Belgian prime minister and other members of the government are blaming Global Warming for this disaster. This may, or may not be true. Time will tell.

However, it is already very clear that the death toll was not caused by nature but by the failure of the political leadership. Why did it fail? That is the question.

One should never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but, as Einstein argued, don’t rule out malice! 

For the Green Party politicians, whose popularity in opinion polls had recently dropped both in Belgium and Germany (although for different reasons) the catastrophic flooding could be a chance to get back on track and focus voters’ minds on the party’s environmental campaign goals.

“The EFAS issued a warning in the ‘extreme category’ which means there’s danger to life. It doesn’t say you should evacuate, that’s up to the national authorities. But typically, if you have a danger to life warning, and you know where that’s going to happen, you make sure that you’re in place for evacuation. That’s how disaster risk management works.” Hannah Cloke

REFERENCES

Deadly floods inundated parts of Europe, but the Netherlands avoided fatalities. Here’s why — CNN

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Deadly Floods in Belgium — A Monumental Intelligence Failure?

Deadly Floods in Belgium — A Monumental Intelligence Failure? [UPDATE : How do you define Terrorism?]

Deadly Floods in Belgium — A Monumental Intelligence Failure? [UPDATE : Belgium opens manslaughter investigation]

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