Articles | Volume 7, issue 5
30 Aug 2007
30 Aug 2007

Towards an empirical vulnerability function for use in debris flow risk assessment

S. Fuchs, K. Heiss, and J. Hübl

Abstract. In quantitative risk assessment, risk is expressed as a function of the hazard, the elements at risk and the vulnerability. From a natural sciences perspective, vulnerability is defined as the expected degree of loss for an element at risk as a consequence of a certain event. The resulting value is dependent on the impacting process intensity and the susceptibility of the elements at risk, and ranges from 0 (no damage) to 1 (complete destruction). With respect to debris flows, the concept of vulnerability – though widely acknowledged – did not result in any sound quantitative relationship between process intensities and vulnerability values so far, even if considerable loss occurred during recent years.

To close this gap and establish this relationship, data from a well-documented debris flow event in the Austrian Alps was used to derive a quantitative vulnerability function applicable to buildings located on the fan of the torrent. The results suggest a second order polynomial function to fit best to the observed damage pattern. Vulnerability is highly dependent on the construction material used for exposed elements at risk. The buildings studied within the test site were constructed by using brick masonry and concrete, a typical design in post-1950s building craft in alpine countries. Consequently, the presented intensity-vulnerability relationship is applicable to this construction type within European mountains. However, a wider application of the presented method to additional test sites would allow for further improvement of the results and would support an enhanced standardisation of the vulnerability function.