The PEPR IRiMa (integrated risk management for more resilient societies in an era of global change) is led jointly by BRGM, CNRS and Grenoble-Alpes University. This exploratory ‘priority research programme and equipment’ effort (PEPR), with a budget of €51.9 million spread over 8 years, brings together more than 30 partner institutions and laboratories.
23 January 2023

The exploratory IRiMa PEPR aims to formalise a "science of risk" to contribute to the development of a new strategy for the management of risks and disasters and their impacts in a context of global change. To achieve this, it implements a series of research projects and expert assessments (involving observation, analysis or decision support) to accelerate the transition to a society capable of facing a range of threats (hydro-climatic, telluric, technological, health-related, coupled), by adapting and becoming more resilient and sustainable. In order to face this challenge, which is increased by climate change, it is necessary to consolidate, stimulate and coordinate the national research effort.

Propose innovative tools to better detect, understand, quantify, anticipate and manage risks and disasters

It will attempt to integrate knowledge from the fields of geoscience, engineering, biology, digital technology and social sciences with a view to taking a systemic approach to the management of natural and technological risks. It will propose new innovative tools to better detect, understand, quantify, anticipate and manage risks and disasters. It will focus in particular on the issue of cascade effects combining natural, environmental, technological, health and biological hazards.

In order to promote trans-disciplinary synergism, the PEPR will deploy innovative calls for projects, instruments for organising clusters and attracting talent, an incentive policy for young scientists and international partnerships (European in particular), an ambitious policy of training through research and throughout life, as well as an infrastructure of research platforms. The latter will help federate the teams around the study of risk analysis and crisis scenarios, as well as the evaluation of decision-making tools and experimentation in collaboration with the various stakeholders.

The PEPR is built around a national consortium federating the major universities and authoritative national organisations working in the field of natural, technological and environmental risks.

Logo France 2030.

France 2030 logo.

© France 2030

IRiMa, an exploratory PEPR under the ‘Investments for the future’ plan (PIA4)

Priority research programmes and equipment (PEPR) are financed by the fourth ‘investments for the future’ programme (PIA4), put in place as part of the France 2030 plan to build or consolidate French leadership in scientific fields considered as priorities at the national or European level and that involve a large-scale transformation. “Exploratory” PEPRs target emerging sectors with research whose areas of application may still be in the realm of working hypotheses. The aim is to explore scientific fields which hopefully will have multiple spin-offs.

Scientific strategy of the IRiMa programme

The IRiMa programme consists of 6 main scientific goals:

  • Goals 1 and 2 are dedicated to cross-cutting methodological issues, with the aim being to build the methodological foundations of conceptual frameworks and operational tools that would bring together all the possible ways of moving from data to decision with their complexity and nature varying according to the context – which means they are highly relevant for decision-makers.
  • Goals 3 to 5 are dedicated to the specific issues of areas involving particular risks (mountains, coasts, overseas territories, industrial-urban areas) and concern the ways in which the various risks (natural, environmental, technological, health, biological) affect and are superimposed on certain regions, sometimes leading to cascading effects.
  • Goal 6 focuses on the development of the necessary infrastructure platforms, with a particular emphasis on interoperability.

Current global changes, whether climatic, societal or technological, are creating new threats to human societies. These threats and the ways of dealing with them are the subject of much reflection and sometimes heated debate around the issues of the vulnerability of populations and infrastructures, and the resilience and adaptation of societies. One of the major challenges, involving several scientific and political considerations, concerns the capacity of societies as a whole, and of the most vulnerable groups or regions, to cope with risks and disasters, in particular to have the capacity and resources to:

  • prevent, prepare for and protect against risks,
  • to absorb, mitigate and adapt to them,
  • and to restore, recover, and transform themselves.

Addressing the issues requires tackling complex challenges by adopting a range of research perspectives and developing new methodologies and innovative tools. Drawing heavily on the humanities and social sciences, Goal 1 aims to foster collaboration between researchers in different disciplines and fields, to map and analyse the current frameworks of knowledge production, policies and practices of risk and disaster management, in order to contribute to the development of new concepts and cross-cutting approaches.

  • Challenge 1. Analyse risk and disaster research and management frameworks (concepts, approaches, methods and practices) and their social and political effects, from a cross-cutting, diachronic, multi-scale and multi-actor perspective, in order to contribute to their improvement or transformation
  • Challenge 2. Contribute to the structuring of a multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral research community in risk and disaster sciences.
  • Challenge 3. Develop new, more integrated and inclusive risk policies for a more robust and resilient society.

This methodological goal concerns the continuum from observation, modelling, cascading effects and risk metrics to decision making. Supported by Goal 1, it provides high-level expertise in mathematics and engineering to help risk researchers develop an increasingly global strategy and meet the needs of decision-makers to consider integrated variables, criteria and operational indicators that are capable of dealing with climate constraints and socio-environmental changes. Data mining for risk assessment, and the design of both relevant quantitative risk measures and decision support algorithms are still very difficult as they require dealing with data that are multifactorial, interdependent (including human behaviour) and large and heterogeneous (qualitative and quantitative, weak signal) in a dynamic way, at different spatial and temporal scales, while taking into account potentially strong non-stationarities. This goal will focus on the design of innovative algorithms that will be used to provide new quantitative models to be used for Goal 1 and the other goals (3, 4 & 5).

  • Challenge 1. Control data quality and model reduction: heterogeneous data, models and corresponding spatial metrics involving applied mathematics, digital science and technology, engineering, quantitative social science and environmental science.
  • Challenge 2. Improve multi-scale and multi-physics modelling, including social and economic issues, specifically adapted to the great diversity of spatial (from local to global) and temporal (from past to future taking into account global change) scales, and cascading effects.
  • Challenge 3. Measure the multi-dimensional risk for decision-making by improving the consideration of interdependencies between infrastructures, cascading effects, and concurrent events in risk assessment methodologies. Consider the complete data-model-expertise-decision chain.

This goal covers all the physical and social processes aimed at better understanding, predicting and mitigating risks in mountain and coastal areas, from the characterisation of natural risks and underlying phenomena to decision-making and societal adaptation in the face of current and future climate and societal changes. Indeed, mountain and coastal areas have much in common. Physically, these are areas of strong constraints and extreme conditions (steep slopes, thaw-freeze cycles, storm surges, intense precipitation), that are sensitive to severe meteorological and/or oceanic forcing, which make them among the most difficult environments to access and observe. They also show similar sensitivity to climate change, as recognised in the recent IPCC report. Socially, they share a strong attraction for tourism and permanent human settlements. This generates a high demand for real estate and, more broadly, increases vulnerability (including for critical infrastructure such as ports, power plants, ski resorts, ecosystems, etc.), that are often exacerbated by social inequalities in the face of risk. 

  • Challenge 1. Improve knowledge of physical and social processes to better assess risks, develop new multidisciplinary data acquisition strategies, better understand and quantify socio-historical processes, and integrate these advances into a detailed risk assessment.
  • Challenge 2. Refine socio-economic trajectories in the context of rapid global change through a better understanding of the particularities induced by the rapid evolution of mountain and coastal risks at different time scales in all their components (hazard, exposure to vulnerability, etc.).
  • Challenge 3. Better comprehend the coupling of coastal processes to the land-ocean continuum by including the full range of coastal hydro-sedimentary processes and formal water-air and water-sediment interactions in the range of open and semi-closed ecosystems.

This goal addresses, in an interdisciplinary and integrated way, the scientific issues raised by crises occurring in (peri-)urban and/or industrialised areas for which several vulnerabilities are combined. A crisis is understood here as a process that links different phases: the preparation/planning period, the emergency phase dealing with real-time crisis management and mitigation of short-term effects, and finally the long-term remediation/resilience phase. Particular attention will be paid to systemic risks with different kinetics, cascading or combined risks (e.g., the earthquake and tsunami in Japan that led to the Fukushima disaster) and emerging threats related to climate change (e.g., mega-fires, extreme weather events, extreme floods, see Goals 1 & 2) and anthropogenic activities (flash floods, seismicity induced by geothermal projects/drilling, flash floods, biological hazards).

  • Challenge 1. Evaluate and integrate uncertainties at all stages of risk assessment and crisis management, including their communication to the different stakeholders and taking into account the specificities and constraints of the industrial/urban/densely populated environment (from Goals 1 & 2).
  • Challenge 2. Decipher the physical and social processes and precursors related to crises at very fine urban spatial and temporal scales, and their interactions with broader spatial and temporal scales.
  • Challenge 3. Improve data collection and documentation of real-time events using a variety of sources, including environmental observations, video, images and information shared on social networks.

Goal 5 deals with the intense and frequent telluric and hydro-meteorological hazards faced by the populations of France's overseas regions and inter-tropical zones: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, gravity-related instabilities, floods/coastal flooding, slope/coastal erosion (see Goals 3 & 4) in connection with hurricanes and climate change. Overseas and intertropical areas have a range of geographical and societal particularities, which call for an in-depth understanding of local capacities for risk prevention and management as well as resilience: distance from mainland France, insularity, remoteness and size of the regions, diversity of cultural and historical practices, social and political tensions (e.g., the current situation in Guadeloupe and Martinique). Innovative management strategies must therefore be developed and tested in terms of feasibility/acceptability/inclusiveness, while taking into account the political and social status of these regions. Deepening our knowledge of telluric and hydro-meteorological hazards as well as the vulnerabilities of these regions is of interest both for the regions directly and for mainland France, because of the active fields of observation they offer.

  • Challenge 1. Identify new observables to study natural hazards and related anthropogenic impact at large spatio-temporal scales (e.g., long seismic and volcanic cycles and the cyclical nature of hurricanes).
  • Challenge 2. Develop holistic and integrated models of complex processes taking into account uncertainties in climate-change projections, integration of coupled predictive models.
  • Challenge 3. Develop integrative risk management strategies adapted to overseas and inter-tropical areas, and capable of dealing with the consequences of extreme episodes and cascading events leading to multiple risks (eruptions, landslides, tsunamis, floods, etc.).

Risk assessment requires a dedicated infrastructure of platforms to capture the complexity, bring together the full range of expertise needed and enable cross-fertilisation and the sharing of knowledge with a wide audience. Goal 6 will provide mapping and analysis capabilities through digital twin approaches in order to build dynamic scenarios to support crisis management or to foster sharing of knowledge. This will include i) promoting the co-construction of initiatives involving the academic world, operational organisations and citizens, to better understand the behaviour of social and economic agents in the face of risk, ii) integrating multi-hazard mapping tools into a coherent digital repository to improve the management of the impact of complex hazards; iii) taking into account gradual and abrupt changes in hazards and socio-economic/socio-environmental conditions, iv) providing tools to analyse risk perception mechanisms that affect the behaviour of individuals before and during an event, and the acceptability of public policies; and v) proposing an integration of high-performance computing (HPC) numerical-modelling capabilities and shared development environments (GitLab).

  • Challenge 1. Formalise a numerical modelling infrastructure based on existing French research facilities dedicated to massive data analysis and numerical HPC to model the physical processes involved in natural, technological or environmental disasters.
  • Challenge 2. Develop integrated multi-hazard mapping platforms dedicated to the production of hazard, vulnerability and risk maps for decision making.
  • Challenge 3. Aggregate social and economic science methods in a common web-based co-working tool to share all social information processing/management.

Implementation

The actions fall into three main categories:

  • Coordination actions for mobilising scientists, education, communication and international development;
  • Targeted projects to structure research clusters and support research platforms and infrastructures. These projects aim to structure and actively strengthen the 5 major clusters (centres of excellence) organised to meet the national challenges of integrated risk management and to serve as regional nodes that contribute to the national network:
    • a regional "Coastal Risks" cluster (Bordeaux University and its partners) dedicated to coastal dynamics and hazards in a variety of coastal systems and their impacts;
    • a regional "Mountain Risks" cluster (Grenoble-Alpes University and its partners) dedicated to better understanding and managing emerging and coupled risks that are specific to mountain areas;
    • a national cluster for "NaTech risks and impacts on socio-ecosystems" (INERIS, IRSN and their partners) to better manage natural-technological risks and their impacts on densely urbanised areas and critical infrastructures;
    • a national "overseas risks" cluster (IPGP and its partners) dedicated to understanding and managing emerging and coupled risks specific to overseas regions;
    • a "Risk and Society" human and social sciences cluster (CNRS/U-Paris Cité and their partners), dedicated to the analysis of risk and crisis frameworks and to issues related to the role of stakeholders, including citizens, in shaping risk policy. 
  • Open projects to develop the core competencies and infrastructure needed for long-term community building, both at national and European level, with:
    • a call for expressions of interest to support the incubation of projects on a European scale (Horizon Europe);
    • a call for national research agency (ANR) projects dedicated to research on risk management, for supporting highly innovative or emerging joint research.

Education and training

Many public and private socio-economic partners stress the need to train future risk, disaster and crisis management managers through research, so that they are able to develop innovative management schemes with a holistic vision. IRiMa proposes implementing several tools to meet this challenge:

  • Development of innovative, interdisciplinary national and international graduate school programmes or courses in risk and resilience, promoting risk and sustainability sciences, with a focus on creating networking opportunities.
  • Doctoral and post-doctoral programme.
  • Organisation of an annual research school of international scope, to provide students, post-doctoral students, socio-economic partners and senior scientists from European and non-European universities and laboratories with the new results obtained by the risk community.

Main societal and scientific impacts of IRiMa

By integrating the different communities facing risks, the PEPR will contribute to a better organisation of research capacities at the national level, reinforced by the development of centres of excellence. These will be able to increase their influence at an international level on a range of risks (overseas coastal, mountain and telluric, technological, social). At the end of the programme, IRiMa will thus be able to act as a French research and management network for risks and disasters by:

  • integrating communities that are currently dispersed,
  • consolidating research and funding in this area,
  • structuring a French research agenda.

IRiMa will contribute directly to the sustainable transformation of society in the face of risk (sustainability science), enhancing preparedness, crisis management and risk mitigation with a view to developing an integrated resilience framework in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Bibliometric analyses show that France is currently ranked 9th in terms of the number of publications on all risk-oriented subjects for the period 2017 to 2021. France ranks 7th in Europe, after England, Italy, Austria and Spain. CNRS, IRD, INRAE and the UDICE Universities are the most productive: better coordination of their teams, as proposed by IRiMa, should place them in the top 5 in each of the risk-research themes.

By developing knowledge to support innovative methodologies and services in the field of monitoring, preparedness, crisis management and recovery, we are helping to amplify the international recognition of French know-how in this field. This must be a vehicle for boosting French expertise internationally.