Flood-Proofing in Holland

Improvement Insights Blog

Flood-Proofing in Holland

While some European cities were devastated by fire, Holland has had to deal with flooding. What have they done to mistake-proof flooding since 1953?

“Hi, this is Jay Arthur, author of “Lean Six Sigma for Hospitals” and the QI Macros [software]. “I recently had an Improvement Insight video about how they were burning down the capitals of Scandinavia repeatedly until the king said “Thou shalt build thy buildings out of stone” and so that stopped the fire problem. I discovered there was a 60 Minutes article on a recent Sunday, and they were talking about Holland.

Back in the 50s there was a massive flood and it tore down a lot of barriers because a lot of Holland is below sea level. The Dutch decided it was be a good idea to figure out how to mistake proof flooding. What they’ve started to do is actually created it so that they can manage flood waters.

Back in 2013 where most of Europe was suffering significant flooding, my wife and I had been in some little town and it had along the side of the building the dates and times of the highest floods and so here was 2013 and the previous one was 1512, and there was a whole bunch of little ones, but 2013 was a big year, right? It was probably 20 some-odd feet off the ground, which meant all of the buildings were flooded at that level. Now all of that water flows out of Germany and other places and flows into Holland, and so the Dutch had been building since the 50s places to divert water and get it off to places where it wouldn’t threaten people, and sometimes you had to move people around to make all that work, but what they’ve done is systematically set it up so they could manage all these floodwaters and very often that’s what the windmills were for: not just to grind things, but actually to divert water from one river into another area where it wouldn’t cause flooding. They’ve been doing this since the 1500s.

“That’s a type of mistake proofing, isn’t it? They just decided, “Hey, let’s stop all this nonsense; let’s prevent flooding,” and so in 2013 when the floodwaters came down, guess what? The Dutch just diverted all the water and had no floods. How’s that possible? Well it takes a lot of thinking forward. In Rotterdam they’d created some storm barriers that literally… these things will close on the port and keep floodwaters out – you know, the storm surge – from coming in. They asked the guy who’s in charge of all this stuff, “How much did that cost?” “About a half a billion dollars,” and I said, “Well, that’s a lot of money to spend on this.” He said, “You spent $70 billion on hurricane Sandy and $90 billion on Katrina; maybe you should get smart about how you manage storms, storm surge, water management, and everything like that.”

“I thought this was a very interesting point: for Holland, it’s not fire, it’s flood. What did they do? They said “Let’s mistake proof that. Let’s find ways to divert water off of the river into lower lying areas… …really, they don’t care if we put some water out in here.”

“Maybe that’s a smart idea. Mistake proofing – it may cost you some money, but it’ll prevent a ton of cost later on, so it doesn’t matter whether you’re working with patients or pistons or whatever it is: How can you mistake proof the kinds of problems that can occur.

“That’s my Improvement Insight for this week. Let’s create a hassle-free America, let’s create a hassle-free world. Let’s go ahead and improve something this week.”