Floods, and in particular flash floods, present an annual challenge to local councils. Their effects can be detrimental, and the situation can develop incredibly quickly.
On the one hand, at a national level, the government has committed £700m in the last budget for flood defences, on the other there have been several instances of floods in the UK in 2016 alone – just last month, much of the South West suddenly found itself under water. With floods still causing havoc every year, and such a short window for emergency response, what can local councils do to stay on top of the situation?
The lynchpin in a successful flood response is advanced preparation – having a plan that you know works, and being ready to roll it out at a moment’s notice. The first part of this is ensuring you know where the best safe places are in your region in the event of a flood. One of the best practices to ensure constituents are safe during a flood is to establish short-term reception areas, which can be put to use quickly in the event of an emergency.
Good examples might be libraries, fire stations or other public community places. Local governments will need to liaise with the relevant managers of such venues to ensure that the place is available for use by the public during an emergency.
Once you have this, you need to ensure this is communicated to everyone who might need to know it – this is both your emergency management team, and the general public. When locations have been confirmed, it’s important to update these on local council websites and in other community locations such as community centres and notice boards where residents may check for more information.
Communication is even more important as a flood is unfolding – emergency managers at local governments have a responsibility to make sure the public are getting the information they need in a timely manner. Communication and co-ordination are where technology’s role in emergency response really comes into its own. For example, social media is an excellent way for local governments to provide people with real-time updates and the most relevant information.
Technology can also help you easily manage your resources, plans and officials. Incident management software provides local councils with a cost-effective way to draw together all the different streams of information to best manage the unfolding situation. At the same time websites like Meteoalarm can also provide the public with useful updates on extreme weather reports, and are a useful reference for local governments looking to explain the current situation.
Finally, the only way to know if your communication networks and provisions are suitable is to run through a practice scenario. These are designed to help team members work together to manage the emergency response plan in a theoretical incident. Allowing team members to work through the step-by-step process of a hypothetical accident allows a council to build up much needed first-hand experience so that teams are better prepared in the event of a real flash flooding event. This is also a crucial opportunity to augment your plan.
Once the exercise is complete, local governments looking to keep on top of their response should use the findings of the practice to identify weaknesses or discrepancies in the plan, and then amend these to ensure it is as comprehensive as possible. Regularly running practice scenarios will create reassurance and confidence that your flood response plan is effective. Planning for floods should be a concern for any local government in the UK – after all, wherever it can rain, it can flood.
Whether you live in an area that has a high probability of flash flooding, or it’s simply a possibility, it’s best to prepare for the unexpected.
Ian Carr is VP EMEA at Intermedix