16 January 2024

Preparing for future floods

Preparing for future floods image
Image: Anne Coatesy / Shutterstock.com

After Storm Henk, APSE principal advisor Rob Bailey sets out some of the steps local authorities should take to improve flood preparedness.

We’ve just lived through Storm Henk, the eighth storm of the 2023-2024 storm season, which brought damaging winds and heavy rain to southern and central parts of England and Wales on 2 January 2024. In Exeter, winds of over 58mph and gusts over 81mph were recorded, whilst parts of the North and Midlands experienced 150% of their long-term average rainfall, contributing to significant flooding.

Local flood authorities have the unenviable responsibility to reduce the risk of flooding from surface water, groundwater, and ordinary watercourses, excluding statutory main rivers or reservoirs. This requires a coordinated effort by multiple agencies working together to reduce risk.

Although the accuracy of weather forecasts has vastly improved over the past couple of decades, no amount of planning will eliminate those risks entirely. A combination of saturated ground, excessive rain, and high tides can produce conditions that make localised flooding inevitable. Sometimes, flooding can occur so quickly that even when flood defence barriers are available, there is simply not enough time to deploy them.

Despite this, the public rightly expects local authorities to do as much as possible to prevent the most severe impacts of extreme weather events.

Gully emptying - which has been hit by a budget squeeze over the last decade - is one very visual area that needs to be prioritised and shown to be working effectively. Otherwise, local authorities must continue to take the key steps and measures required to mitigate the impact of flooding to ensure the safety and well-being of their communities. Listed below are some suggested guidelines for flood preparedness at the local level:

1. Risk Assessment

  • Conduct a thorough risk assessment to identify areas prone to flooding and assess the potential impact on the community. This includes understanding historical flood patterns, vulnerable populations, and critical infrastructure.

2. Early Warning Systems:

  • Establish and maintain reliable early warning systems to provide timely and accurate information to the public. This can include sirens, text alerts, social media notifications, and other communication channels.

3. Emergency Response Plan:

  • Develop and regularly update an emergency response plan that outlines specific procedures for dealing with flooding. This plan should cover evacuation routes, shelter locations, emergency services coordination, and communication strategies.

4. Public Awareness and Education:

  • Implement public awareness campaigns to educate residents about flood risks, preparedness measures, and evacuation procedures. This can include distributing informational materials, conducting community workshops, and utilizing local media.

5. Evacuation Planning:

  • Establish clear evacuation routes and designated shelters. Work with transportation authorities to ensure smooth evacuation processes, especially for individuals with mobility needs or without personal transportation.

6. Infrastructure Protection:

  • Implement measures to protect critical infrastructure, such as dams, levees, and water treatment plants. Regular maintenance and improvements to these structures can help reduce the risk of flooding.

7. Coordination with Emergency Services:

  • Foster collaboration among local emergency services, police, fire and rescue, and medical facilities. Regular drills and joint training exercises can improve coordination during flood emergencies.

8. Resource Stockpiling:

  • Maintain stockpiles of essential resources such as sandbags, emergency supplies, and medical equipment. This ensures a quick response when flooding occurs.

9. Community Engagement:

  • Encourage community involvement in preparedness efforts. Establish community-based organisations and volunteer groups like Flood Wardens to assist in emergency response and recovery efforts.

10. Monitoring and Forecasting:

  • Utilise advanced monitoring and forecasting technologies to track weather patterns and river levels. This information can help authorities make informed decisions and issue timely warnings.

11. Post-Flood Recovery Planning:

  • Develop plans for post-flood recovery and reconstruction. This includes assessing damage, securing financial resources for rebuilding, and providing support to affected residents.

12. Regular Training and Drills:

  • Conduct regular training sessions and drills to ensure that emergency responders and community members are familiar with the procedures outlined in the emergency response plan.

13. Coordination with Other Agencies:

  • Collaborate with regional and national agencies, as well as non-governmental organisations, to share resources and expertise in flood preparedness and response.

The effectiveness of flood preparedness relies on continuous monitoring, evaluation, and adaptation based on the evolving nature of flood risks and community needs. Even in Britian, the impacts of climate change pose a risk to life and local authorities must adapt to this new reality.

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