Improving Community Flood Resilience in Areas Remaining at Risk

Dan Matthews is a Senior Resilience Consultant, with experience in flood incident management and planning.  Dan reports on FRM2017 and work on improving community flood resilience.

“Would you like to speak at the SNIFFER Flood Risk Management conference in Edinburgh?”

I’ve learnt to see some of these ‘development opportunities’ approaching, but on this occasion opted to grab it with both hands. I’m glad that I did! SNIFFER bring people and ideas together as ‘knowledge brokers for a resilient Scotland’ and their annual Flood Risk Management Conference in Edinburgh has promoted learning, sharing best practice and shaping next steps throughout the sector. With the 2017 event titled ‘Managing Flood Risk in the Context of Change’ it was a chance to share some of my recent work on improving community flood resilience.

Brian Mills

Temporary flood barriers protecting communities along the River Severn. Source: Panoramio

I’ve been working closely with a team at the Environment Agency to develop a national capability to provide support to communities throughout England using temporary flood barriers. Whilst this has involved significant financial investment in equipment, it also requires significant time investment to develop the plans, procedures and importantly the people to deliver the capability.

I have been fortunate to be involved in many elements of this work, from developing deployment plans for specific communities, through to embedding new ways of working with incident response staff. It was challenging to get the critical parts of this operational for the winter of 2016, but also amazing what can be achieved when people are motivated by new and innovative ideas.

In January 2017, this was called into action as over 8000 metres of temporary flood barriers and 25 high volume pumps were deployed in advance of significant flood risk on the East coast of England. One deployment stretched for over a mile, reducing the risk of flooding for residents at Ferriby on the River Humber in Yorkshire.

Russ 2007

Testing temporary defence deployment plans with the Environment Agency.

I found it really interesting to reflect upon this and share some of what I’ve learnt with those at the conference. The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform’s keynote speech provided some great context. Climate change is expected to potentially double flood risk in some areas of Scotland before the end of the century. Surely there is a role for this kind of capability, perhaps on a local authority scale, in Scotland?

The 2007 Floods: ten years of thinking big and acting early

Russell Burton is an expert in flood risk and incident management, Managing Director of RAB Consultants and a former flood warning team leader in the Environment Agency.  Russell looks back at changes in flood resilience since the 2007 floods.

I read John Curtin’s blog Flood risk management 10 years on – a journey of high and low tech improvements with great interest this week and found the list of improvements and the progress made impressive, especially against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and austerity.

abbey

Tewkesbury is situated in Gloucestershire and was one of the worst affected parts of the county when the floods hit in July 2007. Source: Panoramio

It also got me thinking back to my own experiences and how the changes are not only in the tech we use but also in the way we think and respond to floods. Like John, I have my own story of what I was doing on the day of the 2007 storm. In July 2007, RAB was one year old, so it was a time of optimism and hard work for me to get the company off the ground. On that day in July I had a meeting with Environment Agency Wales (remember them!) in Cardiff, to start planning a flood exercise of all things. I planned to drive from Lichfield to Cardiff via the M50 with RAB’s first ever employee as a passenger. To be fair the Met office issued severe weather warnings for the west midlands up to 2 or 3 days ahead of the storm but it would only be on the homeward journey for us and who was to say it would be that bad and in that location anyway? I blush at the thought of my gung-ho attitude but I think I reflect the mindset of the times, “Think maybe, act if we have to”.

So off we set and had a great meeting, but by the time we were heading home reports were already coming in of flooding and travel disruption. Nevertheless we made pretty good progress on the M50 till we were approaching the junction with the M5 at Stroud. By now the downpour was a monsoon, the motorway came to a standstill and gradually the road became a river as torrents of water flowed off the fields. The hard shoulder and lane one were impassable but after a two hour delay we were able to crawl past in the “fast lane”.

Motorway 2007

Strensham Services on the M5, July 20th 2007. Source: flickr

To be fair I wasn’t the only one “thinking maybe and acting if we have to”, at some point I probably passed the lorry full of flood barriers bound for Upton upon Severn but stuck on the other carriageway of the flooded M5.

So what’s changed? Personally, I take Severe Weather Warnings very seriously now and adjust my travel arrangements to suit. But 2007 was also a watershed in mindset for flood risk managers in the UK. For the Environment Agency, it was the birth of the mantra “Think Big, Act Early”. This simple phrase has stood up to challenge (Think big, Act Appropriately was one watered down suggestion I recall) and I believe it’s helped drive the high and low tech improvements listed by John. It’s made us ask questions like, how big, how shall we act and when is early enough? The Flood Forecasting Centre  quantify the scale and timing of the impacts through the Flood Guidance Statement, which now gives flood managers up to 5 days notice to decide how and when to act early. The new extended flood outlook offers a 30 day window for flood risk managers to prepare and plan the response. The 2013-14 floods (amongst others!) highlighted that Thinking Big didn’t always result in Act Early. There was a need to plan what early actions could be done with this extra lead time for unprotected communities, and so came Temporary Defence Deployment Plans and Major Incident Plans to set out the strategic and tactical actions flood managers have at their disposal. Although these are just a couple of examples, the other improvements in John’s list are also driven by the need to “Think Big, Act Early”.

BBC map

July 2007 floods at-a-glance. Source: BBC

So in summary, the high and low tech improvements that have been made over the last 10 years are all fantastic but for me the biggest change is in our mindset, to “Think Big, Act Early”. To bring this into sharp contrast, this week the Met Office predicted that Britain is heading for “unprecedented” winter rainfall after their new super computer predicted records will be broken by up to 30 per cent. Time to “Think Big, Act early”.

Being prepared for flood emergencies: behind the scenes of a major exercise

Daniel Eldson, assistant resilience consultant, reports on his experience in supporting a major flooding exercise in England.

Storm Desmond caused an estimated £1.3m of damages when it struck on the 5th and 6th of December 2015. Disasters such as this provide context as to why agencies involved in emergencies must continually improve their readiness for major natural hazards, and in the case of the Environment Agency, being able to ‘think big, act early, and be visible’ which is core to their role. Exercise CERTUS was an example of flood planning and preparation with an exercise to test winter readiness plans, incident management, command and control, communication and reporting arrangements.

BBC Getty Images

Picture credit: Carlisle was one of the worst hit places during Storm Desmond with rescue teams evacuating many people from their flooded homes, BBC

The exercise involved 1,000 participants across England, including the Environment Agency’s National Incident Room, National Operational Incident Management Team, Executive Directors and operational field staff.

Part of my role while developing the exercise was to consult all the area teams and develop unique scenarios for their area to respond to, depending on the level of response they wanted to simulate. This was one of the most rewarding aspects of the project for me, with the steepest learning curve, building realistic incident scenarios that we could work into the overall exercise. These ranged from simulating media interview requests, to managing damage to major flood assets. We then worked these scenarios into the larger CERTUS exercise. All of this area level information would then need to be managed at a national level, testing the EA’s command and control, communication and reporting arrangements.

CERTUS2

Incident management teams taking part in Exercise CERTUS.

During the live exercise, I provided telephone support to our facilitators and managed injects to each of the 16 areas from the Environment Agency’s National Incident Room with over 500 emails and supporting documents being sent to participants via an exercise messaging system.

The exercise allowed us to test the deployment of temporary flood barriers, pumps and other mobile incident response equipment to support communities remaining at risk of flooding. This activity in turn allowed the new Major Incident, Temporary Defence and Pump Deployment plans to be tested. What struck me with this exercise was the ability to effectively test winter readiness and being prepared for the next major flood. In particular, making sure everyone is prepared to respond when the time comes: 10% of those who took part in CERTUS were new to incident management, and almost all reported that they felt more confident in their role as a result.