Following the recent nearby floods I’ve signed up to the Environment Agency Floodline service. Turns out in my area only general flood warnings are available, rather than specific flood alerts. I receive messages covering a whole river valley with little indication of precisely what might happen. They are useful, I suppose, but disappointing nonetheless.

After signing up the EA also sent me an advice pack, with a template to make a household flood plan – on what to do before, during and after. Given I’ve done previous research on extreme weather events at the community resilience level, I poked a bit further to find a community flood plan template too. On p.31 it has an interesting ‘division of labour’ sketch:

Source: EA flood plan guidance for communities and groups, p.31 (2011?)

The numbers indicate how things are carved up, implying you can contact:

  • Your gas, electricity, water and sewerage utility providers (for utility outages [1] and backing up toilets [9]);
  • Your local council or the Highways Agency (for blocked drains [2] and flooding coming off fields [3]);
  • The EA (for river and sea flooding [4], obstructions in rivers [5] and flood protection product advice [7]);
  • Your local council or builders (for sandbags [6]); and
  • Your insurance company (for flood cover [8]).

It’s more like a Monty Python sketch than a serviceable, integrated and ‘customer’-facing flood service isn’t it? I wonder is it much help during flood events? Can people even get hold of all these bodies as and when they need them?

Perhaps a one-stop ‘flood service’ might be better. I’m not sure. Maybe a single helpline could provide a ‘virtual’ flood service, logging people’s issues then passing them on to the relevant organisations and agencies. Would it be effective and accountable? Should it deal with all extreme weather events instead – droughts, heat waves and so on – not only flooding in isolation? (Thinking broader, should it also encourage property and behaviour changes to help people to adapt to future climate conditions?)

Looking at the 27 January 2012 final progress report on the Government response to the June 2008 Pitt Review of the 2007 UK floods it seems a number of Pitt’s recommendations in this vein have been altered or dropped:

  • ‘a single unifying Act that addresses all sources of flooding, clarifies responsibilities and facilitates flood risk management’ [Recommendation 28] – omitted from the 2010 Flood and Water Management Act, and Defra’s consolidation work on flooding matters won’t now be complete until December 2014; and
  • ‘a Cabinet Committee with a remit to improve the country’s ability to deal with flooding and implement the recommendations of this [Pitt] Review’ [Rec. 87] and ‘a National Resilience Forum to facilitate national level multi-agency planning for flooding and other emergencies’ [Rec. 88] – both dropped due to new arrangements for national security and resilience (the 18/19 October 2010 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review) leaving no ‘Committee devoted to flooding or a National Resilience Forum’, just a National Security Council ‘sub-committee on threats, hazards, resilience and contingencies (THRC)’ and various ‘forums in which government and other stakeholders with an interest in resilience can meet’.

So… currently it doesn’t look like a ‘one-stop flood service’ is on the cards. Given we’ve had ‘summer’ flooding all over the UK since these reflections in January, should it be?

Duncan Thomas

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