Is your community ‘flood ready’?

In the wake of the floods of Christmas 2015, Mary Dhonau, chief executive of Know Your Flood Risk, talks about what needs to be done at a local level to mitigate the damage from flood water.

The floods of Christmas 2015 are a recent and stark reminder of the devastation that floodwaters can have on a community. Sustained periods of rainfall during November meant land was highly saturated so when storms Desmond, Eva and Frank arrived during December, the record-breaking levels of rainfall meant many rivers burst their banks and there was simply nowhere for surface water to drain away to.

This led to the phenomenal flooding in communities across the western and northern counties of England and into vast swathes of Scotland.

The disruption caused cannot be underestimated and is still being felt by many months afterwards. Work continues in the affected communities to help get people back on their feet; not only in restoring homes and businesses, but in assessing and repairing infrastructure, highways, bridges and public facilities that may have also been compromised as a result of the floods.

The sad thing is that incidences of this nature are not going to go away – in fact, if anything, we are likely to see such events becoming more frequent, as climate change presents itself in the form of unseasonal and rather extreme weather.

On top of this, it’s important to remember that flooding doesn’t just occur as a result of breached riverbanks but also results from other causes. For example, changes in land use across communities, such as property development on flood plains or increased paving over natural permeable surfaces, are all making communities more vulnerable to surface water flooding. Then, of course, there is also risk of coastal or tidal flooding, groundwater or even flooding from reservoir failure to take into consideration.

So What Needs To Happen?
First things first; it’s important to keep raising local awareness of flood risk to ensure that people living in the local community are aware of whether their property is deemed to be within a flood risk zone. By doing so, they are able sign up to a free Environment Agency Flood Warning and create a flood plan so they are prepared if a flood warning occurs. Many people think that being flooded will never happen to them. I believe it is now time to start giving out a stronger message. Being flooded is appalling and we all need to be aware it can happen – almost anywhere!

Sadly, many homeowners across the country are not doing their homework when it comes to calculating their risk. Last year, we commissioned a YouGov research study to see whether consumers are checking their personal flood risk levels; the findings were somewhat alarming in that two thirds (67 per cent) of UK households are failing to check their risk at all, even with the realities of extreme flood events being more commonplace than ever before.

The research went on to identify a general lack of awareness over flood planning and responsibility, despite one in six homes being considered at risk, according to the Environment Agency’s calculations. Just six per cent of respondents confirmed that they have a flood plan and are sure of what they would do if a flood occurred in their homes.

On top of this, the survey found that the public are not making flood checks part of their research process when moving into a new home; just 20 per cent of respondents currently check the flood risk of their home before moving in, and 11 per cent do so afterwards.

It is worrying that so few people check their flood risk and that there is so much confusion out there as to who should ultimately protect homes from flooding.

While it is of course the responsibility of the Environment Agency and local authorities to manage flood risk and risk management programmes on a local area level, it is clear that we need to continue to work with communities to help them to understand what can be done to reduce their own flood risk at an individual property level.

As you may know, I work closely with community groups, local authorities, flood protection organisations and homeowners to regularly provide advice on the practical steps required into gauging flood risk and preparing action plans.

At a community level, my advice is always to also start with making a detailed flood plan, which provides step-by-step information on what needs to be actioned, recorded or coordinated during a flood. This includes sharing information relating to which areas are deemed at risk, agreeing emergency evacuation points and developing a process for reporting incidents that occur. A template can be found on my website.

When providing practical advice to homeowners, the key areas include:

Essential Preparation
Step one is to determine what risks are present in a given postcode or even a specific property address. Tools are available today that provide excellent guidance on just exactly what the risk is; ideal for those buying a property as it helps them to make a more informed decision. For those already residing in a property, it means they have a realistic view on whether flooding will present itself as a risk in the future.

The Environment Agency’s website provides a great deal of information, plus there are commercial operations such as Landmark Information Group that develop specialist environmental risk reports that detail all forms of flood relating to a specific address.

I also encourage communities to sign up to the Environment Agency’s flood warning system by calling the Floodline on 0345 988 1188.

Resistance Measures
Floodwater will find the easiest point of entry, via airbricks, plumbing outlets or similar. Resistance measures are designed to help prevent water from physically entering a property and damaging the fabric and content of the building.

These include airbrick protection products – some are like an ‘elastoplast’ so temporarily cover airbricks, which is fine for low risk flood areas, through to more permanent air brick replacement systems, which self‑activate to provide total peace of mind.

Another measure is to protect doorways. There’s a wide range of kite-marked doorway barriers, panels and ‘passive’ doors that offer protection. These are temporary and do require intervention pre-flood so they are fitted, while passive doors look like usual front doors, but offer protection without the need for fitting additional hardware. We must all be aware that, like the flood defences in Keswick and Carlisle, they can be overtopped and so everyone must be prepared to evacuate.

Resilience Measures
As an alternative to flood resistance, homeowners can look to make their home ‘flood resilient’ – this essentially means to minimise the effect floodwater has, so no permanent damage is caused, therefore reducing the time people are displaced from their homes.

Some resilience examples include installing plug sockets, boilers and service meters higher up the walls of the property, fitting tiled floors over a concrete base, using plastic skirting boards and door mouldings, or covering wooden facings with impermeable varnish. From a sentimental point of view, I also suggest that any items of personal value are kept upstairs away from potential harm.

Take Advantage of Free Advice
A huge amount of information is today available that is designed to support communities and individuals face the practical realities of flooding. For example, the Know Your Flood Risk Campaign has produced a free downloadable ‘Guide to Resilience’ that offers a great deal of advice on how best to protect yourself, your family and your home from flooding, advice for communities, as well as information on the permanent and temporary flood resistance products that are available to offer barriers to rising water.

Statistics show that more people are at risk of being flooded than being burgled or having a fire, yet while many are prepared to protect themselves from these perils, few actually take steps to research their flood risk or minimise the effect that flooding could have on their homes, businesses and safeguard themselves from the devastation it brings.

Further Information