27 November 2015

How the Environment Agency is preparing for the next big flood

We recently launched Water Matters, a series of events investigating a range of water management issues.

The first of these events was a debate titled 'The Next Big Flood - Why The UK Won't Be Ready'. With a panel of high profile expert speakers and guest chair Janet Street-Porter at the helm, this was an exciting, engaging event that stirred up great conversation.

”Put simply, floods will continue to happen in the UK and with climate change we are seeing that more extreme events will occur more frequently,” Alison commented at The Big Debate. ”Because we all like to live and work near rivers and near the sea, that puts pressure on us to protect people and property.

The Environment Agency’s role – in collaboration with government, local authorities, water companies, contractors, consultants, builders, emergency response, journalists and those of us who live and work in the flood plain – is to understand the risk of flooding and to do something about it.”

With climate change increasingly affecting the UK's weather, Alison Baptiste, Director of Strategy and Investment at the Environment Agency, explains how we can prepare for the next big flood.

What is the Environment Agency doing to prepare for the next big flood?

”We need to be well prepared and we all have a part to play,” Alison observed. ”The Environment Agency is setting strategy, allocating funding for flood defence, warning people and informing whilst the construction industry is building resilient properties and manufacturers such as Wavin are producing innovative products for managing water and reducing the impact of flooding.”

A brief history of flooding in the UK

Discussing the UK’s improved ability to deal with floods, Alison commented: ”Let’s look back at what we have done in relatively recent history. Over 300 people died in the coastal flood of 1953 in the UK, when 24,000 properties were flooded. We had a very similar event in December 2013, but in contrast 2,000 properties flooded with no fatalities.

In terms of agricultural land, 65,000 hectares were flooded in 1953, whereas in 2013, this was just over 6,500.

In 1953 there was one flood warning issued; in 2013 over 160,000 direct messages went to people’s homes and to their mobile phones, directing them to take action. We have invested in flood defences, such as the tidal walls and Thames Flood Barrier here in London, and all of the walls and barriers down the east coast. We now have an expert forecasting and flood warning service.

In 2013 we knew six days in advance that there would be a major flood and so we could begin working with local authorities to evacuate people and minimise the impact.”

The future of flood prevention

”Looking forward, we have record investment over the next six years with £2.3bn in defenses and we are investing in social media such as Twitter to warn people,” Alison pointed out. ”We are working with partners so that, if we do our bit, they can do theirs. So, I think we will be ready for the next big flood if we all do our bit.

We are doing our bit at the Environment Agency and in the government. My question is, ‘Are you doing yours?”’

Watch videos from The Big Debate in London

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