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Control measure

Prepare for flooding

Control measure knowledge

Given the highly-developed status of weather and flood forecasting in the UK, most flooding can be predicted. Preparation is vital to reduce the effects of flooding and incidents should be managed as an intelligence-led planned event. The expected impact of a flood event may dictate the level of multi-agency involvement. Voluntary organisations and any organisations that may assist or provide information but are not considered to be Category 1 or 2 responders should be considered during planning phases in addition to nationally registered assets.

Assessment of the response required during the preparation phase should consider not only the direct movement of flood water but the potential effects on access and egress to fire and rescue sites and the impact on critical infrastructure. Business continuity plans should consider potential interdependencies such as loss of electricity and resulting effect on mobilisation systems when assessing hazards and risks. Back-up power systems may also be affected such as electrical generators in basements.

Effective management of a flood incident requires joint planning and preparation recognising Joint Emergency Service Interoperability Principles (JESIP). Forecasting and flood mapping can indicate the areas likely to be affected, although the creation of flood defences and changes in the built environment will affect the flooding. Historical information such as markers of water height and distributions are useful indicators when considering preparation for a flood event.

Planners need to decide in advance what they will do when they receive a flood warning. These Are provided by the Flood Forecasting Centre (FFC) in England and Wales and the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service (SFFS) in Scotland. The Met Office and Rivers Agency have co-operative arrangements to provide similar services to Northern Ireland. Flood guidance statements are provided by the FFC in England and Wales, and the SFFS in Scotland. They detail general flood risk by county as opposed to the more specific detail covered by responsible agencies’ flood warnings over a five-day period. Flood guidance statements allow for a broader risk assessment. Similar information is provided by appropriate government bodies in devolved administrations, these include the Rivers Agency in Northern Ireland and Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). Fire and rescue services should be aware of which level of warning will trigger action by their organisation and preemptive deployment should be considered at the earliest opportunity. Planners should consider the time needed to mobilise and deploy teams into the affected area before roads and bridges are rendered impassable or washed away.

Mobilising or repositioning resources based on flood warnings and mapping may improve response to incidents and protect the assets of a fire and rescue service and those of its employees.

Response to a major costal event flooding can be considered to occur in five phases:

  1. Early warning: Over five days out. Early alert from the Flood Forecasting Centre (or equivalent). Low confidence of exact path and impact. Early warning may be up to eight days out for certain events but confidence intervals in these circumstances are very low.
  2. Assessment: Three to five days out. Stronger confidence in path. First official statements and warnings may be issued. Resource considerations begin. Confidence of forecasting may remain as low as 50% at the three days out marker. Critical National Infrastructure that may be affected should be identified and assessed. Where possible, mitigation activities should be considered.
  3. Preparedness: Three days to hours out. Key decision-making phase for mitigation and prioritisation. It is during this phase fire and rescue services should consider and enact business continuity plans, prioritisation and request for national resources, including establishment of strategic holding areas and command groups. At one day out, confidence should be high when identifying areas affected and impact for inundation. However, damage, vandalism or failure of flood defences can cause unexpected impacts.
  4. Impact: Few hours to receding of flood waters. The response phase may last for an extended period depending on weather conditions and consequences of flooding.
  5. Recovery: Post-flood rebuilding and recovery. For extreme events such as an East coast inundation this may last several years.

Lead times for flooding events may vary, depending on cause, but where possible this model should be followed and the preparedness phase should begin as soon as practicable. Due to low levels of confidence in forecasting, services may be required to make important decisions based on imperfect information with low levels of certainty.

The primary and secondary effects of flooding should be considered when deciding where to establish strategic co-ordinating groups (SCG). Loss of power, isolation by flood waters and loss of communications will affect the emergency response.

Evacuation and access routes should be assessed during the assessment phase. Planned routes may be blocked by other activity and other routes may be in flood-affected areas. Consideration should be given to the impact of public evacuation using identified evacuation routes on fire and rescue service response to incidents.

Ad hoc local arrangements for support may leave areas exposed if the incident develops. Any request for mutual aid made outside of formal National Resilience arrangements should consider the potential development of the flood and any potential national requests for assistance.

Some areas have signage to indicate safe routes for the public. These routes may become congested during the immediate response to flooding. Their use by emergency services may slow the evacuation, so other routes should be identified where possible.

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Identify areas vulnerable to flooding and develop risk management plans and processes

  • Develop business continuity plans for flooding in their area

  • Liaise with local authorities and emergency planning groups to develop contingency plans

  • Consult and liaise with site owners or controllers (particularly specific risks including the Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPR) and Control of Major Accident Hazard (COMAH) sites) to develop tactical guidance and support arrangements

  • Work with emergency services and other agencies to co-ordinate flooding responses

  • Establish mechanisms to receive and communicate flood warnings

  • Develop procedures to support action on receipt of a severe weather warning

  • Develop information sharing policies to allow identification of vulnerable groups or individuals

  • Consider pre-mobilisation of resources that may be affected by flooding

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Implement flood plans based on available intelligence

  • Consider establishing predesignated strategic holding areas and forward control points

  • Identify and update safe routes and holding areas as the incident develops