3 ways to build flood resilience

  • Learning lessons from past severe weather events can help communities build flood resilience
  • Our detailed report looks at flood resilience and recovery after examining the impact of Storm Desmond in December 2015
  • Here, we discuss some of the ways individuals and organisations can protect themselves against future flood events

Given the number of severe weather events Britain has experienced in recent years, you might expect that communities across the country are now far better prepared to deal with future floods and storms.

However, a report produced by Zurich in collaboration with the JBA Trust, highlights the difficulties that still exist in producing an effective and coordinated response to flood risk at a national, regional and local level.

The Post Event Review Capability (PERC) report – Flooding After Storm Desmond  – also offers valuable insights into some of the ways that communities can manage flood risk:

1. Early flood warnings

Signing up to the Environment Agency’s Early Warning phone and text alerts can help residents and businesses prepare for the impact of flooding in their area.

Our PERC report found that while these warnings are not always guaranteed to give people sufficient time to fully prepare for a major flood event, in many cases they have enabled individuals and organisations to move their most valuable assets out of harm’s way. The report highlights one instance in which an Early Warning alert gave an organisation enough advance notice to help safeguard over £300,000 worth of assets.

2. Grants for households

Grants of £5,000 per affected household are available under the Household Flood Resilience Grant Scheme to protect against future flooding.

These grants are distributed by local authorities and are intended to fund measures that would make a property more resistant to flooding, such as installing flood doors, waterproofing windows or moving electrical sockets.

To date, uptake of Household Flood Resilience Grants has been limited. Our PERC report suggests uptake could be increased if agencies including local authorities and voluntary organisations were able to support residents to better understand the application process and provide them with independent advice on making the best use of grant money.

In the event of flooding, local authorities will also fund a £500 emergency grant to help with temporary accommodation.

3. Community Flood Action groups

Community action groups and flood schemes have achieved a number of significant successes.

In South Yorkshire, one project has seen 250 local organisations contribute to a £19m flood defence scheme. In other areas, residents have voted to increase local taxes to fund flood improvements.

Local flood action groups are often established in the immediate aftermath of a significant flooding event, but many fail to last beyond a few years.

Public and voluntary sector organisations should consider what support they can offer to help such groups continue to make a lasting impact, for example by directing them to where they can access advice and expertise.

The National Flood Forum is one such organisation that can offer independent support and advice to local flood action groups.

Lessons about managing flood risk

One of the key insights from our PERC report was that agencies involved in flood resilience and recovery should avoid references to ‘100-year flood events’.

Many inferred from the term that flooding on this scale would only happen once every 100 years. What the term actually means is there is the same probability each year that a similar level of flood could occur.

It is felt it would be more helpful to educate on the risk of such events occurring over a longer time-scale. For example, taking the same flood risk, i.e. a 1 in 100 year event, there’s a 40% probability of experiencing that level of flood over a 50-year period. It’s for this reason that anyone living in an area exposed to a 1 in 100 year flood zone is at a relatively high risk of flooding in the longer term unless adequate flood protection can be installed.

Equally, it is clear that communities should look to develop multiple lines of defence to avoid over-reliance on any single flood protection measure.

While flood barriers and other physical defence measures are effective in reducing smaller, high-frequency losses, they are not foolproof, and losses where flood defences are overtopped can be extensive.

Finally, communities could do more to address the social impact of flooding – e.g. providing support for vulnerable elderly residents who may be scared or disorientated if they are forced to leave their home temporarily, or helping parents make alternative childcare arrangements if their children’s school is forced to close.

Find out more and access helpful guides and insight with our new Flood Risk Resource.