Our role and activities during the summer
1. THE ENVIRONMENT
1.1 We are the lead agency for providing
flood risk protection and warning of flooding from "main"
rivers. Other bodies, (Local Authorities, the Highways Agency
and utility companies) are responsible for the standards and maintenance
of smaller watercourses, culverts, drains and sewerage systems.
We have a regulatory role in managing flooding from reservoirs,
except where we own reservoirs specifically managed to reduce
flood risk. Riparian owners are responsible for other watercourses
on their land.
1.2 This memorandum explains how we discharged
our responsibilities during the summer floods. It explains how
we worked with others in discharging those responsibilities across
the range of our activities, including mapping and modelling flood
risk; interpreting weather warnings; forecasting flooding and
issuing flood warnings; building and maintaining flood defences;
incident management and response; clean-up operations; and aftercare.
1.3 Although it is not possible to conclusively
attribute any particular event or series of events to climate
change, we do know that predictions for the UK suggest we can
expect more severe storms accompanied by intense rainfall. This,
combined with predicted sea level rise, mean that the risks of
coastal and inland flooding are likely to increase.
2. FORECAST AND
2.1 We map flood risk and provide free to
the public, via our web site, the most detailed mapping analysis
of flood risk of any country in Europe. This information is regularly
updated and shared with local authorities and the insurance industry
to assist in planning and insurance provision. We map areas at
risk of flooding from the sea and from rivers. We do not currently
have a responsibility to map areas that may be vulnerable to surface
water flooding, sewer or groundwater flooding.
2.2 Most of the areas that flooded were
identified on our flood maps as being at risk of flooding. Those
that weren't identified by flood maps as being at risk tended
to be areas affected by drainage systems being overwhelmed by
the run-off from exceptional rainfall. Early data analysis shows
that five times as many properties were affected by surface water
flooding as against those directly affected by river bank overtopping,
although the relationship between the two is complex. Areas
where urban flooding was caused solely by overwhelmed urban drainage
systems do not receive flood warnings under the current system.
2.3 We constantly monitor rainfall, river
and sea conditions. We also use weather forecasting information
provided by the Meteorological Office (Met Office) on rainfall
forecasts, weather radar, tide levels and wind conditions. These
data help us plan and warn for events.
2.4 The data are fed into our national flood
forecasting system (NFFS), which predicts river and tide levels
for critical locations across England and Wales and allows us
to warn people at risk and professional partners. When severe
weather is predicted, our national and regional flood forecasting
duty officers are in regular and direct contact with Met Office
Triggers for action
2.5 The Environment Agency's operational
flood response can be triggered in a number of ways, depending
on the response required, for example:
Using weather forecasts from the
Met officefor informing professional partners, running
river level and tide forecasts, putting staff on standby;
Using detected river levels through
remote sensing or direct observationsused to issue flood
warnings and operate our flood control structures, including putting
up our temporary flood barriers; and
Through reports of flooding from
the public or othersthese can be received by Floodline
(our flooding information telephone service 0845 988 1188); our
National Customer Contact Centre (NCCC) during office hours, or
through our Regional Communication Centres (RCCs) using our emergency
out of hours contact number. They are then passed to the relevant
local duty officer to investigate and act.
2.6 We issue flood warnings when rivers
or sea levels reach trigger levels, or when high levels are forecast.
Before we issue warnings to ensure we try to be as specific
as possible about which communities will be affected. However,
we have to find a balance between the needs for accuracy and the
importance of alerting the public and our partners early enough
for them to react appropriately. We also need to be aware of
the problems of raising false alarms, which, if repeated, reduce
the willingness of people to respond.
2.7 We aim to give at least two hours' notice
of flooding, but in some locations, where catchments respond very
quickly to rainfall, this notice period is not feasible. We do
not currently have a responsibility to provide a flood warning
service for flooding from sewers, drains or surface water, although
work is currently being done under Defra's Making Space for
Water initiative to study the feasibility of expanding current
flood warnings to cover other flood risks.
2.8 During the summer floods:
We warned over 45,000 properties
of flooding through our free flood warning systems.
Our flood agents took almost 55,000
calls and we received over 200,000 calls to our Floodline Recorded
Message Service. Our call centres were manned with triple the
usual number of staff.
We issued 233 Flood Watch Warnings,
272 Flood Warnings, and 51 Severe Flood Warnings.
We received over 43 million "hits"
to flood pages from 4 million individuals on our website which
contain advice on preparing for flooding, what to do during a
flood and on cleaning up after a flood.
Floodline Warnings Direct (FWD)
2.9 We have invested £10 million over
the last 3 years in our new national flood warning dissemination
system, Flood Warnings Direct (FWD). It has proved a robust and
reliable way of getting warnings out to public and our professional
partners. This system is unique in the world, warning free of
charge registered users at the highest risk of flooding via telephone,
fax, text, mobile, pager and email.
2.10 We have sustained a long running campaign
to raise awareness of flooding and the availability of flood warning
and advice. To date 40% of those offered FWD have voluntarily
signed up for the service. We continue efforts post flood to
encourage sign up, for example by taking out full-page adverts
in three national newspapers, local newspaper advertising, direct
mailing, and going door to door.
3.1 During the June and July flooding we
mobilised all appropriate head office and regional operational
teams. Their activities included checking the condition and stability
of our flood defence assets; confirming telemetric readings; installing
demountable flood barriers; monitoring and forecasting; issuing
warnings; manning our incident control rooms; and responding to
queries from the public, Government Ministers and officials, Members
of Parliament and the media. Many staff from non-flooded areas
and other disciplines of Environment Agency work were drafted
in to supplement formal flood risk management staff, an example
of where a large, multi-functional agency is able to provide a
more robust response in such emergencies.
3.2 Over this period, up to 23 National,
Regional and Area Incident Rooms were operational, and staff attended
the same number of Gold and Silver Control Centres.
Gold and Silver Controls and Civil Contingencies
3.3 The Gold and Silver Command structure
is used to co-ordinate a managed response to major incidents where
a range of agencies and emergency services have a role to play.
Communication between the Environment Agency Regional contacts
and Gold and Silver Controls across the country worked well, largely
due to pre-established relationships and links made during emergency
planning exercises and Local Resilience Forums. We were able
to provide updates as necessary on flood risk in many areas.
These were widely cascaded to responding agencies and authorities
on a regular basis and the information was often the basis for
informing evacuation plans and informing the public. The same
material was used extensively by our own staff to brief the media,
provide press statements and give interviews.
3.4 The importance of our role in control
centres is recognisedHull City Council and Humberside Fire
and Rescue have both indicated that the Environment Agency were
"invaluable in providing accurate and vital information on
river levels, tides, and weather forecasts" at Silver Command
in Hull (Hull Floods Independent Review Body).
3.5 We also provided liaison officers in
the Met Office and in the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) National
Flood Support Team. These staff were able to keep direct contact
as needed with both the National Incident Room (gathering and
co-ordinating situation report information from local Operational
staff for onward transmission) and with Area Forecasting teams
(monitoring river levels and environmental conditions predict
their possible effects). For the FRS, this provided useful intelligence
on how rainfall was affecting river flows and levels, predicted
peak times and locations. Without this, the FRS would not have
been able to co-ordinate the deployment of water rescue staff
and assets as effectively.
3.6 We played a full part nationally in
the Cabinet Office Civil Contingencies Committee (known as COBRA).
Local communities and residents
3.7 After the floods, we put significant
efforts towards working with and talking to local communities
and answering questions about flooding in their areas. We organised
or took part in drop-in centres and advice sessions where our
staff were on hand to answer questions and offer practical advice
on all aspects of the flooding, as well as to hear first hand
from people affected by flooding. Many of these took place on
a multi-agency basis so that together we could provide as much
information as possible locally. We also had staff acting as
"flood ambassadors" in some communities to offer on-the-spot
advice and answer questions.
3.8 Our Floodline is available to provide
advice 24 hours a day during a flood event. Flood pages on our
website contain information on preparing for flooding, what to
do during a flood and cleaning up after a flood.
3.9 We provided four national briefings
to MPs during and after the flooding as well as briefing MPs in
affected constituencies at a regional and local level. We supported
the Government by providing briefings for Ministers and assisted
with Government briefings for members of Parliament.
4.1 Across England and Wales, the Environment
Agency flood risk infrastructure assets comprise 17,400 structures
and 22,800 kilometres of coast and riverbank defence with an estimated
replacement cost of £20 billion. Over the five years to
2007-08, our capital investment programme will have reduced the
risk of coastal and river flooding to an additional 155,000 properties.
4.2 We assess the condition of our assets
and grade them from 1 (very good) to 5 (very poor). Improvements
to our condition assessment work have helped to improve the classification
of our defences based on fit-for-purpose performance. Currently
more than 90% of our assets are graded as being in fair (3) or
Performance during events
4.3 Past evidence has shown that the majority
of instances where flooding occurs is due to either an absence
of defences or where the design capacity of the defences is overwhelmed.
Our records show that only around 1% of instances of flooding
arises directly from an asset failure. Current evidence from
the summer flooding of 2007 confirms that asset failure was not
a significant contributory issue.
Standards of protection
4.4 Flood defences in England and Wales
are provided under the Environment Agency's permissive powersthere
is no legal requirement on the Government to protect property
to a given standard, or at all. Government policy in England,
set through Defra, identifies indicative standards of protection.
These are currently between 1 in 50 and 1 in 100 for fluvial
defences and 1 in 200 years for tidal flooding. The standard
for each location is established through economic assessment and
focuses on optimising the benefit to cost ratio. It typically
enables standards of protection of around 1 in 100 years for urban
river systems and 1 in 200 years for urban coastal defences.
There are exceptions; most notably on the Thames where defences
protecting London from tidal flooding are set to the 1 in 2000-year
4.5 Calculating standards of protection
is based upon statistical analysis of the historical record.
The frequency and severity of intensity of rainfall are predicted
to increase as a consequence of climate change. These are major
drivers of river flooding. We therefore build increased tolerances
into our flood management works to cater for climate change inland
and at the coast. We allocate funds to areas of highest risk
taking account of the need to spread risk reduction as far as
possible with the funds available.
Temporary and demountable barriers
4.6 Temporary flood barriers are totally
removable and portable flood control systems and are one of a
number of mechanisms that we can use to protect people and property
from flooding. They are used as a short-term measure, for example
when repairs to permanent defences are being undertaken or during
construction of a permanent defence. We regularly use them in
a number of locations in England (where permanent schemes cannot
be justified). Our temporary defences were used to protect the
electricity substations at Walham, maintaining electricity supplies
to 500,000 people across Gloucestershire and South Wales, and
Castle Meads. Temporary barriers at the Mythe Water Treatment
Works near Tewksbury enabled recovery work to start at the plant
and restoration of water supplies to begin far earlier than would
have been possible without defences.
4.7 Demountable defences are set in pre
engineered locations where permanent fixings are in place to which
barriers can be attached. They are used successfully in a number
of places where it is not possible to put permenant barriers,
often for aesthetic reasons. We successfully deployed demountable
defences at Bewdley in Worcestershire and Shrewsbury protecting
4.8 Reliance on the use of temporary barriers
however is not without risk, as shown in the case of Upton-upon-Severn,
where we were unable to install temporary defences in time. As
previously agreed between the Environment Agency, local community
and Local Authority, the barriers for Upton are stored 23 miles
away at Kidderminster, where secure storage facilities, equipment
for loading and removing them from lorries are available. Under
normal circumstances, excellent transport links enable us to be
on site within an hour. However, the extreme weather conditions
caused severe traffic disruption and, despite our best efforts
and help from the police, we were unable to reach Upton in time
to erect the barriers. We now know that due to the unprecedented
amount of water flowing through the area, even had we been able
to erect the barriers, they would have been overtopped.
4.9 Even though the barriers were not used
at their intended location in Upton, we were able to deploy them
to great effect at Walham electricity sub-station, preventing
the loss of power to half a million people.
4.10 Whilst there are certain circumstances
where dredging and channel clearance may help reduce flood risk,
we have largely found in the past that, overall, channel maintenance
contributes little to reduction of flood risk in major events
and it is therefore less economically beneficial than other flood
risk management tools. To reinstate more widespread channel management
practices on top of our other flood risk management activities
would, therefore, require significant additional resource.
4.11 River channel clearance would have
had limited immediate benefit during the summer floods. Rivers
only stay inside their banks in low to medium flows. Above this
the river will flow onto the floodplain, which is as much a natural
part of the river as the channel itself. Channels, which are
over-deepened beyond their natural profile, quickly silt up as
they try and find their natural state of equilibrium.
5.1 The focus on the floods has now moved
from incident management to the recovery phase and to longer-term
reviews of what went well and the challenges for the future.
5.2 Our immediate role in the aftermath
of a flood is to inspect defences and other equipment to ensure
they remain serviceable and to remove debris and blockages from
main watercourses where we believe they are increasing flood risk.
Local Authorities have the lead role in co-ordinating recovery
efforts following a flood. We believe that planning for recovery
is as important as planning for the flood itself.
5.3 Current direct costs of the floods to
the Environment Agency stand at £20 million. Three quarters
of this will be needed to repair our flood defences.
Clean up operations
5.4 We have a limited role in post event
economic and social recovery but we work with others to help people
get their lives back to normal as quickly as possible. As flood
levels receded, our workforce was deployed to help remove water
from flooded areas as quickly as possible, including using large
temporary pumps through to unblocking debris from culverts and
under bridges, and helping the emergency services remove obstacles