As I’ve done with other big topics, I intend to write about this in several parts. This part is an introduction and the rest is about what to do to safeguard against flood effects – good solid prepper activities, which will make recovery from any flooding go more smoothly.
Coastal flooding on the scale of the 1953 disaster, when over 300 people died, isn’t currently as high up the UK government’s disaster scale as it used to be, because of all the money that’s been thrown at sea defences since then. Pockets of land still suffer from coastal erosion, and for the people affected it’s life-changing; plus one or two storms each year are bad enough to damage sea walls, causing flooding and endangering life, but it’s not currently as severe as inland flooding. It may become so once again later on in this century, because of sea level rises, but as of this moment, it’s inland flooding that needs our attention.
Inland flooding happens more often nowadays on a yearly basis, and it’s now started to happen repeatedly within each year, often in the same places. This year, 2016, saw people in north west England flooded half a dozen times, and the year before, parts of Somerset had been flooded for weeks at a time. The National Risk Register details the consequences of inland flooding:
- casualties and fatalities
- damage to property and infrastructure
- loss and/or interruption of supply of essential goods and services
- possible contamination and environmental damage.
Monitoring and forecasting is spread between a whole raft of organisations: the Met Office, the Environment Agency, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Natural Resources Wales and the Flood Forecasting Centre. Floodline is the relevant, active warning service.
Consultation for a review of national flood resilience has just finished (on 4th March) though heaven knows when it will actually be published. In the meantime, there’s a central government page on the .gov.uk website for the 2015-2016 floods, which is more immediately helpful. Though my guess is that if you’re one of the people who have been affected, that page won’t look that great, and I must say, the government flood pages, whether they’re warnings, advice or active help, are a complete mess. There’s no one listing of all the useful pages that I can find, not at all. I can find them all, eventually, but I had a real sense of being on a merry-go-round.
Summary of the points below
- check if you’re at risk.
- sign up for flood alerts if so.
- if you’re especially vulnerable, check beforehand if you can evacuate to somewhere safer close by.
- nothing is 100% perfect: you may have to accept that the water will get in.
- put everything as high up as possible: the next floor, the tops of the cabinets, tables, furniture on bricks if nothing else.
- phone numbers and references of utilities, aid agencies, insurance company, financial affairs, friends and relatives should be kept with you.
- deploy any flood defences you have: sandbags, floodboards etc.
- garden: move any large/loose items or weigh them down.
- move animals to safety, or prepare to evacuate them too.
- move your car out of the flood risk area, but make sure you can still access it for evacuation.
- make sure your flood kit is up to date: torch, warm and waterproof clothes and footwear, water, food, medication, rubber gloves, basic entertainment.
Safeguarding against floods
A lot can be done! Checking online whether your area is particularly at risk is the first step. I used Bicester to check this, as it was the town I used in my book Getting Home In An Emergency.
Although it’s not really near any particular danger points, the little streams that run through it have the potential to cause local havoc. That dark blue colour means there’s a 1 in 30 chance of flooding in any one year, that’s worth knowing.
There’s also a map showing current river levels: there are up to three information or gauging points in Bicester, where river data is collected, and this one shows that at the time of writing (10 March for this section) it’s in some danger of flooding, though it’s far from the worst it’s ever been. There’s also a link for danger from surface water flooding, and that one made it look like poor old Bicester was in danger of drowning.
So that’s the first thing: check whether your particular location is in any danger, both long term and right now, and checking the “gauging stations” close to you to see exactly how dangerous the current situation is. You could also sign up for flood alerts (like the maps, a link to the signup page is on the “Winter Flooding 2015” page). For people in danger zones, the flood alerts are free; I suspect others have to pay.
If you’re especially vulnerable – you live in a park home, or a ground floor flat, or a bungalow, or you or someone who lives with you is disabled or even bedridden, you have fewer options than most of us, and you’re unlikely to be able to ride out any flood in your own place safely. So you have to be prepared to evacuate, whether that means getting in your own car and driving out, or heading to a neighbour – maybe to a flat on a higher floor, or to the clubhouse if you’re in a park home, but something, somewhere. I strongly urge you, if you’re in this situation, to talk with your neighbours and see if a mutual aid exchange can be established. You can evacuate to them, maybe you can water their plants and draw their curtains when they go away?
The last thing to remember is that nothing you do is 100% perfect: even if you’ve done everything, and the three feet of water flowing past your home isn’t getting in, you may need to open your doors yourself, to let it in. Unfortunately, this is so that the pressure of the flood doesn’t collapse your walls – better to have to gut the inside of your house than have it collapse altogether.
If whatever defences you do have are overwhelmed, what would help you inside your property? I’ll write about defence products another time, but putting everything as high up as possible is a good basic precaution. Start with things that are low down, near to the floor, that are absorbent: wooden furniture, equipment or decorations – chairs, tables, and so on. I have a semi-abstract wooden sculpture of a cat that I’d hate to lose to a flood, it sits on the floor like a real cat would. Plenty of useful things aren’t particularly valuable but would be thrown out if they were contaminated by floodwater (remember it’s likely to have raw sewage in it): the wheels of a trolley, a wheelbarrow, or a bike, anything with moving parts like a hand whisk in a drawer. Plants and dishes … put everything up high, as far up as you can, on top of the kitchen cabinets is probably the highest – the floor above is best of all, of course.
There’s a two page pdf document that could be helpful. The listing of phone numbers – gas, electric, insurer, local council etc – is something that was amongst the first precautions I took when I first started prepping, and I’d hope anyone who’s been prepping longer than six months or so already has that bit sorted.
That document also has a list of specific actions which are really useful in case your defences are overwhelmed, as mentioned above:
- move furniture and electrical items to safety
- put flood boards, polythene and sandbags in place
- make a list now of what you can move away from the risk
- turn off electricity, water and gas supplies
- roll up carpets and rugs
- unless you have time to remove them, hang curtains over their rods
- move sentimental items to safety
- put important documents in polythene bags and move to safety.move your car out of the flood risk area
- move any large or loose items or weigh them down
- move animals to safety, or make sure you can take them with you when you yourself evacuate.
- Inform your family or friends that you may need to leave your home
- Get your flood kit together and include a torch, warm and waterproof clothing, water, food, medication, toys for children and pets, rubber gloves and wellingtons.
Other subjects I’ll be covering later include:
- travelling/moving in a flood
- flood defence products pre-installed in your property
- afterwards: your health, your garden, your future.
- flash floods