Lessons learned, new technology and old techniques contributed to tidal surge response

Flood warnings. NNDC volunteer flood wardens, Pat and Mike Harcup go door-to-door warning residents about the possible evacuation. 
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY Flood warnings. NNDC volunteer flood wardens, Pat and Mike Harcup go door-to-door warning residents about the possible evacuation. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Saturday, December 7, 2013
8:00 AM

Thursday night’s tidal surge was, in places, higher than the one that killed 307 people in Britain in 60 years ago, yet thankfully no-one was killed this time.

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Many lessons were learned from 1953, not least better warnings and communication, and lessons have continued to be learned after each subsequent inundation.

November 2007 saw similar conditions to those this week, but villagers in Walcott, on the north Norfolk coast, complained that sirens failed to sound, and warnings sent by telephone or text were not enough.

The sirens have since been removed altogether, and John Ellis, resilience manager for Norfolk County Council, said a key lesson learned from 2007 was to automatically sign people up for telephone warnings from the Environment Agency (EA), rather than rely on them opting in.

He said: “The sirens were getting very old. People did not understand what they meant. Perhaps people did not hear them with changes in design of properties with double glazing. Quite often we have rough weather which is perhaps blowing a siren’s noise in the wrong direction.”

In contrast, people have to acknowledge the electronic phone warnings, allowing the EA to quickly identify areas where the warnings are not being picked up, while smart phones now allow people to receive warnings wherever they are.

Despite the late-night drama on Thursday, police said they were not overwhelmed with calls, something Mr Ellis said the development of social media contributed to, allowing warning messages, advice and updates to spread quicker than ever.

But despite the technological developments, more old-fashioned approaches are still used.

Mr Ellis said: “Door knocking is very important, really. You can’t rely on a single approach. When you can identify an area that is at risk, we can put together an evacuation cell to identify what people within an area require.”

Catastrophic flooding in areas like Hull and Gloucestershire in summer 2007 prompted a national review of flooding responses with the EA and Met Office setting up the Flood Forecasting Centre, which allowed authorities to start planning for this week’s emergency on Monday or Tuesday.

Local police and fire services were also able to activate mutual aid agreements to pull in resources from places as far away as Devon, Somerset and Bedfordshire.

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