Major flood defence exercise hailed a success in Norfolk

Flood wardens, local police officers and civil protection volunteers are among those who have taken part in one of the biggest nationwide civil defence drills aimed at equipping ordinary with the skills to make sure lives are safe in times of serious flooding.

Exercise Watermark took place in Norfolk today with the aim of testing the country's preparedness against a range of flooding scenarios and the lessons which can be learned and put into practice from previous floods.

As well as the Environment Agency (EA) the police, fire service, councils, coastguards, the army, RNLI, Maritime Coastguard Agency, Met Office, power companies and the NHS have all been taking part in the exercises.

As part of the drills the EA showed people taking part how, in times of emergency, they could operate flood gates and structures themselves and also held briefings with people about what to do in different flooding situations.

At Wells a team of six Environment Agency staff worked on testing the flood gates twice, one with mains power and once with a back-up generator, and demountable barriers were put up along the Quayside.

Environment Agency operations team leader for north Norfolk Sophie Thomas said: 'This was a really worthwhile training exercise for our staff and we were also able to use this as an opportunity to get the local community involved in our work on flood defences.'

At Great Yarmouth, the EA have been testing how quickly staff can close the flood gates protecting more than 6,000 homes from a tidal surge up the River Yare.

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The operation started at 11am at the flood gate next to Gorleston lifeboat station in Riverside Road.

With reassuring speed, EA staff closed the gate, upgraded shortly before Christmas, before moving on to their next stop.

Andy Sharpe-Brash, the EA's field team leader, said: 'This exercise replicates what we would do in the case of a similar North Sea surge to the one we had in 2007. All the gates would be closed at least three hours ahead of the predicted high tide.

'The majority are closed during the winter period but we are opening and closing them all to check they are all working OK.'

And at Potter Heigham, staff have been demonstrating the barrier which protects coarse fish in the River Thurne from salt tides.

Defences at Lynn were tested on Tuesday at the Lynn depot which maintains defences from the north Norfolk coast to the Fens.

Nick Hesp, the EA's operations delivery manager for Norfolk and Suffolk said Exercise Watermark had been a great success.

He said: 'What has been most pleasing thing is that we have been able to work with local communities that we would not normally work with.

'We have had a lot of feedback which has been very positive. It has been a really good opportunity to engage with the public.'

Members of the public can check to see if their homes are at risk of flooding and sign up to get early warnings by logging onto environment-agency.gov.uk or calling Floodline on 0845 988 1188.

In an emergency Norfolk Constabulary will issue messages to the public using Police Direct which sends voice messages, texts, emails and fax. People can register for Police Direct at www.norfolk.police.uk

See tomorrow's EDP for pictures and a full round-up of the day's events.