Assessing your flood risk

When preparing for disaster, it is essential to focus on the most likely scenarios first to ensure that you’re ready for everyday problems (such as a burst pipe) as well as having a plan for less likely outcomes (the once-in-500-year flood). However, across most of the UK, flooding is the most likely natural disaster to affect homes and businesses and for this reason, some form of flood preparedness is essential for most of us. However, the level of preparedness necessary ranges from checking your insurance cover (if you’re in a very low risk area) to stockpiling sandbags and sending staff home (high and current risk areas) making assessing risk the essential first step. Here’s how to start.

1. Check for urgent flood warnings

Hopefully, you’re reading this in a quiet moment, with no immediate concerns. However, if you are worried about current or ongoing flooding in the UK check: 

At some of these sites, you can also sign up for flood alerts for your area which can be sent to your email or mobile phone.

2. Check for the long-term risk of flooding in your area

In the UK, flooding most commonly originates from rivers overflowing and occurs in somewhat predictable ways, as does sea surge flooding and water run-off. Using historic data and predictive models, it is possible to give each area a risk factor and this information is also available online.

It’s important to understand what risk assessments mean and, in most cases, being in a ‘high risk’ area for flooding will carry a relatively low overall risk. As an example, the Environment Agency map which shows high risk flooding areas for England deems any area with over 3.3% chance of flooding per year to be at high risk. If this rate was unvaried across the years, it would suggest a chance of flooding around 1 year in every 30.

Climate changes, river course changes, flood defence improvements or deterioration can all affect the risk of flooding, therefore if you live or work in an ‘at risk’ area, it is important to check that the designation hasn’t changed and update your plans accordingly when new information comes in. Modern construction typically uses a lot of concrete and asphalt, which causes surface run off so a new development near to you can increase the chance of flooding and also change the path that the flooding may take. Reclaiming swampy areas, wetlands and flood plains as building areas will also have an impact by reducing the available areas to divert water to and let it soak away safely.

3. Preparing for flooding

Once you’ve assessed the risk of flooding in your area, preparation is vital in order to minimize risk to your health and safety as well as damage to your property. It is important to think about how you can minimize damage and ensure your safety at different stages and, you may want to write out a detailed plan for what needs to be done before, during and after a flood (e.g. ‘when a flood alert is received, send all staff home, switch off electrics and gas…during flooding, inform emergency services of any missing personnel…after flooding, contact damage repair experts on this number…’).

Many people find preparing for flooding at home or at work both daunting and potentially a waste of time – what if a flood never happens? Or what if a flood happens, but in 5 years such that even the bottled water you bought for your emergency supply kit has expired? Fortunately, there are a number of actions you can take which are simple, low or no-cost, provide other benefits or will provide protection against multiple disasters at once. A few specific actions you may want to take to prepare for flooding include:

  • Ensuring you have adequate insurance cover.
  • Creating an emergency fund or line of credit (some spare cash which you can use for a hotel night if you’re evacuated, renting temporary office space etc.).
  • Packing a go-bag or box (a grab-and-go bag with basics you’ll need for a few days, plus key documentation) or storing key documentation in a waterproof/fireproof/portable way.
  • Structural flood proofing (this ranges from raised entry ways to reinforcing walls depending on likely risks).
  • Reorganising to keep vulnerable or hazardous materials on a higher floor (moving your box of precious photos / computer servers / chemical storage out of the basement, e.g.).
  • Checking what local flood preparation recommendations are (e.g. where you should evacuate to, what routes are recommended).
  • Writing a flood evacuation plan (this should include a safe shut down of services such as electricity, gas and water. For businesses, you may need to register hazardous materials such as chemical storage with the emergency services).
  • Writing a flood continuation plan (i.e. figuring out how to make life go on during flooding. For a family, this might mean arranging to stay with a friend whilst for a business, this might be much more complex and involve staff working from home or other locations).
  • Creating an off-site back up of key materials and documentation (for an individual or family and could include emailing yourself photos of insurance documentation, passports and medical records).
  • Contacting potentially vulnerable neighbours (such as elderly people living alone) and discussing the risk with them and their plans.

Obviously this is an incomplete list but we hope we’ve made it clear that there are a number of ways to prepare for flooding which require little effort and little or no cost. Many of the examples above will also help you survive and thrive during other common disasters and upsets, such as a fire, snow storm, burglary or burst pipe.