How to prepare for a flood – what’s your risk level?

Every year, homes and businesses across the UK are at risk from flooding and hundreds or thousands of people find themselves in crisis as water inundates their property. Flooding occurs from 2 main sources: rivers and the sea. However, heavy rain can cause surface flooding and a burst pipe can also mimic flooding, creating very similar chaos and damage. This means that even if you are near the coast or a river, it’s worth undertaking basic preparations to protect your home or business.

Assessing your current flood risk

Before deciding how much to invest in flood preparation, you need to know whether your property is at risk and from what source. The government provides information at 3 levels: areas currently at risk; predictions of future risk; and historic flood data. The sites listed below will let you assess your risk in all 3 categories.

Current flood warnings

– England – https://flood-warning-information.service.gov.uk/warnings
– Scotland – https://floodline.sepa.org.uk/floodupdates/ (run by SEPA)
– Wales – https://www.naturalresources.wales/flooding/check-flood-warnings/?lang=en
– Northern Ireland – https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/severe-weather-flooding-and-drought
– UK weather warnings – https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather/warnings

Predicted future flooding risk

– England – https://flood-warning-information.service.gov.uk/long-term-flood-risk
– Scotland – https://www.sepa.org.uk/environment/water/flooding/flood-maps/
– Wales – https://www.naturalresources.wales/evidence-and-data/maps/long-term-flood-risk/?lang=en
– Northern Ireland – https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/check-the-risk-of-flooding-in-your-area

Historic flood data

The Environment Agency provides historic flood data on request. Find out more: https://www.gov.uk/check-flood-risk

Preparing for future flooding

Flood preparation can seem daunting and expensive. However, by taking simple actions in a number of areas you can reduce the risk to your, your family or employees, and to your property without spending a fortune. As each home and business is different, we recommend you make a detailed plan of which actions will most benefit your circumstances and begin preparations accordingly.

Many flood preparation actions will also provide benefits in other emergencies. For example, creating an off-site back up of key databases will not only protect a business during flood, fire and other damage to the site, but may also let employees work from home during a site-wide power outage or other ordinary disaster. Likewise, for a family, keeping important documents in a single grab-and-go bag will help you evacuate quickly and easily in case of flooding, and will also make filling in forms easier on a day-to-day basis.

Risk areas to consider

Below we’ve outlined a few areas to consider when making your flood preparations. There are, of course, many other steps you could take but we hope that the outline below will provide inspiration and encourage you to take at least a few simple, easy, free or cheap steps that will protect you, your family and your business in case of flood or another disaster. If you are wondering where to start, your local emergency services or local council may have recommendations on their website.

Individual health and safety

Even shallow floods can be a significant risk to health and safety as they hide hazards and can carry disease, toxic chemicals and faecal matter. Preparing your family or business with basic safety information can be the most important step you take. Encourage those in at-risk areas to register for flood warning alerts using the links above and to stay well away from flooded areas, including not walking, driving or cycling through floods.

Evacuation preparations

For families, making it easy to pack a few changes of clothes, grab your important documentation, medication, pets and kids, tends to be the primary focus of evacuation planning. However, it’s also useful to have an idea of somewhere you can go (a friend, relative or hotel) and a way to pay for this (cash, credit card only used in emergencies, etc). Businesses will also find a line of credit useful in an emergency, and will have to prepare for potentially evacuating customers as well as staff. During your preparations, please also consider friends and neighbours who may be unable to evacuate without help – the friend who doesn’t drive, the elderly neighbour who lives alone.

Reducing damage to property

Structural changes can be expensive, so it can be worth making larger changes such as alterations to ventilation systems or moving computer equipment out of the basement as part of planned renewal. However, there are plenty of steps you can take before it comes to putting sandbags at your door to putting family heirlooms in the attic. Examples include routinely storing dangerous, valuable or fragile items above floor level (ideally not on the ground floor or in the basement) and creating duplicates or back ups of particularly critical documents or systems. This can be as simple as photocopying all the documentation for your mortgage, car, passport and so on and leaving it with your bank or a trusted relative.

Reducing risk to others

Should a flood occur, simple steps like turning the gas, water and electricity off at the mains can reduce the risk to emergency rescue workers and others. If your home or business has unusual hazards, for example if your business uses toxic chemicals, then many local emergency services will be pleased to add this information to a register, so they can warn their teams if they need to respond to a flood, fire or other problem at your address. You may also want to create warning signs or a reinforced area to safeguard problematic items, e.g. prevent chemicals entering floodwaters.

Making getting back to normal easier

Ensuring you have appropriate insurance coverage is an excellent place to start as it will certainly make repairs easier and a line of credit or emergency savings account will also help both during and after a flood or other disaster. Other preparations will depend on your circumstances but in most circumstances, writing down a plan of actions to take on your return (such as instructions for dealing with particular items) and information you need (such as insurance policy numbers and contact information, and perhaps the name and number of a cleaning company) will make the process smoother.