Monday, December 17, 2007

UK flood defence plan needed, warns report

Guardian (UK): The government should devise a national emergency plan to prevent a repeat of the severe flooding that devastated thousands of homes across England, an official inquiry said today. The torrential downpours that caused billions of pounds-worth of damage should be seen as a "wake-up call" for the country, an interim report said.

The report warned that the country only narrowly avoided "several near disasters of an even greater magnitude" with an "even greater loss of essential services". It said action was urgently required because the risk of major flooding was growing due to increasingly intense rainfall leading to more flash floods.

The study identified failings by both the authorities and the public in response to the floods. The leader of the review, Sir Michael Pitt, warned that critical infrastructure, such as hundreds of power stations, railways, roads and hospitals, had been poorly protected. Pitt said: "Despite the immense devastation - 48,000 homes were flooded - it could have been very much worse indeed.

"There were some sites with critical infrastructure on them; power stations, for example, which came extremely close to flooding, where something like half a million homes could have been without power. So I am concerned about the vulnerability of some of our critical infrastructure and very anxious that we do something about that quickly."

His report called for no buildings to be constructed in areas at risk of flooding unless they are flood-proof, and for the Environment Agency to identify any further areas at risk. Pitt, chairman of the south-west strategic health authority, urged the public to better prepare themselves in future, for example, by keeping an emergency kit at home.

…The report calls on the government and the insurance industry to educate the public on the benefits of insurance. The public should also make up a "flood kit", which should include documents such as insurance policies and equipment including torches, a radio, first aid kit and blankets. They should also sign up to flood alerts from the Environment Agency so they are warned of emergencies.

Other key advice included a call to clarify which agency should be responsible for rescuing those caught in floods and ensuring they have the right training and equipment. The Environment Agency should also carry out frequent and systematic monitoring of groundwater levels when there is a high risk of flooding. The study said water companies, local authorities and other agencies should develop proposals for investment in the drainage network to lessen the impact of flooding.

Today's report sets out the preliminary findings and conclusions of the Pitt review. The final report will be published next summer…

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