Posted Thursday 23 January 2014
As Britain experiences widespread flooding and many businesses and households are inundated by filthy water or cut off from the rest of their communities, Dr Tim Harries, leading expert on the public response to flood risk based at Kingston University says they must get better at dealing with this type of weather.
Dr Harries is currently conducting government-funded research to find out why so few small and medium-sized businesses plan for possible flooding, and how we can encourage them to do so.
"Much of the current discussion in the media concerns the amount of money that government should be spending on flood defences," Tim says. "Although this is an important issue, it is not always possible to prevent floods and however much we spend on structural defenses, climate change means that the our exposure to flooding is going to increase over the coming years and flooding is going to become part of normal life in the UK.
"We therefore need to accept that our businesses and homes are sometimes going to be flooded - and not only those that happen to be on the coast or by a river.
"However, if businesses and households are to be more prepared, they need better advice on how to protect themselves and their properties. At the moment, such advice is in short supply and is too expensive, leaving people confused and unable to act effectively."
Dr Harries' Sesame project aims to understand and model the effects of flooding on the UK's small and medium businesses and the knock-on effects on the wider economy, and find ways to encourage people to be better prepared. He says that one reason why fewer than 10 per cent of households and only a quarter of businesses in flood risk areas plan for flooding – by buying flood barriers or using flood-resilient flooring, for example – is that, without experience of a flood, people cannot know where the water will come from, what damage it will do or how to stop it.
"We can get advice from the police on how to deter burglars, and help from the fire service on how to reduce fire hazards – something similar is needed for flood risk. People need to know who to go to for advice that they can trust. This could be an officially recognised body or it could be a surveyor who has an official accreditation, like the Gas Safe qualification for plumbers. Flooding is going to continue. We need to start seeing it as part of everyday life here in the UK and we have to get better at dealing with it."