Online from: 1992
Subject Area: Environmental Management/Environment
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Article citation: H.C. Wilson, (2008) "Re-thinking of survival techniques", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 17 Iss: 5, pp. -
Recently I was walking the UK National Trail known as the Thames Path which follows the 186 odd mile route of the River Thames from source to the Thames Barrier in London which was built to prevent a re-occurrence of the catastrophic flooding of London in 1953. The barrier was designed to hold back a combination of extreme tidal surges from the North Sea and exceptional Spring Tides and as such has done an admirable job.
As I walked along the river bank I pondered over the scenario of such events as above combining with the effects of global warming which predicts a 7 metre rise in sea levels by the end of this century. In the 50 odd years since the last catastrophic flooding of London the population living on the river’s flood plain has increased to over 1.35 million.
In 2007 The UK suffered one of the wettest summers for many years and the effects of the run-off waters are still to be seen in many parts of the countryside, towns and cities. There was no chance of mass evacuation as the rain-storms occurred so quickly that the roads flooded within a matter of a few hours as the storm water system was inundated and the remaining small parts of the original flood-plains were quickly covered as rivers over-topped their banks and the rudimentary flood defence systems. The emergency services coped very well given the immense difficulties they faced with flooded roads, power-outages, lack of inflatable boats, lack of sand bags etc.
North Sea tidal surges, exceptional Spring Tides, and extreme rainfall in the UK are all graded as one in 100 years events. Adding in the effect of the predictions from Global Warming with a seven metre rise in sea levels by the end of the century then we have a high risk of lesser events combining together well within that 100 year eventuality.
Is the UK prepared, or preparing, for such an event? In the UK we are fortunate that any earthquakes are seldom much more than 3 on the Richter Scale, we seldom have tornados, we do not have any active volcanoes, we seldom suffer from drought, we seldom have extreme winters, in fact we are fortunate to live in a very benign land. Our greatest risk is that of flooding. We live on our small area of flood-plains, but we do not have a system for mass evacuation in the event of floods, nor do we spend any large financial resource on flood-plain protection. When an area becomes flooded the resources in that area are quickly lost. We do not have the military resources of China who frequently move hundreds of thousands of people out of harm’s way, nor do we have a resource such as the US Army Corps of Engineers with their huge equipment resource pool to draw on. We rely on local resources and indeed they do a brilliant job given their lack of resources, but they quickly become over-stretched as the flood area expands. The UK Environment Agency and National Rivers Authority operate a telephone flood warning system for those who have subscribed to the system, but this is only effective if the power supply stays on, if their buildings do not have to be evacuated, etc.
The one good thing that came out of last year’s floods across the nation was the way that those affected helped each other. The sense of community spirit was raised well above previous levels.
Many nations operate various systems utilising this common hazard community spirit where neighbours are trained in how to help themselves and each other in the event of a disaster. Many utilise the skills of these people, there will be builders, electricians, first-aiders, child care specialists, plumbers, home removal experts, etc. all living in the same area that could be trained in how to work together for the good of the affected community.
There is only one certainty in disaster prevention and management and that is we will never be able to tame nature. We can only respond in a timely and appropriate manner. The use of the affected community as first-responders until more professional help can arrive can alleviate many of the problems that will occur in the aftermath.
Training communities to work together as a team is a low-cost option which has been shown to be very effective in many parts of the world and is certainly much cheaper to implement than raising river-side walls, digging wider drainage channels, etc. that nature will just push aside with its flood-waters.