Technology key to protecting local communities from flooding

Through the use of technology such as social media, citizens can be better informed regarding extreme weather situations.

As we’ve seen over the last few winters, flooding is becoming a more common occurrence across the UK. The flooding which affected Northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland last year has recently been called “the most extreme on record”. Flooding has also already occurred this year causing travel chaos, damage to property and even loss of life.

Alongside the emergency services, local councils are at the forefront of disaster preparedness and resilience when it comes to crisis events such as flooding.   

As the risks from crises such as flooding increases, the burden on local councils to respond and protect life and property in their local areas also increases. However, every year we hear stories of councils struggling to ensure their communities are safe and prepared, which has been compounded by the reductions in funding which councils have experienced over the past few years.  

The good news is that technology can offer much needed support for these challenging times, helping them to plan and execute a flooding response, moving people and resources to areas where they are most needed to match the situation as it unfolds. By utilising technology to effectively communicate and manage their resources, councils can save money and save lives.  

Coordinate rescue centres 

The most important short term imperative of any flood response is to ensure that community members are safe in reception centres around the local area that can be activated at a moment’s notice. These days, technology is critical to coordinating and executing these rescue efforts.

These centres tend to be public buildings such as fire stations, libraries, schools or community centres. In this scenario, incident management software is crucial for proper coordination in order to ensure that members of the community are safe and accounted for and that resources are properly used.   

After the reception centres are secured, critical information such as the location of existing and new shelters, exact coordinates, capacity and available resources can be recorded in incident management software. When all parties involved in the flooding response have this information to hand, it allows the rescue effort to go much more smoothly. Members of the community who are need of assistance are directed to the right shelter at the right time, and resources are managed effectively.  

Making sure that these locations are added to the council’s website or other locations where the general public may be looking for information is also crucial. If residents and emergency managers are in-sync with shelter management processes and procedures, the best potential outcome will be guaranteed during a flooding event.    

Communications tools during a crisis

During a crisis, emergency managers and public officials are obliged to communicate critical and life-saving information to residents in a timely and efficient manner. One of the most simple and effective way of doing this is to communicate via social media outlets. Posts should be succinct, contain all relevant info and should be posted across the various outlets.

In the period between crisis events, it’s important to encourage residents to use social media to follow relevant channels in order to stay updated with important information from both weather advisors and emergency managers.

Increasingly, messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are also being used to update citizens in real time right to their smartphone screens when a disaster scenario unfolds. The instantaneous nature of these services means can precious seconds can be saved, increasing the likelihood that lives and property will be protected.      

Set-up a practice scenario 

The only way to ensure a timely and efficient response when a crisis such as a flood actually hits is to regularly run practice scenarios. Technology can help here too.

Practice scenarios are designed to involve team members to work together in managing the response plan to a theoretical incident. By setting up a practice scenario, emergency managers will go through a step-by-step process on what to do during an emergency situation. Allowing team members to see a hypothetical situation will give them first-hand experience, so they are best prepared for the actual flash flooding event.

Mapping software can be used to test various scenarios by adding or taking away different parameters. For example, personnel, vehicle shifts, calls and hotspots can all be added or taken away to understand how duplicated or extracted from scenarios to create situational variations. This way, emergency response teams can be prepared for any event and can understand exactly what resources are needed to cope in different crises. Historical data – such as emergency vehicle location data and emergency call data - that has been mapped during previous events can also be used to better inform future crisis planning. 

When these practice scenarios have been completed, it’s important to revisit the plan and revise accordingly depending on the findings during the exercise. Using mapping technology to identify weaknesses in the plan beforehand saves finding this out during a crisis like a flood.   

Technology key to flood preparation

It is an unfortunate fact that, across the globe and within the UK, flooding is occurring more and more regularly, causing significant loss of life and damage to property. Scenes of towns and cities across the country under water, especially during the winter, are becoming depressingly familiar. As a result, one of the key organisations tasked with keeping us safe from this threat – local councils – have more to do with every year.   

Technology is not a silver bullet but it has a huge role to play in preparing for and mitigating the worst effects of flooding. By deploying it to coordinate and manage resources like rescue centres, properly communicate with the general public and enable the planning and preparation process, councils can go a long way to protecting people and property in their local areas.  

Ian Carr, VP EMEA, Intermedix 

Image Credit: AC Rider / Shutterstock

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Carr is VP EMEA at Intermedix, a global leader in crisis management and operational analytics solution.