Research by the Environment Agency shows that nearly 50 per cent of people living in flood prone areas are oblivious to the risk and only one person in ten takes any action to prepare.
Less than 12 months ago, the deluge of autumn 2000 saw 10,000 homes and businesses flooded across England and Wales. In severely affected parts of the country, many families have not yet been able to return to their homes.
The Environment Agency estimates that up to five million people live in natural floodplains and could be affected if flood waters rise again this year, endangering 2 million homes and 185,000 businesses. Property, land and assets worth up to£214bn could be hit.
A national television advertising campaign from today draws on the memory of floods in 1998, 1999 and 2000, asking people starkly 'Do you really need another warning?'
The campaign urges people to 'wise up to flooding' and call the Environment Agency's 24 hour Floodline 0845 988 1188 for advice on how to prepare and make homes more resistant to flood damage. Floodline also gives details of flood warnings in force and free information on local warning services, clean-up and repairs.
During last year's floods, the agency's Floodline took 781,000 calls. At the peak of the crisis in November, Floodline was the second most commonly dialled number after 999.
Despite the dramatic events of last autumn, however, the agency is anxious that memories amongst those who escaped the direct impact of the floods could fade. Research shows that awareness of risk is increasing; calls to the agency's Floodline are rising, and the provision of flood risk maps on-line last Autumn triggered massive public interest. Awareness is still not being turned into preventative action, however, by the majority of potential flood victims.
Agency research carried out by BMRB since last Autumn showed that nearly a third (29 per cent) of those who had been flooded before did nothing to minimise flood damage last year. Simple precautions like checking their insurance cover, preparing a flood plan, blocking doors with flood boards or sandbags, switching off gas and electricity and moving cars, furniture and valuables out of danger could have saved a lot of heartache.
And nearly half the people questioned who lived in risk areas but escaped earlier flooding took no action to be better prepared last year.
Environment Agency chairman John Harman said:
'Flooding is a real risk. It is one we know about, and one that people can do something practical about. Last year's flood's were described as a 'wake-up' call, but there are signs that the alarm bells aren't ringing loudly enough to trigger action by many people.
'Our aim is for the public to recognise flooding as a regular risk for which they should prepare. At the moment, it seems that unless people can relate to the threat of flooding at a personal level they won't take action.'
The findings are taken from two surveys - One was conducted by the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) for the Environment Agency in which 1, 497 residents were interviewed. Of these, 1, 395 lived in 12 areas that experienced a flooding event during autumn 2000. A further 102 respondents lived in areas where flood warnings were in place but they were not actually flooded.
The second, At Risk 2001, was an Environment Agency survey amongst people who live or work in an area which is at risk from flooding. It was based on interim fieldwork figures; the total number of respondents interviewed was 955.
Key BMRB findings include:
Of those respondents who received a prior flood warning from the Environment Agency or emergency services, four out of five (80%) received at least three hours notice of possible flooding. Only 5% of respondents received a warning less than half an hour before the flood.
Three-quarters of respondents (76%) thought they were given enough notice to act effectively, whilst a fifth (21%) thought that they should have been given more notice.
Almost two fifths of respondents (38%) who received a warning first became aware of possible risk to their property directly through the Environment Agency; that is either from a recorded telephone message (AVM), a personal telephone call from the Agency or from the respondent calling Floodline.
Floods in the South West - The Story of Winter 2000
AS the autumn weather starts to take hold and thoughts turn to flooding the Environment Agency is publishing the dramatic story of last year's floods in the south west - the worst in the region for half a century.
The free 30 page colour booklet, covering Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire and most of Wiltshire, is packed with photographs, personal accounts of life-saving rescues, factual information about the weather and local geology.
Key issues such as development in floodplains and run-off from urban and rural areas are addressed as well as advice to help people prepare for and minimise flooding. Advice to help people know the flood codes, prepare for and minimise flooding and how to clean up after a flood is also included.
No-one will forget the terrible storms and torrential rain that hit the south west at the end of October following one of the wettest autumns on record. From October 29 almost a foot (270 millimetres) of rain fell in just 10 days with almost a third of it falling in only 30 hours. This rain was eight times the region's average for the same 10 day period.
As river levels rose the Environment Agency issued over a thousand flood warnings and thousands of people called Floodline - 0845 988 1188 - for advice and information. In November Floodline was the second most used telephone number in the country - after 999.
Many thousands of properties were protected by flood defences but around 1000 homes and businesses across the region were flooded and road and rail links were severed in places.
Publication of Floods in the South West - The Story of Winter 2000 is part of the Environment Agency's on-going flooding public awareness campaign. This year the Agency is encouraging the public to 'Wise Up' to flooding as predications on climate change suggest more flooding, not less.
'Flooding. You can't prevent it. You can prepare for it. That's our message to people in flood risk areas to warn them of the ever-present threat of flooding and to encourage them to make necessary preparations to protect their home or business,' said Environment Agency regional water manager, Ian Hope.
'This booklet marks an historic event in the region. It explains why the floods took place, what happened and what we can all do to try to reduce the impact of future floods.
'We hope a wide range of people, from those living in flood risk areas to school children and students studying flooding, will find it interesting and useful.'
Copies of Floods in the South West - The Story of Winter 2000 are available free of charge from Public Relations, Environment Agency, Manley House, Kestrel Way, Exeter, EX2 7LQ (telephone 01392 444000)
Bristol base for floodline service
Bristol call centre operator MM Group has been awarded the contract to deliver the flood information hotline - Floodline - from the city.
Floodline, set up and run by the Environment Agency, provides flood warning information and practical advice to the public to help them take steps to protect themselves and their properties.
At the height of the floods last autumn Floodline took 500,000 calls making it the second most dialled telephone number after the '999' service.
The service is widely promoted through a national TV, press and direct mail publicity campaign starting this week (September 17). The Floodline - 0845 988 1188 - is also highlighted on national and regional TV weather bulletins when flood warnings are issued.
Five million people in England and Wales live or work in an area at risk of flooding, 28 people have died in floods since 1998 and 10,000 properties were flooded last autumn.
The MM Group's up-to-date call centre technology will be utilised to deliver the enhanced Floodline service with calls being taken 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Agents can advise callers if their property is at risk, if there is a flood warning service for the area and what steps should be taken to prepare for a flood. Information packs and local flood directories can also be provided.
Jim Haywood, head of the Environment Agency's national flood warning centre, said: 'The MM Group has the capability to cope with this type of campaign. Its work with high profile complex publicsector campaigns of an emergency nature including Western Power and the UK Passport Agency made them an obvious choice.'
Jeff Smith, chief executive of MM Group comments: 'We believe we can make a real difference to a critical campaign of this nature by offering the public access to detailed, personalised information by the touch of a button or talking to an informed agent to give practical help and assistance that may be able to prevent an emergency.'
Photographs of the Floodline call centre facility are available from Tina Stanley of Tina Stanley PR & Associates PR - telephone 01276 452792 or email email@example.com
Two Inches from Flood Disaster
Leeds businesses and householders will learn today that they were just two inches from flooding disaster in the autumn 2000 floods, when the Agency launches its new 2001 Flood Awareness campaign. The aim is to shock bosses and residents into planning the actions they would take to protect people and property, and to persuade them to take advantage of the Agency's free flood warning system. In autumn 2000 the River Aire was just two inches from overtopping its banks and flooding hundreds of properties in Leeds. The Agency is hoping that the shock of discovering how close they were to evacuation, devastating damage, plus the expensive repairs and refurbishment, will change the minds of those who think floods can't happen to them. In July 2000 the Agency offered its free Automatic Voice Messaging system to all of the commercial and residential properties at risk in the Leeds area. The system warns people at risk from flooding, and can deal with hundreds of calls in a very short time. Only 34 per cent of those contacted have joined the scheme. The response from businesses was twice that of residential properties, suggesting that businesses recognise the danger better. The Agency wants to counteract the common beliefs that floods happen rarely, and that there is no need to plan and little that can be done. First on the list of essentials is awareness - it's easy to find out if you're at risk from flooding, just call Floodline on 0845 988 1188 or log onto www.environment-agency.gov.uk for advice and information. Then come the practical steps for those at risk:- -- Check that you are insured -- Keep a list of useful numbers to hand - your local Council, emergency services, insurance company and Floodline -- Buy sandbags or floodboards to block doors and airbricks - in an emergency sandbags can be made from old pillow cases, carrier bags, or even tights filled with sand or earth -- Prepare your family or staff - what will you do, what will you need and where will you go? Remember to take key personal documents and irreplaceable items such as photographs. Factsheets, guides on floodproofing, and Flood Directories on the warning services in your area are also available from Floodline - 0845 988 1188. One example of a business that has heeded the Agency's advice is the world famous Royal Armouries Museum. The horses, dogs and falcons used in the museum's displays are kept near the river, and are at risk from flooding. Once the Armouries staff realised this they set up emergency procedures for the menagerie to be moved in the event of an Agency alert. Royal Armouries Head of Operations Roger Llewellyn said: 'After the severity of the October 2000 event, we put together a contingency plan for dealing with a flood. The main aim of this was a need to make sure we were better informed about the possible effect of a flood on our business. Regular contact with the Environment Agency was vital.' KPMG is one of the country's leading accountancy firms, and has an office adjacent to the River Aire. John Ridings, senior partner, said: 'The advice we got from the Environment Agency on flooding was invaluable. It is crucial that the communication lines are there between businesses and such organisations who are best placed to offer assistance.' Environment Agency flood warning team leader Ray Pickering was in the flood control room at the time of last year's near disaster, monitoring all the rivers in the area. 'The River Aire was reaching a critical point, and I made the biggest decision of my career - that was to issue the Severe Flood Warning for central Leeds which prompted the evacuation of riverside businesses and properties in the city centre. 'I called the special flood operations room in Leeds and spoke to the emergency planning officer and told him to prepare the emergency services and the local authority for potential evacuation.'