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Idea Exchange: Engaging residents in emergency planning cut costs and strengthened resilience

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The Durham Community Resilience Project works with communities, using local resources and expertise, to help them plan for that first critical hour of an emergency.


  • Project: Durham Community Resilience Project
  • Objectives: To work with communities, using local resources and expertise, to help them plan for emergencies
  • Timescale: 2015 – 2018
  • Cost to authority: £150,000
  • Number of staff working on project: Five staff working part-time 
  • Outcomes: • Communities and businesses are better prepared to cope with emergencies • Everyone is working together using their local knowledge to develop tailored local plans • Understanding what requirements vulnerable groups may have in an emergency has made a real difference • Residents are now able to react immediately to flooding to minimise the impact • Local champions support and raise awareness and communicate the benefits of community resilience • As a result of community involvement, flood risk areas have been extended based on local knowledge • Timely, bespoke information is now provided to help local communities prepare and respond
  • Officer contact details: Su Jordan

This approach ensures that when emergencies happen, families are prepared, making it easier to recover.

During 2015-16, 30,882 households in targeted locations were invited to events held at agricultural shows, community buildings and local libraries; 30,019 people attended. The aim was to raise awareness of flooding and encourage and support residents to develop community resilience plans.

Drop-in sessions delivered with the Environment Agency, Durham Constabulary, the Fire and Rescue Service and Northumbrian Water were also held in five locations identified as being particularly prone to flash-flooding. Invitations were delivered to all properties in the areas and a total of 2,365 people were engaged this way, supporting the creation of seven community emergency plans.

A number of parish councils and community flood groups were supported with further training to develop flood plans. This joint working and local knowledge led to the inclusion of additional flood risk areas to our list, which were not previously considered at risk. Local champions now alert residents to potential flooding and act as a first point of contact in an emergency.

Lgc awards logo 2017

Lgc awards logo 2017

Shortlisted for the community engagement award

Community resilience planning has helped residents to react immediately to flooding, minimising its impact. In January 2016, residents in a flooded area within Durham turned to their emergency flood plan and accessed sandbags, provided by the council, before the emergency services arrived.

The programme also assists local businesses such as markets and caravan parks and, in response to requests, the council now provides businesses with early warning notifications of severe weather that could lead to flooding.

Our approach to community resilience is to work with all sections of the community including children and young people, whose needs can be overlooked. To date 1,217 children and young people have attended community resilience events with parents and carers.

During 2015-16, 991 pupils were engaged through 34 visits to local schools to help primary school children learn about community resilience. A model house provides a visual aid to show children where flood gates and air bricks can be placed to minimise flood damage. To date 15 school emergency plans in vulnerable locations have been completed.

We developed a colourful character called Inspector Zed, with a supporting story book, website and video to engage children at story-time sessions at local libraries.

Two hundred and twenty-four young firefighters and uniformed youth associations took part in the Duke of Cornwall Community Safety award in Durham. Alongside this, we staged Exercise Levantine in July 2016. This was a simulated flood for young people who had completed the award and included activities such as drawing up an emergency plan, working alongside both the fire service to pump out flood water and the police to evacuate for a flood scenario, and a British Red Cross demonstration of their response vehicles. Eighty young people took part including young firefighters, scout groups, police and air cadets.

The ethos of the programme is that communities do not need to invest significant amounts of money to become prepared. Our assistance helps communities to facilitate, plan and develop their own flood plans and response mechanisms, with time being the most valuable investment. The lasting benefits are that communities are more resilient and the council and its partners are more responsive to local community needs. This approach potentially saves costs for all agencies in terms of both rectifying damage and also the emotional costs of enduring avoidable emergencies.

Su Jordan, civil contingencies unit programme office manager, Durham CC


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