Desmond, Eva & Frank – A Weather Surge To Remember
Desmond, Eva & Frank did their worst over the winter of 2015-16 but did they bring out the best in those responding to the challenge?
In addition to the immense efforts of the emergency services and Environment Agency staff, the winter floods triggered a huge collaborative response from the wider insurance and damage management industries, local authorities and support agencies.
The affected communities also demonstrated yet again that they would not be beaten, in spite of the many areas being repeatedly inundated with flood water as the procession of storms rolled over the north of the country.
Planning for surge
Enhancement of surge protocols followed by Insurers and their supply chains, to streamline and co-ordinate response to major incidents has been ongoing for a number of years. Storms and floods, in particular, are becoming more frequent and at the same time, more predictable, each with its own characteristics and challenges. However, each also provide an opportunity to learn more lessons and, with every new event of this kind, past experiences contribute to an improved response.
Advances in the provision of warnings and information via the Met Office and the Environment Agency also enable better planning and preparation for major weather impacts.
The storms and flooding over the winter of 2015-16 were of a different nature to those of 2013-14. They were concentrated primarily in the north of England and parts of Scotland. Wave after wave of unprecedented rainfall meant that some properties suffered repeated flooding and transport links were severely disrupted.
In spite of significant investment in flood defences since the previous Carlisle floods, they could not contain the record volumes of water flowing through the area and once again the town was badly hit, along with many other towns and villages across Cumbria, North Lancashire and parts of Yorkshire.
So how does all the planning and collaboration translate on the ground during a flood surge?
Surge Response In Practice
Following prior Met Office weather warnings, advance teams were in place as the event began to unfold, with an army of wider insurance industry related field personnel, equipment, logistical support and back office staff established at speed.
Work started immediately on many claims with early initial site visits to accessible properties, emergency payments, fast tracking of claims involving vulnerable policyholders, triage to prioritise recovery of community assets and services and other key steps to ensure the recovery process commenced as quickly as possible.
Specialist teams focused on commercial properties to mitigate damage, reduce business interruption and protect local jobs and economies. Quantities of business critical documents, materials and equipment were saved through specialist stabilisation and restoration techniques. Additionally, business priorities were reviewed and wherever possible, stabilisation and mitigation was aimed at allowing businesses to continue functioning at some level, pending completion of longer term restoration work.
Many homeowners too found that photographs, documents, electronic storage devices and items of sentimental value could be salvaged and restored due to specialist processes, which are increasingly accepted as common practice in the recovery and restoration phase of domestic claims.
Unprecedented levels of equipment and specialist drying units were transported to the affected areas to speed up recovery and reduce the time needed to return properties to their pre-incident condition. Some damage management companies set up secure local depots, enabling enhanced logistics, and local premises were provided as operational centres for use by Insurers, Loss Adjusters and others involved in the recovery process. Unfortunately there were still many examples of unnecessary internal demolition resulting in lengthy periods of reinstatement, while the logistics of removing large quantities of written off contents and stripped out building materials added to the challenges.
Wide Ranging Support
Where needed, alternative accommodation was provided as quickly as possible. However, the level of demand in some areas, such as those experiencing repeat flooding over a short period, unsurprisingly put a strain on the system at times. Communities were able to get information and advice at clinics facilitated by local authorities, in addition to support provided by organisations such as the National Flood Forum. Local groups were set up to co-ordinate information and raise funds to help those affected, while Volunteers from all over the country arrived in affected areas, ready to help in any way they could.
The surge response programme, which focuses on improving response to flooding and the development of agreed protocols, ensured excellent communication between key stakeholders such as the Government, Environment Agency, wider insurance industry bodies and their supply chains, with information and status reports continuously updated. The information collated and fed into this network also contributed to the setting up of a range of grant schemes, administered by local authorities, to provide financial support to those recovering from widespread disruption that occurred over this period.
The unique aspects of any major flood incident make it impossible to cover every eventuality and, in spite of the best efforts of all involved, there will be some whose recovery experience was disappointing. Nevertheless, by comparison with the Carlisle floods of 2009, the overall response was greatly improved and the lessons learned over the winter of 2015-16 will lead to further enhancements in the surge response model going forward.
First published in Recovery Magazine Issue 17-1
Author: Claire Johnson