Giant flood readiness test for UK

Monday 07th Mar 2011 by theWeather Club

The largest flood defence exercise ever held in the UK is gets underway today. Exercise Watermark will involve the emergency services, councils and utility firms. A series of scenarios across England and Wales will test the authorities' ability to co-ordinate. Among the scenarios in Exercise Watermark, a primary school in Sutton-on-Sea, Lincolnshire, will be evacuated and helicopters will lift people from rooftops in nearby Tattershall Lakes Country Park. RAF helicopters will also be tasked with rescuing people from a submerged park at Bala Lake in Wales.

The trial run comes after criticism of the official response to the 2007 floods which devastated parts of Yorkshire, the Midlands and the West Country. One of the most damaging criticisms was poor co-ordination between the different emergency response organisations. It was a failing that has merited close scrutiny.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: "More extreme weather and rising sea levels mean we have to be prepared to deal with the impact of a major flood. Exercise Watermark will be Britain's biggest ever emergency exercise and provide a unique opportunity for us to test our responses." The test comes at a sensitive time for ministers as critics accuse them of making the country more vulnerable by cutting the budget for flood protection.

Exercise Watermark is largely a desk exercise with officials and emergency responders forced to react to scripted events - a river bursting its banks or a North Sea storm overwhelming East Anglia. The exercise will last one week, cost £1.8m and involve around 10,000 people, 10 government departments, emergency services, utility companies and communities. As part of the exercise, ministers will take part in mock emergency Cobra meetings and local authorities and emergency services will hold "local resilience forums" to test their responses.

Besides testing the readiness issues Mr Benyon said the government  also aimed to protect an extra 145,000 homes from flooding over the next four to five years.