Flood Recovery: Where has Covid-19 left us?
Covid-19 has rightly dominated our lives and has never been far from all forms of the media, however the chances of a flood occurring remains, as does the need to protect ourselves and our properties.
The Lead Local Flood Authority in your area, and the EA, continue to ensure their response to flooding has remained a priority, while taking the appropriate COVID precautions into consideration, through their Emergency Planning approach. You may have noticed works continuing on flood alleviation schemes in your area and discussed it with your neighbour, or received an invitation to attend a webinar to discuss local issues which affect you. These conversations need to continue as, while the pandemic will come under control, your property may be at risk from flood for a much longer time into the future.
Since the start of 2020, many major floods have occurred globally, and almost a year on from Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorje and the aftermath of Storm Bella we need to consider how our recovery from a similar event could be affected by Covid-19 measures, so that we can develop a resilient response.
Managing flood response and recovery measures alongside Covid-19 measures can be a difficult balancing act. Without precautions like social distancing, the recovery process could leave flood victims and responders at risk, but too much focus on Covid-19 could result in delayed or inadequate response and recovery measures.
When the nation was told to stay at home, some people were unable to do so as flood damage had left their homes inaccessible and, in some cases, dangerous, whilst others were left isolating on the upstairs floors of damp and damaged homes. For local business owners, who were eagerly anticipating re-opening after flood repairs, Covid-19 put their plans on hold as they were forced to remain closed during the lockdown. For small businesses whose income and chances of survival had been severely dented by flooding, this took away their opportunity to recoup their losses.
As essential construction was allowed to continue, work on vital flood defences progressed throughout the pandemic. Also, many contractors and surveyors delivering PFR schemes were able to continue their services as essential flood repair and prevention works throughout the national lockdown, enabling homes and businesses to progress with obtaining the vital flood resilience measures they needed.
With national lockdowns occurring in the UK and abroad, manufacturers struggled to maintain a steady flow of supplies. The supply of raw materials was severely disrupted due to pauses in manufacturing around the world. Due to the association between transport and mobility and the spread of Covid-19, lockdown border closures restricted international imports, making it difficult to source the supplies required to make PFR products. Local authorities also reported supply chain delays during the construction of larger-scale flood defences.
Peter Marchant, a PFR manufacturer, described how production of their PFR products ground to a halt, saying: “Literally, production of essential flood defence products halted overnight as raw material and the complete supply chain stopped delivery due to lockdown.”
Even as deliveries gradually recommenced, and the manufacturing sector started to pick up again in June 2020, social distancing in warehouses caused further logistical bottlenecks as fewer staff were able to be present onsite, so supplies were infrequent and delayed. As online purchases soared, the demand for logistics increased massively whilst staff numbers were reduced due to self-isolation so, in many cases, supply struggled to meet demand.
“…due to social distancing and new work space manufacturing arrangements, supply of materials was only at 50% of previous which has meant that product production has been halved”, explained Peter Marchant. Social distancing requirements means that many manufacturers have had to adapt their operations and working systems, which has affected outputs for some.
As a result of supply chain disruption and the impact of social distancing on deliveries and production, some PFR providers reported delays in the delivery of PFR products to customers, with some waiting months for the production and delivery of PFR products following flooding in 2019 and early 2020.
To the frustration of many people, the arrival of the virus meant the delay, if not cancellation, of their flood recovery works. This hurdle meant that those Yorkshire residents who were unable to remain in their homes faced additional challenges when securing temporary accommodation and/or arranging to stay with friends or family, often a great distance from their own property. Many hotels and B&B’s closed and, in some cases, asked the guests to leave, while family and friends were faced with living together for what may have been longer than initially planned. The option of temporarily renting a property was also limited, if not removed in many cases, and the reduction of public transport services also became problematic for those having to travel to and from their temporary accommodation.
Recovery after a flood is stressful and to have additional unexpected challenges added to the task ahead would have been unwelcome. There are 5.2 million properties at risk of flooding in England, including over 250, 000 in Yorkshire. At this time, there are many properties which remain either fully or partially uninhabitable following flooding. Of course, knowing the numbers does not alleviate the circumstances, but it can help to see that flooding is a concern for many people and increase awareness of those around us who remain out of their homes and properties. Property Flood Resilience (PFR) may not prevent all the effects of the flood, but it can help to reduce them and make it possible for people to return to their homes and properties much sooner.
The occurrence of the Covid-19 lockdown shortly after flooding led to a doubly distressing situation for some. Some business owners reported losing their livelihoods twice in quick succession due to flooding and then Coronavirus, whilst the combined financial pressures of flood recovery and furlough may have caused considerable strain for flood victims. To make matters worse, restrictions on social contact may have limited access to support networks such as friends, family and neighbours.
Whilst surveyors would usually have conversations with residents to explain in person how the process of the survey would work, and often entered the home afterwards to talk through the survey results and look at interior features such as the floor type and any changes in the floor levels, this was not possible during the Covid-19 lockdown. Tools such as online portals were used so that residents could fill in details about their homes and any previous experiences of flooding through virtual questionnaires without surveyors needing to go inside. Information was exchanged by email and through telephone calls, and surveyors shared information about the survey process and related Covid-19 procedures with residents through mail drops. Surveyors were still able to conduct assessments of the exterior of the property to determine suitable flood resistance approaches. In this way, property owners were still able to obtain a bespoke PFR solution despite the restrictions on social contact.
Flooding could occur at anytime and even amidst other challenges and pressures time spent preparing for this is vital. You could, for example, make sure you are registered to receive flood alerts from the Environment Agency or call your family members to encourage them to do the same. Drawing up a list of entry points for flood water that you are aware of, into or around your home or property, will help you to identify where PFR measures are needed. You may want to make an appointment for a qualified surveyor to visit your property to complete a flood risk survey. The Blue Pages may help you with this https://bluepages.org.uk/?s=surveyors
Taking the time to write up your flood plan in readiness could save you valuable minutes. For example, do you know where you would move your car to so that it remains useable should you receive a flood alert? You could put this into your plan. You can find example flood plans and other helpful information on the Yorkshire Flood Resilience website; www.yorkshirefloodresilience.co.uk or by visiting the EA website at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/personal-flood-plan
If you already have PFR measures on your home or property, you could practise putting them into place; this might be putting covers on your airbricks or putting up your flood barriers. You could check your measures for damage or breakages, identifying and completing any maintenance so that they are effective. Cleaning out your drains if they have become blocked or just clearing away items which are covering the drains are both positive steps you can take.
Even in the face of such unprecedented circumstances, all involved in flood recovery and resilience, from the Environment Agency and local authorities, PFR producers and surveyors, to property owners themselves, have worked hard to ensure that protection and support for those at risk of flooding can still progress when they need it most. 2020 brought a new meaning to resilience with preparation and adaptation becoming regular features of everyone’s lives. These unexpected changes have triggered the development of new approaches to ensure that flood recovery can continue even in the event of other national emergencies, helping to improve the nation’s flood resilience.