Monday, November 23, 2009

Flood: Could it happen here?
The floods in Cumbria have been absolutely dreadful, with the tragic loss of policeman Bill Barker, and millions of pounds of damage. Down here in London it may all seem a little remote , but should act as another warning to us. Just imagine the devastation and loss of life if a flood of that scale were to hit the Capital.

In fact, you don't need to imagine it - there is a film which dramatises just such an eventuality. 2007's 'Flood' was not exactly a box office hit, and suffers from some seriously dodgy acting and dramatic licence, but is worth seeking out. It stars Robert Carlyle and David Suchet, and concerns the nightmare flooding scenario for London - a storm surge in the North Sea moving into the Thames Estuary and coinciding with a spring tide. This would overwhelm the Thames Barrier and cause massive flooding across a wide area.

The special effects in the film are impressive (see picture above of Greenwich Park in the film), and unlike many disaster movies the basic premise is perfectly possible, and a real threat. It is adapted from a novel by Richard Doyle, who has a website explaining the facts behind it, which I recommend looking at.

In Greenwich I was a member of a Council Scrutiny Review committee a couple of years ago which looked at our emergency planning arrangements. Some of the evidence we looked at was sobering - arrangements for field hospitals, mortuaries and so on - and some of it slightly alarming. The truth is that we can never be 100% prepared for every eventuality, but we can do our best to put the right systems in place. I recall we uncovered a potential flaw in the mechanism for mobilising Council staff in an emergency, which I trust has now been addressed.

However we simply didn't have the time or resources to conduct a fundamental review of all areas of preparedness, and I really think it's something which local authorities and the GLA (which has responsibility through the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority) should give a higher priority. Given our position on the Thames, and with the Barrier based here, the flooding nightmare is one which we should take particularly seriously.

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