Half of people living in flood risk areas do not know

The Environment Agency has begun a big publicity drive following research revealing that nearly 50% of people living in flood prone areas are oblivious to the risk and only one person in ten takes any action to prepare.

Hundreds of thousands of families across England and Wales are being urged to wake-up to the dangers of flooding this autumn and winter as high tides this week represented the first risk for many coastal areas. As a result of a study by the Environment Agency showing that nearly 50% of people living in flood prone areas were oblivious to the fact and only 10% takes any action to prepare, the Agency is taking awareness-building action. It embarked on a national television advertising campaign from 17 September drawing on the memory of floods in 1998, 1999 and 2000, asking people if they “really need another warning”. The campaign urges people to call the Environment Agency’s 24 hour Floodline on 0845 988 1188 for advice on how to prepare and make homes more resistant to flood damage. Floodline also gives details of flood warnings in force and free information on local warning services, clean-up and repairs.

Autumn 2000 saw 10,000 homes and businesses flooded across England and Wales, and in severely affected parts of the country many families have not yet been able to return to their homes. The Environment Agency estimates that up to 5 million people live in natural floodplains (see related story) and could be affected if flood waters rise again this year, endangering 2 million homes and 185,000 businesses. Property, land and assets worth up to £214 billion could be hit. During last year’s floods, the Agency’s Floodline took 781,000 calls and at the peak of the crisis in November, it was the second most commonly dialled number after 999.

Despite the dramatic events of last autumn, the Agency is anxious that memories amongst those who escaped the direct impact of the floods could fade. Research shows that awareness of risk is increasing; calls to the Agency’s Floodline are rising, and the provision of flood risk maps on-line last Autumn triggered massive public interest, however awareness is still not being turned into preventative action by the majority of potential flood victims. Research carried out on the Agency’s behalf by a market research bureau on victims of last year’s flooding showed that 29% did nothing to minimise flood damage last year. Simple precautions like checking their insurance cover, preparing a flood plan, blocking doors with flood boards or sandbags, switching off gas and electricity and moving cars, furniture and valuables out of danger could have saved a lot of heartache, the Agency says.

Other findings included the fact that nearly half the people questioned who lived in risk areas but escaped earlier flooding took no action to be better prepared last year and that 38% of respondents who received a warning first became aware of possible risk to their property directly through the Environment Agency – either from a recorded telephone message, a personal telephone call from the Agency or from the respondent calling Floodline.

“Flooding is a real risk. It is one we know about, and one that people can do something practical about,” commented Environment Agency chairman Sir John Harman. “Last year’s flood’s were described as a ‘wake-up’ call, but there are signs that the alarm bells aren’t ringing loudly enough to trigger action by many people. Our aim is for the public to recognise flooding as a regular risk for which they should prepare. At the moment, it seems that unless people can relate to the threat of flooding at a personal level they won’t take action.”

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