Would your business stay afloat?
We recently presented at the Resilient Scotland Conference in Edinburgh – our topic was the importance of considering potential impacts from flooding in your business continuity plan. Sadly, our topic was all too topical, with Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis wreaking havoc over recent weeks, so now seems like a good time to re-iterate some of the points we discussed. Let’s set the scene a bit on WHY this topic is one you all need to consider.
- 2nd wettest summer on record for parts of the UK
- Businesses are now more likely to suffer from a flood than a fire
- 30cm of moving water is enough to float a car
- 74% of drivers would risk driving through flood water
- Major infrastructure repairs may still be going on 12 months later
Perspectives on flooding…
Those of you who know me personally will know that as well as my current role with Alert Cascade, I also have over 20 years of experience across the fire service and local police force. So, whilst I’m not a flood expert per se, I’m in the unique position of being able to talk about the organisational impact of flooding from 3 very different viewpoints:
I was fortunate/unfortunate enough to be working with Lincolnshire Police during the Boston Floods in 2013. For those of you who don’t know where Boston is, it’s a town and small port in Lincolnshire, on the east coast of England, with a population of around 70,000. Now, the Boston Floods were part of a larger story – from early December 2013 through to February 2014, the UK experienced a spell of severe weather with a series of storms that had widespread impacts.
Immediately before the tidal surge we’re going to look at, storms led to Scotland’s rail network being shut down, 100,000 homes were without power, and there were flight cancellations at Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports. The tidal surge that affected Boston was felt along the whole of the east coast of England, and was the largest surge since the “great storm” of 1953. But just looking at the level of impact flooding had in that one town, you can see the levels of devastation that were caused:
- 5.2 metre tidal surge
- 20 kilometres of flood defences overtopped
- River Haven breached in 4 separate locations
- 720 commercial & residential properties flooded
- 1,700 hectares of agricultural land flooded
- 350 tonnes of waste removed during clean up
- £8.1 million of damage to infrastructure
The Boston Floods had a very fast moving timeline – the initial early warnings came in on 2nd and 3rd December, and at that time, this was deemed to be a relatively low risk event – “very low likelihood of significant coastal impacts on the east coast of England”.
Over the course of the next 48 hours, this moved to an “amber” threat level for Lincolnshire, and by 11.05am on Thursday 5th December, Northern Power Grid had declared a major incident, Lincolnshire Police had recorded multiple weather related incidents in quick succession and an “emergency” had been declared, as defined by the Civil Contingencies Act.
In practical terms, that meant all available resources were mobilised – Lincolnshire Police were working on traffic management, evacuation support and public safety, the Fire and Rescue Service were leading flood rescue and high volume pumping, early school closures were initiated, evacuation of vulnerable locations began, and military assistance was granted to support evacuation. By 2.30pm, the threat level was raised to “Red” and the Environment Agency issued severe flood warnings to 12,300 properties in and around Boston. By 4pm, 35,000 properties in the north of Lincolnshire were without power. At 8.32pm, the first critical high tide hits Boston … and that’s when you start to see scenes like the one in the photos here:
What’s really noticeable if you look at this timeline, is the recovery phase … 2 days of flooding led to 3 months of recovery time. If your business, or more importantly your people, were based here, how would this affect you?
3 very different perspectives…
Working in the emergency services on the ground in a major incident and seeing first hand how it affected people and businesses, being responsible for ensuring my own organisation can continue to provide mission critical services to customers, and seeing those same customers dealing with flooding affecting their organisation. Across all 3 perspectives though, there are some clear commonalities and things it is worth considering in your own organisations.
Most importantly, your people are your primary asset. Flood plans that focus on protecting your premises will not actually protect your business. You need to look wider than that – your premises may be hunky dory, but can your people get to them safely? Do they need extra support? Have you given them the tools they need?
Secondly – the aftermath requires just as much planning as the actual incident. Water recedes and drains away but your staff will be dealing with road closures, train delays and high levels of stress for months to come.
Communication and collaboration are vital – allow your staff to feedback into your plan, and give them a route to forward on new information during an incident. You may know that there’s a flood warning for the region, but your staff may know that a specific road has a diversion in place, or that there’s standing water on a certain street.
And finally – iteration is your goal here, not perfection. Plans should be continually refined and improved, not written once and reviewed annually. You wouldn’t have a cyber risk analysis that stayed static for 12 months, so why should your flood plan?