Coping with floods: one year on from Storm Desmond
As the forecast suggests more wet and windy conditions could be on the way, Niki Walton from CIH's policy and practice team takes a look back to how housing organisations handled the floods last December.
The record-breaking rain in December 2015 saw social housing tenants amongst the worst-affected as many areas in the north of England received three times their total average December rainfall. This tested the resilience of housing providers, who faced the onerous task of evacuating tenants from flood-hit homes, repairing flood damage, and supporting all tenants affected by the flooding – all while continuing to provide their usual services to tenants.
Although the likelihood of flooding was known in advance, and the impact of previous floods was well understood in the worst-affected areas, emergency response plans were tested to the extreme. With major roads impassable and emergency services also stretched to their limits, all available hands joined together to help affected tenants. This was particularly the case with housing associations whose sheltered housing schemes were affected, and had to evacuate elderly and disabled residents. South Lakes Housing, faced with the need to urgently evacuate residents from a sheltered scheme, were helped by a repairs operative who lived close by, a carer who stayed on to help after her visits, and Mountain Rescue, who spent two hours evacuating residents until the Fire Service were able to attend to join the rescue effort.
Recovering from flood damage is a long-term process and one which cannot be rushed. An apparent lack of progress in drying out properties can be frustrating for tenants and their families who have had to move into temporary accommodation or can only use part of their home, so it is important to ensure that communications frequency does not fall. Social media allows for quick updates, multimedia, and interaction from followers. Used in conjunction with a frequently-updated website, this gives residents access to detailed information as soon as it is available – Salix Homes’ website included a FAQ on the floods and weekly newsletters with news and information on work being carried out. Print media – local newspapers and freesheets – also has a role to play in reaching residents without Internet access.
One year on, both South Lakes Housing and Salix Homes have completed refurbishment works in all the affected properties, including improvements to make properties more flood-resistant. The immediate and multi-faceted response of housing associations and the multi-agency work with local organisations and volunteers shows their true value to the communities they operate in should not be underestimated – not just in times of emergency but all year round.