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Storm Dennis drives home need for Brunel's niche knowledge on floods


While both brought misery to many, Storm Dennis and Storm Ciara brought Brunel’s specialist flooding know-how into its own. 

Swiftly following Storm Ciara, Storm Dennis triggered a record number of Environment Agency flood warnings and alerts on Sunday. 

And as winter storms grow in frequency and strength, demand will soar for experts who help communities and government be prepared

“The coincidence of two strong storms hitting the UK in short succession has overwhelmed some defences,” said Dr CarolaKoenig, Flood and Coastal Engineering Course Director. 

But improving flood defences is not the only way to build resilience for what lies ahead. Industry, householders and businesses need to adapt to anticipate and minimise flood damage. Many of us have seen images of mountains of carpet and furniture being removed from flooded houses or cars being swept away although we knew the storms were coming.  

Anticipating the worst and being prepared needs to be the new mindset for us all rather than hoping that flood defences will hold. Anticipating the worst needs to feed into our building standards, planning policy, insurance strategy, education and more.” 

The gap between policy and what people want and need, is something Dr Koenig’s colleague Dr Shona Koren Paterson flagged up. “There is a big disconnect between UK stated policy and social expectations around flooding which results in an ad hoc response. But as we get battered by more and more larger events, a proactive response is going to be vital,” said the Global Challenges specialist. 

“That will be in the form of retrofitting properties, changes to building practices and improved early warning systems. It also requires a societal response as well as a political one and that is an uncomfortable position for many people who are locked in a cycle dictated by their own financial position driving the inability to move coupled with insurance prices, non-coverages and re-insurance limitations. Flooding is an issue the plays out in a social justice arena in a dramatic way as well as a physical one.”  

UK flood defence systems, which were developed decades ago need serious improvement to stand up to up to the ‘climate situation’, said Dr Mohammad HeidarzadehAssistant Professor, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering. 

“We hear some experts and public ask for construction of more flood defence structures, but structures alone may not help and sometimes even can make the situation worse.  

“We need a holistic, integrated approach which means a combination of structural and non-structural approaches as well as significant public involvement. Non-structural solutions such as managed retreat, sustainable drainage systems and public involvement are vital. The country needs further investment in its flood systems, but such investment should be within in a holistic and integrated framework.” 

Reported by:

Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
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