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UK Storms winter 2013/2014: How well is the UK prepared for storms and how did we respond?

This winter in the UK has been like nothing I have ever seen before. places along the coast near me that I would assume to be safe from any usual winter storm weren’t. In the UK we are used to bad weather in the winter and have experienced coastal and river flooding many times in the past and as a result most areas of the country that are considered vulnerable to flooding from either rivers or the sea have some sort of protection. But even areas that have these defences struggled to remain unaffected by this winters storm.

massive wave approaches Portreath Pier in Cornwall (photo credit: dailymail.co.uk)

The UK has several strategies in place to be prepared for storms and natural disasters such as these. Firstly, the large numbers of coastal and river defences that protect vulnerable areas. Sea walls are one of the most common coastal defences. they help to deflect the energy of the incoming waves and therefore reduce damage to the coast. Porthleven in Cornwall, has a sea wall that has done its job very well this winter and as a result homes that are built right on the sea front have largely escaped any damage, despite facing large waves from winter storms on regular occasions. In my opinion sea walls are one of the best ways we can prepare for a storm and protect our coastlines from erosion although other strategies such as rock armour are also used and can also be quite effective at reducing damage. However, the intensity of this storm we have faced has been so strong that even these sea defences have not saved many areas from damage. many areas around the country have experienced damage to property even when they have coastal defences. Aberystwyth in Ceredigion has had huger damage to its seafront as it has been battered several times by large waves. Seaton in Cornwall was damaged by large and powerful waves that his the coastline at high tide and destroyed part of the sea wall that was supposed to protect it along with several properties and businesses. a seaside cafe was partially destroyed. perhaps this proves that no matter how well we prepare for events such as these we can never fully protect ourselves from the power of the sea.

However, not all areas are protected from the sea’s power. coastal defences cost money and there is not enough funding to protect every settlement on the coast that is at risk of erosion and damage by the sea. some of the most vulnerable areas in the UK are on the Norfolk coast where the cliffs are sometimes no more than sand dunes. some of these areas only have small settlements nearby and so are not considered important enough for government funding. as a result these areas suffered from devastating damage in December 2013. 7 homes in the town of Hemsby on the Norfolk coast were completely destroyed over the course of one night as the powerful storm surge that effected the east coast eroded the sand dune cliffs that these houses were situated on, causing them to fall into the sea. Hemsby has been trying to get enough funds together to buy their own sea defences as the government would not provide the funds for them. the lack of sea defences was one of the reasons why these homes were lost a lot quickly than they should have been. the coastline is extremely erodible as it is made of single and sand mostly. Generally the UK is very well defended against the sea but there will always be areas that are left to its mercy.

Homes fall into the sea at Hemsby when the cliffs are eroded by the storm surge (photo credit: mirror.co.uk)

So the UK does try to prevent damage to our coasts from flooding and damage, but when a massive storm such as this one occurs, the UK also has a good response system to flooding. I think we in the UK have a really good flood warning system which is run by the environment agency. updates are read out on the national and local news as well as being available online where flood warnings are updated every 15 minutes. the system runs on a three-tier system from flood alert which is the lowest alert on the sale and warns people to be prepared; flood warning which is the second highest flood alert and warns people to take immediate action; and severe flood warning which indicates that there is a danger to life and this is the highest alert on the scale. during the winter period at least 30 severe flood warnings were given and over 230 flood warnings. this is a very effective way of warning people and has most certainly saved lives in the past. it allows people to know whats coming and what to expect which is vital in order to do what they can to prevent damage and if necessary evacuate their homes.

the environment agency flood warning codes (photo credit: new.bbc.co.uk)

furthermore, Operation Cobra, which is a government plan that is used to organize responses to disasters in the UK, was activated. This is very rarely activated which shows the seriousness of the hazard, it but was able to organize the planning and prevention needed to reduce the risk of the hazard and also is considering how to improve flood defences and warning systems for future events.

Along with these the emergency services helped to rescue people from flooded homes and also to look for any people who were reported to be in trouble. there was also a huge sense of community spirit in many places affected where people helped each other fill sandbags and for some towns that were cut off by flood water, people used boats to allow essential supplies to get through.

These floods and storms will no doubt be in our memories for a long time now, they have been a lot more powerful and devastating than we could have ever thought. however, I think considering this, the UK has done well in preparing for floods such as these and responding effectively when they have come. One of the reasons why the efficiency of preparation and responses for floods here is so efficient is because of how often they occur. they are probably the most widespread and common natural disaster we have and as a result the country has learnt over the years to protect its self. Also floods are one of the few natural hazards that are well understood and this has helped us to prepare for them, predict how bad they will be and respond well when they occur.

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