Well protected - UK fights the floods

28 July 2005



The UK-based Flood Protection Association (FPA) was developed to raise public awareness, promote best quality practices and develop appropriate standards in flood protection. Jon Last talked to FPA chairman Ron Whitehead about how the agency is hoping to achieve these aims


THE UK has provided some world-leading interdisciplinary research into climate change and flooding, and ideas for future methodologies that might lessen the impact of the more extreme events. These are, however, global problems, the effects of which might well be unstoppable once initiated.

Looking beyond the UK’s shores, there is deep concern in the international community about the effects of climate change which are leading to increasing temperatures, thinning ice sheets and rising sea levels. Increasing rates of evaporation engendered by higher temperatures will inevitably lead to increased precipitation to many parts of the world. The influence of complex tropical systems such as ‘El Nino’ could have increasingly dramatic effects on climates on a wider scale. Closer to the UK, possible changes to the Atlantic conveyor could profoundly change our climate for the worse.

Global climate has never been a constant, and over the course of time there have been many climatic shifts between cold
and warm periods, some of which have been relatively quick to manifest, others slow.

Reducing the emissions of CO2 is now seen as the main route by which we can slow down climate change. Levels of atmospheric CO2 have risen by over 30% in the last 200 years, this being in addition to other greenhouse gases of which water vapour is a major culprit. The substantial inertia in natural systems will see to it that conditions will continue to worsen for some time yet, so it seems we’d better get used to the idea and prepare ourselves.

As far as the UK is concerned, the perceived reluctance of central government to provide adequate funding for flood defence schemes, coupled with a pan-European move towards sustainable policies may well exacerbate widespread problems for property owners in areas at high risk from flooding. These burgeoning problems have provided a driver for innovative new flood defence technologies and effective temporary flood defence products in the UK.

The consequences of major flood events in other parts of the world are much more extreme and the technologies that are currently being developed for the UK market could, and should, play an important role internationally.

Many of the designers and producers of these systems are now represented by the Flood Protection Association (FPA), which offers a platform from which to address a much wider audience, and a means by which both the UK and the international community can benefit from the shared knowledge and experience of a wide range of specialist product-based providers.

A brief history

The FPA was formed in 2002 with the assistance of the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Environment Agency (EA) and HR Wallingford. The organisation provides, for the first time, a forum for many of the specialist designers and providers of product-based flood defence solutions, bridging the knowledge gap that existed between the manufacturers and providers and other stakeholders such as research establishments and Government departments.

The tragic flooding which occurred throughout the UK in 2000, where over 10,000 homes flooded, acted as a catalyst for the formation of the association, says Ron Whitehead, chairman of the FPA. ‘These events made it apparent that something needed to be done,’ he claims.

The FPA was developed with the following objectives:

• Promote the interests of manufacturers and installers of flood protection equipment and requirements.

• Require members to meet minimum contract terms for its clients, which must include a suitable complaints procedure to deal with any disputes or grievances.

• Raise public awareness of the wider solutions available through the use of members’ products and services to minimise the effects of flooding.

• Obtain maximum publicity for the industry through exhibitions, promotions and PR whilst emphasising products and services of members in so doing.

• Influence legislation, regulations and policies that affect, or might affect, the technical or commercial interest of the industry in general and members in particular.

• Develop and promote best practice quality standards through the promotion of recognised industry standards for manufacture and installation.

• Encourage uniform standards of education and training at all levels throughout the Industry.

• Co-ordinate technical and market research into areas of common interest identified by members.

• Work to improve trading conditions and promote trading opportunities for members in home and overseas markets.

• Provide members with access to technical support on key areas associated with the industry.

The FPA is funded by membership fees of £750 (US$1300) per year and currently there are 30 members, including: bauer Inner City; Flodef; Flood Control; Floodgate; Floodskirt; Floodguard Systems; Floodwall International; Flood Protection Products; Hydroscience; IFDP; Protectahome; and WT (UK). It receives no funding from the UK government.

‘The membership fee is easily justified,’ says Whitehead. ‘The benefit of having of a voice on key government committees,
the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the water sector and associated bodies is invaluable; individual companies would not gain entry and even if they could the cost of attending all the events and meetings and promoting the industry would be at least ten times the membership fee.’

According to Whitehead, anyone thinking of becoming a potential member of the association must be a well-established professional with a commitment to the FPA’s cause – they need to follow the association’s customer charter and support the needs of new customers. They must also be committed to developing proper standards.

‘However, our recruitment drive is not only aimed at companies already in the flood alleviation and risk management industry,’ he says, ‘but also those on the periphery such as consultants, suppliers and so on.’

Growing organisationBut what exactly are the benefits to members of the FPA? ‘It gives you a stronger voice,’ explains Whitehead. ‘We are all aware of the lone voice shouting to be heard. How much easier to have the same message spoken by a larger group of like minded people?’

Whitehead describes the FPA as a fast-developing, proactive organisation, explaining how it has contributed to various government papers on the cause, effect and solutions of flooding, including ‘Making Space for Water’ which forms the government’s policy for the next 20 years.

‘As a stakeholder of the DEFRA strategy committee, FPA members were invited to contribute to the consultation on the government’s Making Space for Water policy in 2004,’ he says. ‘The EA asked key questions and invited feedback on its details from the contributors. There were an impressive 278 submissions from various organisations including the EA itself, large consultancies such as Halcrow and Atkins, the National Flood Forum, the ABI and also members of the public who were either concerned about the flooding issue or were victims of flooding themselves.’

One of the key successes of the consultation was a move to place more emphasis on managing catchment areas to reduce flood risk, rather than just focusing on individual floods as isolated incidents. ‘A big step forward,’ Whitehead insists. ‘It was the case before that civil schemes could only be economically justified in some areas meaning in many cases only people in limited areas would get protection. Whereas now a variety of solutions are being encouraged to cover the catchment area, a much more equitable approach. This has also been encouraged by insurers, who have been working in partnership with Government to increase spending on flood risk management – this is another reason why the FPA works closely with the ABI.’

In fact, Whitehead conducted a presentation at a meeting with the ABI flood committee on 20 May 2005, giving an overview of the FPA members survey services and showing case studies of members’ products in use around the UK. Another event, arranged by the Severn Trent Regional Flood Committee Chairman, Peter Watts, was designed to show other regional flood committees what had been achieved in the Midlands region in the 2004 floods using temporary and demountable (T&D) systems. The FPA was invited to give an industry overview and update on where T&D systems had been successfully used and of the types of systems available. The presentation included many of the FPA member key products and included case studies from Bauer, Floodguard and Flodef.

Products

Flood protection products promoted by the FPA fall into four categories, explains Whitehead - PAS 1, PAS 2 and PAS 3 and civil structures. PAS 1 relates to apertures protection systems which deal with air bricks, door and window openings and are usually suitable for short duration flooding. The main products here are Floodgate, Floodguard and Flood Sentry.

PAS 2 covers free standing perimeter products which are mainly used in 'civic' solutions such as along river banks to prevent overtopping. These products include the Rapidam flood barrier system, available from Hydroscience.

PAS 3 on the other hand deals with building skirt systems, designed to completely seal a property off from floodwater from a variety of sources.

Some FPA members’ products are also considered as 'civil solutions', such as the Bauer and Aqua Barrier systems, and stand on their own merits.

In recognition of the part that these technologies could play internationally, the FPA is now providing advice on these products to similar organisations in other countries. For example, it is in liaison with the Association of State Floodplain Managers and Flood Products & Services Subcommittee in the US in the preparation of workable codes of practice for flood defence products and services, and illustrating the importance of product testing and certification, a lead which has been well-received and will no doubt improve the effectiveness of flood protection throughout the country.

The UK Government, under the auspices of the International Trade Strategy for the Water Sector, is also now actively encouraging the development of new flood defence solutions which are easier and cheaper to deploy than traditional methods and completely replace sand bags.

Additional support from UK Trade & Investment under this strategy is to include:

• Greater proactivity in the shaping of UK water sector overseas strategy.

• Identifying specific opportunities and priority geographical sectors for different parts of the UK water industry.

• Better analysis of the ability of UK water companies to compete overseas.

• Promoting and encouraging a conducive environment for UK firms within specific markets through influencing and shaping strategy of key decision makers.

• Facilitating good relationships with overseas customers through targeted and objective-driven inward missions and seminars.

World stage

Other work in progress involves the extension of the FPA into the world arena and it is currently involved with similar groups in both Europe and the US. ‘We are growing internationally’, says Whitehead. ‘The principal thrust is to bring together a world standard of professionalism and test programmes in all areas of flood defence. Some FPA members have agencies in the US and European countries such as the Czech Republic.

‘As our membership base grows, so logically will the network of international parties we become connected to. There have been meetings between the FPA and state flood plain managers in the US, and we were happy about the positive response we got at the Acqua Alta European flood congress in Munich in November 2003. This event not only launched the BSI Kitemark standards but also the first products that had achieved the standard. It gave the FPA an EU airing and several companies a first step into the EU market.’

Equivalents to the UK’s FPA abroad include the US Association of State Flood Plain Managers (ASFPM), which has been developing standards recognising that the BSI standards are a good base, and the CFPA in the Czech Republic, which has close links through the FPA’s Deputy Chairman Tony Bassett. Bassett has also recently been involved in establishing the US standards testing and is over in the US again in September this year to continue this work.

The future

Taking the association to the global market is obviously an aim that Whitehead hopes to achieve in the near future. When asked which other areas he would like to see further development in, Whitehead said he hopes to continue working closely with the insurance industry to encourage members of the public to better protect their properties.

‘One of the FPA’s hopes is that people will realise that if you live in an area that is susceptible to flooding, then having adequate protection is just as important as installing a fire alarm, or having strong locks to keep out intruders,’ he says.

‘The FPA works closely with the ABI and insurers and will continue to do so. There is currently ongoing discussion as to the merits of flood resilience as opposed to flood resistance. It is better to be as flood resistant as you can rather than simply be prepared for what to do after flooding does take place. It seems that people are more interested in returning their homes to the same physical condition they were before the incident than they are about ensuring the building is fully flood-protected.’

Whitehead continues: ‘Installing an effective Kitemarked solution is better than having your home ruined in a flood. Sadly, experiences teaches us that it is often only after a tragedy that something gets done – it takes a disaster to be a catalyst for action, rather than prevention taking place to help avoid a catastrophe in the first place.’

Another area for development is obviously to improve awareness of the organisation. ‘We hope for more members and recognition, to be the organisation people turn to if they are looking for support for flood protection,’ says Whitehead. ‘We would love to emulate the Federation of Master Builders, and be as recognised as that organisation. We want the FPA to be the main stakeholder in testing flood protection and prevention products and ensures that they work. From our involvement abroad, I feel that impact testing will become important too.

‘The primary purpose of the FPA,’ he continues ‘is to unite all companies and to act as one industry voice to continue to change the approach to solutions of our current establishment and to open their minds outside the box to new solutions and approaches. It can be seen in the policies since the Making Space for Water consultation that much headway has been made on this front alone.

‘There have been discussions with UK universities to implement training schemes for surveyors and engineers to undertake flood risk analysis and surveys and people to work in the testing and standards alongside the FPA – although this is still in its infancy.’

‘A lot has been already been achieved in the first four years,’ concludes Whitehead. ‘Recognition of the FPA has risen
significantly, our involvement with DEFRA, ABI and the EA and our invitation to contribute to the House of Commons’ all-party group on flooding was a major step forward. We are definitely an organisation on the up.’


Author Info:

For more information, visit www.floodprotectionassociation.org.

Ron Whitehead can be contacted via email: [email protected]

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