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Solace blog

15th January 2016

“Civil Emergencies are like Forrest Gump’s Box of Chocolates…”

We all know that local government can be challenging, rewarding, difficult, exciting, sometimes boring, and often stressful. However, it can also be ironic and events over the past couple of weeks have demonstrated that. All local authorities will have undergone a process of winter preparedness, looking ahead to severe weather, anticipating the impact on services, the demands of the communities, the engagement with partners. That process isn’t just about ensuring sufficient road salt is in our warehouses, it is much deeper and wider than that, ensuring we are ready to
support our communities, and work with partners to provide a comprehensive response if and when needed. It’s also about ensuring that there is confidence in our ability to respond; credibility that has taken many years to build can be lost in a few days. The picture in the local paper of the hi-vis jacket beside a pile of road-salt may feel a bit trite, but it does provide assurance to some in the community. So we have been, and remain, ready.

Yet most of us have enjoyed remarkably mild weather; I have even heard reports that some gardeners have been seen mowing lawns in shorts. However, despite this, some of us have been hit by weather so severe, and so extreme, that the impact simply could not have been foreseen. The floods in Cumbria, Yorkshire, and Scotland have been devastating to local communities and businesses, and will have stretched all forms of support and response to the limit, including local authorities. Of course, the role of the local council does not subside with the flood water, the role
of the local council in the recovery phase will be critical to the rebuilding and recuperation of communities and businesses. That recovery process will not be completed in weeks, or even months – it may well take years to return to a state of ‘normality’.

Prior to Christmas, the threat of tidal flooding was very real for my two authorities here on the Suffolk Coast; the combined effect of a high spring tide with strong winds and other possible weather conditions had the potential to replicate the floods we experienced in 2013. Given our experience of that tidal surge and consequent flooding in 2013, and more recently in July last year, in Lowestoft, when there was a small inland flooding incident caused when a watercourse was overwhelmed by extreme and unexpected rainfall, flooding 33 properties, we needed to be ready to respond. Fortunately, there was no flood for us, we were lucky. The tide was still high, but the weather changed and the threat dissipated. However, I and colleagues are acutely aware that other areas were not so fortunate and we, as will everyone else in the local government family, wish them all the best as they work to support those affected and deliver an effective recovery process.

By Stephen Baker, Chief Executive of Suffolk Coastal and Waveney Council and Solace Deputy Spokesperson on Civil Resilience