The Summer After the Floods: a real-time examination of the social, economic and environmental dimensions of flood recovery and resilience.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Management


The scale, diversity, persistence and severity of UK flooding events in the winter of 2013/14 are unprecedented in recent history. This provides a unique opportunity to study, in real-time, the factors that enable or inhibit fast and effective flood recovery from the perspectives of businesses, homeowners, local communities and environmental quality. As such, this study is ideally suited to the ESRC Pilot Urgency Mechanism funding scheme.

This research brings together a multi-disciplinary team drawn from business and management studies, human geography and environmental science to examine the 2013/14 UK floods. By bringing together three distinct theoretical lenses (i.e. business resilience, social justice and hydrological characterisation), the project seeks to gain a fuller and more nuanced understanding of the ways in which communities, businesses and policy makers are recovering from recent floods and are preparing to reduce the impacts of future flood events.

The project's core research design is a comparative cross-case analysis of four diverse sites in the UK that have experienced significant flood events in 2014: Worcester, Basingstoke, the Somerset Levels, and Staines. The sites have been selected as they represent i) high variance in the type of flooding (i.e. surface and ground water), ii) rural and urban regions, and iii) different levels of prior experience of flood events. There is a lack of comparative evidence on how businesses and communities recover from and plan for future flood events, on how policy responses influence processes of recovery, and of how tensions and interdependencies between the social, economic and environmental dimensions of flood recovery and preparedness arise and are resolved. Rapid fieldwork (i.e. both proximate to the phases of recovery and future planning) will make it possible to gather robust empirical evidence about the impacts of approaches to recovery and preparedness and in particular the tensions or synergies created in attempting to achieve business resilience, social justice and environmental quality.

Additionally, this project represents a rare opportunity to study flood recovery in real-time and to evaluate the impacts (intended and unintended) of policy interventions into flooding and their interactions with 'bottom-up' processes of business and community response. In particular, there is an immediate need to reflect on the implications of the new policy paradigm of 'Natural Flood Management', which has prioritised capital projects in urban areas and relative non-intervention in rural areas. This project is therefore distinctive in the following ways: real-time rather than retrospective; capturing both recovery and preparedness in action; multi-disciplinary and, within disciplines, multi-method; comparative rather than single site or flood type.

To realise our core aim to inform business, community and policy responses to flooding, we will work directly with our target non-academic beneficiaries from the outset of the project and will incorporate their feedback, requirements and solutions throughout the duration of the research. Project findings will be made available and accessible via the following platforms: Twitter; project microsite and discussion area; public briefs (written and video); Podcasts; business self-help guides and non-technical reports; interactive stakeholder workshops; dissemination events at the Houses of Parliament organised in collaboration with the Industry and Parliament Trust, and in the EU at the University of Birmingham Brussels Office. Continuity of the research beyond the urgent period will be supported by the creation of a legacy group comprised of academics, practitioners and community members that will provide the basis for future research.

Planned Impact

This project seeks to create knowledge which is relevant, realistic, accessible and actionable in public, business and policy settings. We will work directly with our target non-academic beneficiaries from the outset of the project and will incorporate their feedback, requirements and solutions throughout the project.

1. Benefits to business (work stream 1 - business and management studies)

Non-academic beneficiaries: a) Businesses directly affected by the flooding in the four sampled sites (e.g. agriculture, critical national infrastructure providers (e.g. railways, electricity, Highways Agency), small to medium enterprises); b) businesses indirectly impacted by flooding in the four sampled sites, e.g. food supply chain, insurance companies (notably, global insurance broker Willis has expressed interest in involvement in the project).

What will the impact be?
a) Self-help guidance leading to:
- Short term: a) improved confidence and knowledge in relation to future preparedness; b) increased awareness in relation to flood mitigation strategies and techniques and available support.
- Long term: a) improved chance of recovery; b) improved speed of recovery; c) reduced economic losses.

b) Improved understanding of inter-dependent flood effects:
- Short term: more effective calibration and appreciation of flood effects.
- Long term: a) better investment decisions; b) improved continuity; c) improved customer relationships.

2. Household and community benefits (work stream 2 - human geography)

Non-academic beneficiaries: General public and community groups (e.g. flood action groups) in the sampled flood affected sites, i.e. Basingstoke, Staines, Somerset Levels and Worcester.

What will the impact be?
Highlighting inequalities and injustices associated with the flooding and providing a 'voice' to those affected:
- Short-term: raising awareness of injustices as they are experienced and perceived during and after floods.
- Long-term: injustices better addressed in policy and management approaches. Increased sense of security in the face of future flood risks.

3. Natural environment benefits (work stream 3 - environmental sciences)

Non-academic beneficiaries: Environmental and flood risk management agencies.

What will the impact be?
Improved understanding of flood events and associated hydrological recovery
- Short term: characterisation and scenario analysis of the flood event to provide context for work streams 1&2 and previous extreme events.
- Long term: assess the provision of groundwater flood warning and policies in comparison to surface water flooding.

4. Local and national government benefits (work streams 1, 2, & 3 and integrating activities)

Non-academic beneficiaries:
a) Local level government and government agencies (e.g. Local Lead Flood Authorities, Local Authority Emergency Planning/Resilience Teams, etc.); b) national level government and government agencies (e.g. Civil Contingencies Secretariat, Defra, Environment Agency, etc.).

What will the impact be?
a) Lessons learned and training:
- Short term: raised awareness of the inter-dependent impacts of flooding and flood policy and how they can a) be analysed and b) be managed.
- Long term: improved flood planning, response and recovery within the four sites and other groundwater flooding prone areas.

b) Evaluation of current flood and risk management policy and input into policy level flood management review activities:
- Short term 1: identification of positive and negative aspects of current flood risk management policy/implementation in relation to the three work streams.
- Short term 2: a) analysis of the accuracy of flood warning and mapping; b) investigation of discrepancies between groundwater and surface water flooding preparedness and recovery.
- Long term: Policy awareness of inter-dependencies between people, profits and planet in future flood management strategies.


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Description Estimates suggest that more than five million people within two million homes and businesses in the UK are currently at risk from flooding, and that this number is expected to rise significantly. Floods of recent years have severely tested the technical, political and social infrastructure for flood management across large parts of the UK, and provided a unique opportunity to study in real-time the factors affecting flood preparedness.

The research project The Summer After the Floods explored the factors that enabled or inhibited flood preparedness as events unfolded in the aftermath of the 2013/14 winter floods - examining how businesses and communities recover after flooding and prepare for the threat of future floods.
The project brings together experts in business and management, resilience, human geography and hydrology to compare the recovery and future preparedness of four diverse UK locations affected by the floods. The locations were selected to represent different types of flooding - ie surface and ground water, rural and urban areas, and different levels of prior experience of flooding.

Key findings
1) Flood information provided to households, businesses and emergency planners is currently too slow and too generic. Sub-postcode level information is required but is not currently widely available. Additionally, local knowledge about how to assess flood risk is being lost.

2) Prior experience of flooding leads, in general, to improved preparedness. However, historic flood experience may in some cases undermine preparedness, as it can lead to inaccurate assumptions about the location, type, extent and duration of future flood events.

3) Flood-affected areas are perceived as physically tainted or 'closed for business', and this reputational effect results in significant and long-lasting economic damage.

4) Indirect flood impacts have been underestimated and underexplored. For example, negative reputational effects extend to households and businesses that were not directly affected by flooding, but were situated within flood-affected areas.

5) Communities differ markedly in their expectations of local and national government support in preventing and responding to floods - associated with perceived injustices among flood-affected communities.

6) There is a lack of information about the experiences and needs of hard-to-reach individuals and communities, and about the emotional implications of flooding more generally.

7) There is a lack of operational clarity as to the role, reach and responsibility of key stakeholders within flood-affected areas. Resources do not always follow responsibilities, and this has led to gaps in delivery.

8) Flood events, particularly those lasting more than five days, place emergency responders under significant and sustained physical and emotional stress

Policy implications
1) The timeliness and degree of detail for flood information need to improve. This could be addressed through a two-fold approach: the development of a crowdsourcing technology to capture local flood data in real-time at the sub-postcode level; and the capture of local knowledge about how water flows in the local topography.

2) Generic flood education is unlikely to be effective at a local level; instead a tailored approach should take into account prior flood experience.

3) The direct and indirect reputational damage to local areas caused by flooding should be mitigated through 'open for business' promotional campaigns at both the local and national level.

4) Differences in the capacity of individuals and communities to cope with flooding need to be recognised. There is a need for local healthcare initiatives to reduce the emotional and physical impacts of flooding upon vulnerable householders.

5) Flood management responsibilities need to be more clearly defined and better understood by all groups involved. Additionally, there needs to be improved alignment between expertise, responsibility and resource.

6) Training and support infrastructure should be developed at the national level to address the physical and psychological wellbeing of emergency responders, both during and after flood events.
Exploitation Route The project's findings have implications for a number of actors, including local communities and householders, businesses, local and national government, and emergency planners and blue-light services. The findings are being taken forward via a series of feedback/engagement workshops in flood affected areas, through events in Parliament, presentations at expert conferences (E.g. Flood & Coast), and via publications for academic and practice audiences.
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Description Climate Resilient Communities Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The project team presented findings from the Summer After the Floods project in relation to promoting resilient communities in the context of increasing climate change, and therefore flood, risk. The audience was 40-50 people, principally members of regional local government bodies, but also representatives of national bodies such as the Met Office, and community groups such as the National Flood Forum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Conference presentation at Environment Agency led 'Flood & Coast 2016', held in Telford from 23-25 February 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation of key project findings titled 'The experiences of communities, businesses and flood managers affected by the winter floods of 2013/14', by Dr. Layla Branicki, at the Environment Agency led Flood and Coast Conference 2016 in a session on 'Resilience and incident management: emergency response' chaired by Chris Strong from the Environment Agency. Flood and Coast provided a unique opportunity to present an overview of the project team's findings and recommendations and to provide a project brief (to appear on the Flood and Coast website: to an expert audience from across policy and practice focussed upon flood management and response. The presentation stimulated a wide range of questions from the audience and between presenters, enabled further networks to be developed and helped to further validate the findings and recommendations identified in the 'Summer After the Floods' project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Industry in Parliament Trust Flood Resilience Evening Event in Parliament 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Two members of the project team - Professors David Hannah and Stephen Brammer - shared first findings from the Summer After the Flood Project with Members of Parliament and Members of the House of Lords, as well as representatives from industry, especially the insurance and water industries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015