Scaling-Up: National Assessment of Emergency Response Accessibility During Flooding

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Geography and Environment


Emergency services (Ambulance Service; Fire & Rescue Service) play a crucial role during flood response, as they participate in joint command-control structures and are central to rescue and relief efforts (Frost 2002). Emergency services are often legislated to meet defined response times. UK legislation requires that emergency responders comply with strict timeframes when reacting to incidents. Category 1 responders such as the Ambulance Service and the Fire & Rescue Service are required to reach 75% of 'Red 1' (high-priority, life-threatening incidents) in less than 8 and 10 minutes respectively from the time when the initial call was received. This includes blue-light incidents such as life-threatening and traumatic injury, cardiac arrest, road collisions, and individuals trapped by floodwaters. In 2015-16, only one England ambulance trust met the response time targets and 72.5% of the most serious (Red 1) calls were responded to within 8 minutes, against a legislative target of 75% (National Audit Office, 2017). Between 2007-2014, the highest percentage Scottish Ambulance Service achieved was 74.7% in 2013 (HEAT standard).

Rising demand combined with inefficient call handling and dispatch systems are often cited as the reasons for missing the above targets. However, response times can also be affected by flood episodes which may limit the ability of emergency responders to navigate through a disrupted road network (as was the case during the widespread UK flooding in 2007). The impact of flooding on road networks is well known and is expected to get worse in a changing climate with more intense rainfall. For example, in Portland, USA under one climate change scenario, road closures due to flooding could increase time spent travelling by 10% (Chang et al. 2010). The impact of an increased number of flooding episodes, due to climate change, on road networks has also been modelled by for the Boston Metropolitan area, USA (Suarez et al., 2005). This study found that between 2000 and 2100 delays and trip-time losses could increase by 80% and 82% respectively. The Pitt Review (2008) suggested that some collaborative decision making during the 2007 event was hampered by insufficient preparation and a lack of information, and better planning and higher levels of protection for critical infrastructure are needed to avoid the loss of essential services such as water and power. More recently, the National Flood Resilience Review (HMG, 2016) exposes the extent to which a significant proportion of critical assets are still vulnerable to flooding in England and Wales. In particular, it highlights that the loss of infrastructure services can have significant impacts on people's health and wellbeing.

This project will combine: (i) an established accessibility mapping approach; (ii) existing national flood datasets; and (iii) a locally tested, recent-expanded real-time flood nowcasting/forecasting system to generate accessibility mapping, vulnerability assessment and adaptation evaluation for various flood conditions and at both the national and city-region scale. The project will be delivered via three sequential Work Packages, including:
(a) Mapping emergency service accessibility according to legislative timeframes;
(b) Assessing the vulnerability of populations (care homes, hospices and schools); and
(c) Evaluating adaptation strategies (e.g. positioning standby vehicles).

Planned Impact

- The primary beneficiaries and end-users of the outputs from this project will be emergency responders (e.g. Ambulance Service; Fire & Rescue Service; Police)
This group of end-users often face the challenging tasks of having to respond to emergencies, even during adverse weather conditions including flooding. For example, during the surface water flood event occurred in London on the Referendum day (23 June) in 2016, emergency services attended over 300 flooding-related incidents. The proposed project will deliver a set of explicit mapping datasets which can be used to identify places that emergency responders should pay greater attention to, i.e. 'blind spots' in accessibility, weighted by population density, vulnerable populations and emergency response nodes. Making this available in ResilienceDirect will ensure emergency responders across the country benefit.
- Regulatory organisations which has statutory responsibility for manging flood risks.
These organisations include Defra, Environment Agency/SEPA/NSW, and lead local flood authorities. Defra has overall national responsibility for policy on flood. Environment Agency/SEPA/NSW supervises and works with other organisations to manage the risk of flooding. Lead local flood authorities lead in responding to flood events. In terms of potential flood risk areas, Environment Agency and many local authorities have generated detailed datasets of flood risk maps, based on design flood events with various return period and probability. However, the wider cascading impacts of flooding on emergency response is less well understood. In addition, return-period based flood risk maps do not tell what might occur in the near future, for which flood nowcasting and forecasting are needed. The accessibility mapping method we developed provides a robust way to evaluate the wider impacts of flooding on the operation of emergency response in a city. As stated in a number of letters of support, this method is seen as an innovative way to identify vulnerability, hence the desire to have this nationally to support both strategic planning and operational response.
- Cabinet Office and DCLG will benefit from the outputs of this project by gaining an overview of emergency response accessibility across the country.
The analytic datasets to be developed by this project will provide a nation-wide overview of weak points in emergency response in terms of accessibility during flooding, hence supporting Cabinet Office's mission of ensuring resilience. Cabinet Office states that 'it is timely to undertake this for the whole UK as recent flood events have shown emergency responders struggle to meet their statutory timeframe targets, even under normal conditions.' DCLG oversees the wellbeing of vulnerable populations within local authorities and communities. Vulnerability of local communities to flooding is seen by DCLG a key area of concern and in the letter of support it states that 'how to improve the efficiency and performance of emergency responders is something we are keen to work on.' The outcomes generated out of the vulnerability analysis and adaptation evaluation will provide DCLG with useful insight into priority areas where resources should be diverted to.
- Private sector users such as consultancy companies, insurance companies and care providers may also benefit from the outputs of this project, in particular the real-time high-resolution surface water flood mapping. For example, project partner Atkins Global's transport planners and risks & resilience specialists work with local authorities and transport asset owners, managers and operators to deliver risk assessment to flooding. Similarly, Stonehaven Technology works with Hospice UK and the Care Quality Commission on flood vulnerability to vulnerable populations. Moreover, Transport for London is keen to understand flood risks to their transport network assets and traffic conditions. Whilst this project primarily focuses on gener
Description Flood nowcasting is a much needed forecasting technique for emergency responders across the country. Compared with traditional way of flood predictions, nowcasting provides emergency responders more robust information ahead of major flood event, supporting their operational decision making.
Exploitation Route The project generated a live API for the four cities, which has been integrated within the Cabinet Office's national platform for emergency responders. A national service has been developed in 2019. Such services can be used by asset owners, emergency responders and humanitarian organisations to support strategic and operational decision making during surface water flooding.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport

Description The accessibility mapping method we developed for identifying vulnerable 'hotspots' for emergency services during flooding supports the strategic and operational decision making of emergency responders.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Description Unlocking the potential of surface water flood nowcasting for emergency services in a changing climate
Amount £247,227 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/S017186/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2019 
End 01/2020
Description Collaboration with the Cabinet Office 
Organisation Cabinet Office
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Cabinet Office is a project partner on this project. We provide live API for four cities in the UK to Cabinet Office's data portal for emergency responders.
Collaborator Contribution Cabinet Office provides in-kind-contribution to the company and is committed to develop their data portal which will ingest our live API within their system
Impact n/a
Start Year 2017
IP Reference  
Protection Copyrighted (e.g. software)
Year Protection Granted
Licensed Commercial In Confidence
Impact We developed the world-first real-time high-resolution city-based surface water flood modelling system.
Company Name Previsico Asia Limited 
Description A subsidiary of Previsico Limited in the UK Previsico is a global provider of real-time street level flood warnings. These are produced using live modelling to enable people and organisations to proactively mitigate flood impacts. Our mission is to be the leading global provider of cutting-edge flood prediction that saves lives and livelihoods. This requires continuous innovation through harnessing the leading information sources and technological developments to maximise the prediction's quality and its impact on those affected by flooding. 
Year Established 2020 
Impact tbc
Description Previsico is a global provider of real-time street level flood warnings. These are produced using live modelling to enable people and organisations to proactively mitigate flood impacts. Our mission is to be the leading global provider of cutting-edge flood prediction that saves lives and livelihoods. This requires continuous innovation through harnessing the leading information sources and technological developments to maximise the prediction's quality and its impact on those affected by flooding. 
Year Established 2018 
Impact Previsico provides services to asset owners, emergency responders and humanitarian organisations to improve their preparedness ahead of flood events.