Enlisting the private sector to fight floods

It seems in recent years that UK flooding has increased in volume considerably, at times separating families from their homes and valued possessions, causing businesses to grind to a halt and threatening the safety of vulnerable citizens, such as the elderly. According to the Association of British Insurers widespread flooding affected more than 8,000 properties, causing £400 million worth of damage in 2012. More recently, in August this year, Cambridgeshire saw 800 homes evacuated with power cuts, a collapsing river-bank and stranded drivers due to flooding.
While some commentators assert that rainfall is increasing year on year in the UK – possibly due to climate change or global warming – others have asserted that it is growth is the cause of the UK’s flooding problems. That is, population growth and increased building can leave dated flood defences vulnerable to the effects of intense rainfall and sea level increases.

Call for increased spending
Indeed, a study by Southampton University published in August this year found that: “The rise in UK flood reports over the 20th Century coincides with population growth from 38.2 million to 59.1 million and a tripling in the number of houses, from 7.7 million to 24.8 million.” That is, protective infrastructural measures must develop alongside wider infrastructural development to ensure optimal safety.
Professor Robert Nicholls, professor of Coastal Engineering at the university, commented on the need for continued government spending on flood defences: “These observations should not stop concern about future flood impacts, especially in coastal areas where faster sea-level rises are expected and areas potentially exposed to higher rainfall intensities. Future flood risk may be very sensitive to changes in funding or management approaches and this has important implications for decision makers.”

Economic impact
Beyond the immediate human impact, flooding damage can be far-reaching in its negative effects economically. For example, redundant or ineffective flood defences can also serve to stunt property prices in residential areas which are most at risk from flood damage; simultaneously inflating insurance costs while decreasing resell value. The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 enabled the introduction of sustainable urban drainage systems for all new developments to make sure that they do not make flood risks worse. However, the proposals have yet to be enacted and according to the National Flood Forum, “there have been tortuous negotiations and consultations ever since.”

National Security Strategy
Back in 2010, the BSIA welcomed the publication of the government’s National Security Strategy and called for closer interaction between government and industry to ensure its effective implementation. Large scale accidents or natural hazards, such as flooding were highlighted to be one of many major threats facing the UK.
In relation to the report, James Kelly, chief executive of the BSIA commented, “The BSIA has already demonstrated the important role that the private security industry can play in delivering effective protection against such hazards and is committed to ensuring the everyday safety of both businesses and the public.”
In a joint foreword written to preface the strategy document, David Cameron and Nick Clegg stressed the importance of a collaborative approach in delivering national security. Indeed, they called for “a much closer relationship between government, the private sector and the public when it comes to national security” and highlighted a need to “work in alliances and partnerships wherever possible to generate stronger responses.”
The private security industry represents a significant resource that, in times of national disaster or threat, vigilantly waits to be called upon to help deliver the highest levels of protection to the public.

Security partnerships
Looking specifically at partnerships between the police and the private security industry, the recent decade has seen many examples of effective collaboration. For example, in 2007 the Gloucestershire area was hit by incredibly heavy rain one evening which led to intense disruption within the transport network. Vehicles had to be recovered from floodwaters and homes and business premises were left seriously damaged. Police forces worked around the clock alongside the local community, governmental bodies and volunteering groups to deal with unforeseen challenges and to minimise disruption to the community.
Often at times where police resources are already stretched to the limit, the private security industry is able to effectively alleviate pressure on the police force and pick up some of the functions required to get communities back on their feet after catastrophic events have occurred. Indeed, The Civil Contingencies Act of 2004 requires the police to deal with emergency situations and to take the lead in any multi-agency response.
Operation outlook
Looking back at the events of the 2007 flooding, chief inspector Derek Jones from Gloucestershire Police asserted: “This was the largest peace time emergency since the Second World War, and the reputation of Gloucestershire police was at stake.”
The force worked alongside a BSIA member company to co-ordinate strategic and tactical responses and overcome the challenges presented; undertaking what became known as ‘Operation Outlook’. Inspector Jones further praised the exceptional role played by the private security team in helping the police: “The security team that we worked with had a positive and flexible approach. Whatever I asked for, the answer was yes, and they provided a great deal of reassurance. The escalation of confidence soon increased. Because of that positive leadership, I was able to give feedback to the Gold Commander and arrange redeployment and rest days for police staff as well.”
At a time when the Gloucestershire Constabulary was faced with ‘business as usual’ activity in addition to emergency response, the police force engaged with a BSIA member to investigate ways in which the private security industry could assume some responsibility for the protection of government buildings and water distribution centres. Their involvement meant that over 140 front line police officers were relieved from water distribution centres, enabling them to focus on reducing opportunist criminality as well as dealing with emergency response and evacuation.
It is through effective partnerships such as this that threats to national infrastructure can be dealt with in an effective and cost-efficient manner.

The Thames Barrier
As well as providing support through increased manpower in response to flooding, private security firms are also in a position to support flood protection structures such as the Thames Barrier through the deployment up-to-date technology like CCTV.  The Thames Barrier is one of the largest moveable flood barriers in the world and protects 125 square km of central London from tidal surges. As well as a tidal defence, the Barrier is one of London’s most striking and famous landmarks.
Security at the Barrier is critical; a breach could result in extensive financial cost, human suffering and potentially loss of life. The Barrier attracts high profile visitors and film crews, which led the government to seek the help of a security partner that could manage these high-status situations. There are two access gates at the Thames Barrier and numerous cameras that are monitored by a BSIA member supervisor 24 hours a day.
There are clearly defined protocols to keep to for access control, and no access to the site is given without prior arrangement; anyone who arrives unannounced will not be granted access to the site. The officers run a strict pass system and, within their teams, each work to ensure that the correct levels of manning are achieved at all times at all stations.
Private security officers also patrol the tunnel under the Thames as part of a maintenance regime, looking for any hazards or health and safety issues. The supervisors from each team, who monitor the on-site cameras, are fully trained in the required action in the case of alarm activation. Their role is to implement the correct action or escalate it to the next level depending on the type of alarm.

The future of flood protection
As discussed above, partnerships between private security organisations and police forces appear to present a unique opportunity for tackling the often unpredictable nature of natural disasters like flooding. Moving forward, it appears that in order to tackle the ripple effect of such disasters, (i.e. water shortages, exploitive behaviour from criminals, power outages, transport network damage) private organisations must work in tandem with police forces to ensure optimal security and safety for the public. Similarly, it is important that protective flood measures which are already in place are updated and maintained alongside technological advancements and wider infrastructural developments to minimise the impact of future flooding.

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