Sun. Nov 29th, 2020

Future floods in England will slow emergency service response times

3 min read

Flooding will become so bad in parts of England over the next 30 years that ambulances and fire brigades will struggle to reach locals within the seven-minute window for life-threatening incidents, study shows

  • When flooding occurs, roads can become impassable or congested with traffic
  • At the same time, demand for the emergency services often significantly rises 
  • Experts analysed emergency response times under extreme flood conditions
  • Under normal conditions, 84% of Britons can be reached within seven minutes 
  • However this falls to only 61% in the event of a once-in-a-century flood episode

Flooding will become so bad in parts of England over the next 30 years that the emergency services will struggle to respond to life-threatening incidents in time.

Researchers found that ambulances and fire brigades will struggle to reach locals in some areas within the target seven-minute window for life-threatening incidents.

The team looked at how response times change across the country under various adverse weather conditions — including both 30-year and 100-year floods.

Under a 30-year event, only 70 per cent of the population could be reached by an ambulance in less than eight minutes — and only 61 per cent in a 100-year flood.

When flooding occurs, demand for emergency services — especially, ambulance, fire and rescue — rise considerably, as roads can get congested or even impassable.

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Flooding will become so bad in parts of the UK over the next 30 years that the emergency services will struggle to respond to life-threatening incidents in time (stock image)

‘Emergency responders must reach urgent cases within mandatory timeframes, regardless of weather conditions,’ the researchers wrote in their paper.

‘However, flooding of transport networks can add critical minutes to travel times between dispatch and arrival.’

In their study, river dynamics expert Dapeng Yu of Loughborough University and colleagues investigated how different levels of flooding impact emergency response times by combining analysis of surface topographies with traffic mapping.

The latter specifically included all the locations of the Ambulance, Fire and Rescue stations across the entirety of England. 

The team found that — under regular weather conditions — around 84 per cent of the English population can be reached by an ambulance within the seven-minute target window for responding to life-threatening incidents.

However, in the face of the type of severe river or coastal flooding that occurs around once every 30 years, this drops down to just 70 per cent — and only 61 per cent under the kind of extreme flooding seen around once a century. 

In a 30-year flood, the proportion of senior citizens that can be reached promptly by the emergency services falls from 80 per cent down to only 65 per cent.

The team found that the worst-hit regions included low-lying areas in the southeast and rural parts of Cornwall, as well as Greater London, which is susceptible to surface flooding.

In the face of the type of severe river or coastal flooding that occurs around once every 30 years, this drops down to just 70 per cent — and only 61 per cent, pictured, under the kind of extreme flooding seen around once a century

When flooding occurs, demand for emergency services — especially, ambulance, fire and rescue — rise considerably, while roads become congested and impassable (stock image)

The team conclude that — although the impact of the spread of the emergency services across the country on response times is well understood — the so-called ‘cascading’ effects of flooding episodes need to be considered as well.

‘The results provide opportunities to identify hotspots of vulnerability (such as care homes, sheltered accommodation, nurseries and schools) for optimising the distribution of response stations, the team said.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Sustainability. 

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