The Environment Agency provides advice to those in flood risk areas on what actions to take when flooding is possible or likely as part of its awareness campaigns. This advice is also included in its flood warning messages. This list of recommended actions was used as the basis for a series of questions that were only asked in the Warnings Survey. This section of the report therefore draws on the Warnings Survey only.
Respondents were asked: ‘Which if any of the following actions did you take to prepare for flooding and to protect your property?’ It is well recognised in the literature on the response to flooding that people, on becoming aware of the possibility of a threat such as flooding or on receiving a warning, seek confirmation from other sources (Drabek, 1986; 2000). This behavioural response is evident in the answers given in the Warnings Survey (Table 5.4). The most used source of further information was the official Environment Agency telephone call line service, Floodline. The responses also illustrate the importance of informal warnings systems and social networks as respondents sought to find out more from neighbours, friends and relatives as well as formal sources and passed on warnings to others.
Another important behavioural response to the threat of flooding was to attempt to keep the flood waters out of the property. Blocking doorways and airbricks with sandbags was the second most common action although few took the more effective action of putting up flood boards or gates, probably because they did not have them. However, the most common actions taken to prepare for flooding was to move valuables and personal property and cars to safety. Saving property from damage was a priority for the respondents in the Warnings Survey (Tunstall et al., 2005).
Flood warnings are intended to enable residents to protect their property and move household members and animals to safety. In the Warnings Survey, those who had received a warning were substantially and significantly more active in their preparations than those who reported that they did not receive what they defined as a warning. Flood warnings in this instance were a significant driver of behaviour before and during a flood event. In other surveys, this has not always been found to be the case (Tunstall et al., 2005).
In the Warnings Survey, the length of warning lead time available to residents to take action did not appear to be a very significant factor. Here, however, the small number warned and able to report a warning lead time (134) has to be noted. In addition, since a majority of these residents had a warning of eight hours or more and few had very short warnings (55% or 71 with eight hour plus warning, 45% or 61 with less), the data available only give us an imperfect indication of the impact of warning lead time on preparatory actions.
Table 5.4: Actions taken by respondents to prepare for flooding and to protect property: Warnings Survey
*** Chi square p=<0.001
There were very few significant differences between those who had an eight hour warning and those who had less, although those who had a longer warning tended to be more active. In part, the longer warning lead time appeared to be taken up with trying to find out more. Significantly more of those with an eight hour or more warning telephoned Floodline (57% compared with 38%, chi-square: p<0.05). More of them also reported listening out for warnings (56% compared with 26%, chi-square; p<0.001) and trying to find out more from family, friends and neighbours (47% compared with 23%, chi-square; p<0.01). This suggests that a longer warning lead time allows informal warning processes to be activated and for formal warnings to be amplified via such processes. Those with a longer warning lead time were more active in moving valuables and personal property to a safe place (82% compared with 67% took this action, chi square; p<0.05).
Those who had flood waters inside their homes were also more active in some respects than those less affected. Those flooded did not differ in their information gathering and disseminating from other households. However, more of them were spurred into action to protect people and property. This suggests that residents waited to be almost certain that their property was going to flood before taking damage saving action. Prior awareness made hardly any significant difference to behaviour. However, prior experience of flooding did appear to be a significant driver of action in response to a flood threat perhaps because those with flood experience knew better whom to contact and what to expect and do. A higher proportion of those flooded more than once went to the official source, Floodline, for further information (46% compared with 24% of those without prior experience, chi-square: p<0.001), and more of those flooded before listened out for warnings (chi-square; p<0.05). They were also significantly more active in moving people (48% compared with 28%, chi-square; p<0.001), moving valuables (73% compared with 56%, chi square; p< 0.05), and in taking some of the safety measures. Being flooded at night, which might have been expected to hamper a response, did not make any difference.
Social grade did not emerge as a key factor in behaviour before and during flooding. Those in higher social grade groups were more active in seeking information from official sources, perhaps because they were better informed or more willing to contact the authorities. Significantly more of those in the higher social grades (AB, 33%, C1, 38%) than in the lower grades (C2, 23% and DE, 16%, chi-square; p<0.01) telephoned the official source, Floodline for information and in trying to find out more from the Environment Agency (the percentages were 35%, 26%, 13% and 15% respectively, chi square; p<0.001) and from local authorities. Those in higher social grades were no more likely to move valuables than others but they were significantly more likely to move cars, probably because more of them had cars to move.
The behaviour of the social groups that might be considered to be vulnerable and disadvantaged in taking action in the face of a flood threat was considered, i.e. those living alone, households containing ill or disabled members, or people aged 75 and over. Households containing someone aged 75 and over were found to be less able to take action to prepare for flooding in various ways. Significantly fewer of these households telephoned Floodline and sought information in other ways and, in particular, fewer moved property and personal possessions (41% compared with 64%, chi square; p<0.01). Having a disabled or ill person in the household, however, appeared to make almost no difference to the actions taken.
Single person households also were very similar to other households in what they did to prepare for flooding and to protect their property. Households containing children under 10, a very small category in the Warnings Survey, were different in that they gave priority to moving household members to a safe place, and a high proportion (54%) did so. In all other respects, the presence of young children in the home did not appear to handicap the household in taking action.
Social resources and help outside the home
Section 1.2.2 highlighted the role of social capital and social networks in affecting the ability of individuals and communities to respond to and recover from a hazardous event. This issue was not directly covered in any of the three surveys studied here. However, some questions on social resources and help received by respondents from outside the household were asked. At present, there is little evidence as to which forms of help or social support are most effective for victims of flooding. Moreover, earlier research results show that support may even have little effect upon the final outcome. Green (1995) found that the extent and type of social support received by victims of flooding seemed to have no effect on their reported stress or extent of disruption caused during a flood event. However, the Lewes Flood Aftercare Group, formed by various statutory and voluntary sector organisations following the autumn 2000 flooding in the town, was seen as a success in providing emotional, informational, practical and social support to over 250 people (LFAG, 2001).
When the social resources available to residents were examined in the Warnings Survey data, some factors, for example the number of members of the household available and taking action that might have been expected to make a difference, were not found to be important in the actions taken before and during a flood.
Both the Warnings Survey and the Intangibles Survey contained questions on help received from outside the household at the time of the flood (Table 5.5). However the questions asked were somewhat different and this may partially explain the marked difference in the level of help recorded in the two surveys. In the Intangibles Survey all the flooded respondents were simply asked whether they had received any help from any of a list of possible sources. In the Warnings Survey respondents were first asked whether they had received any other help (i.e. help from outside the household), and only those who responded positively were then asked from which sources they received help without being presented with a list of possible sources. Furthermore, in the Warnings Survey, respondents were asked about help in the specific context of ‘protecting property’ whereas Intangibles Survey respondents were asked about ‘help’ generally. Only 40% of respondents in the Warnings Survey, unprompted, recalled receiving such help whereas in the Intangibles Survey almost all the respondents prompted by a list (94%) mentioned receiving help from at least one of the sources presented to them. All the Intangibles Survey respondents had experienced flood waters inside their homes whereas this was not the case for all those interviewed in the Warnings Survey. However, while those who had flood waters inside their homes in the Warnings Survey understandably attracted more outside help than those not so badly affected (47% compared with 25%), this factor did not explain the difference in the help from outside the household reported in the two surveys.
Table 5.5: Help received from outside the households: Intangibles and Warnings Survey
a) Respondents were asked ’From which if any of these (listed institutions and people) did you receive help?’
b) Respondents were asked to ‘Rank the level of help by stating a score from I to 5, where 1 means ‘received very little help’ and 5 equals ‘received all the help I needed’
c) Respondents were asked ‘Did you receive any other help (i.e. than from the household) in protecting your property?
What is interesting is that, despite the different methods of elicitation, the pattern of sources of help reported is very similar in the two surveys. Neighbours and friends were the leading helpers, with family outside the home unusually slightly less significant as a source of help at least in the Warnings Survey. This is perhaps because family members are not as likely to be near by as neighbours and possibly friends. The survey findings bear out what our qualitative researches have shown i.e. that flood events do to some degree engender a community spirit and mutual help among those affected (Tapsell et al., 1999; Tapsell and Tunstall 2001). Several respondents in one of the focus groups following the 1998 floods felt that the experience had made their community more cohesive and that this was one of the good things to have come out of the flooding; one resident even described it as fun (Tapsell et al., 1999).
5.3.1 Who gets help from outside the household?
In what circumstances and to whom is outside help from neighbours and friends and others forthcoming? In this section we draw on the results on help from both the Intangibles and Warnings Surveys, bearing in mind that the elicitation methods were very different in the two surveys. In the Intangibles Survey, help received from neighbours and friends alone was examined since almost all reported receiving some help. In the Warnings Survey, both all help and help from neighbours and friends only were considered.
All these forms of help varied significantly in the different areas included in the surveys. In some areas in the Intangibles Survey all those interviewed were helped by neighbours or friends, in others less than half were. Both the social composition and social cohesiveness of the areas and the characteristics of the flood events there may contribute to this variation in resilience. According to Ketteridge and Fordham (1995), the context of the community will influence the response to flooding. Residents in one community may contact emergency services or the police, while residents of another community may contact family, friends, and the Housing Association, none of whom form part of the official emergency response network.
In the Intangibles Survey, there were significant differences in help received according to the depth and extent of flooding experienced. For example, those with no main rooms affected (i.e. bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom or living room) or just one main room, were significantly less likely to attract friends’ and neighbours’ help (helped by 51% and 59% respectively) than others more extensively affected (70% helped). Other aspects of the flooding such as the speed of onset and the receipt of a flood warning of some kind did not make any difference in this survey. However, in the Warnings Survey, those who were warned were significantly more likely to report receiving help from outside the household (53% compared with 32%) but there was no difference in help from neighbours and friends according to warning receipt.
Getting help from neighbours and friends or overall in the surveys varied according to certain social characteristics of respondents such as social grade group. In the Intangibles Survey, those in the lowest social grade groups (DE) were significantly less likely to be helped by neighbours than other groups. Tenure, a linked factor, was also significant, with those renting their property also less likely to be helped in this way (52% helped) compared with those owing their property outright (77%) or on a mortgage (63%). In the Warnings Survey, however, tenure and social grade were not significant factors in help, although the lowest social grade groups (DE) were again less likely to report some outside help (29%) compared with other social groups. In the Intangibles Survey, the small minority (83) living in vulnerable housing such as bungalows, ground floor flats or mobile homes also attracted less help than those with an upstairs floor to serve as a refuge (49% compared with 69% helped by neighbours). This finding was confirmed in the Warnings Survey in which only 17% of the very small group (30) in vulnerable housing received any help compared with 42% of the others. It appears therefore that there was no more, and in some cases less, help forthcoming for those who could be regarded as socially disadvantaged in some way.
A similar finding emerged when those who could be regarded as vulnerable were considered. In the Intangibles Survey, help from neighbours and friends varied significantly according to the age of the respondent, with those in older age groups (65-74 and 75 and over) less likely to attract this help. However, in the Warnings Survey, the older age groups did not appear to be disadvantaged in this way as regards outside assistance. In the Intangibles Survey, respondents who described their health prior to flooding as fair or poor were less likely to have received help from neighbours or friends than those in better health. The same was also true for households containing an ill or disabled person, where 58% of such households receiving help compared with 70% for other households. However, in the Warnings Survey, these differences for households where ill health or disability was present were not found for help of any kind. Those living alone might be thought to be in greater need of help in a flood event than other households. However, no more help was forthcoming for these single person households in either survey. Indeed, in the Intangibles Survey, the small group of people aged 65 and over living alone (154) were less likely than other households to have been aided by neighbours and friends. It may be that older people, the disabled and those living alone are less linked into local support networks than others around them and therefore may get overlooked when it comes to neighbourly help.
Families with young children may be considered to be vulnerable and in particular need of help from outside the household in flood events and they were one vulnerable group that did attract more of such help. In both surveys, households with children under ten years of age were more likely to be helped by neighbours and friends than other households. In the Intangibles Survey, 78% of these households (158 in total) compared with 65% for other households were aided in this way. However, it is possible that these families received help from neighbours and friends not because of their need but because of their greater connections to local social networks as compared with other needy groups.
Length of residence which might be expected to be associated with stronger linkages with local social networks was only a significant factor for help from neighbours and friends in the Warnings Survey. In that survey, flood experience was also significantly associated with getting help of all kinds, with those who had been flooded before more likely to be helped in some way. However flood experience was not a factor in help from neighbours or friends in the Intangibles Survey.