During a flood event, the most common actions taken to prepare for flooding by Warnings Survey respondents were to move valuables, personal property and cars to safety. Households containing children under 10, a very small category in the Warnings Survey, gave specific priority to moving household members to a safe place. A further important behavioural response was to attempt to keep the flood waters out of the property, while another was to seek further information about the threat of flooding; the most used source of this information was the official Environment Agency telephone call line service, Floodline. 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. Flood warnings were a significant driver of behaviour, before and during the flood. Those with floodwaters inside their properties took more actions than those less affected, however these actions were often not taken until flooding was certain. Although prior experience of flooding was a significant driver for those taking actions, flood risk awareness was not. Only households with residents aged 75+ were less able to take action, while disability and prior ill health were not significant.
There were marked differences in the level of help received from outside the household at the time of the flood in both the Warnings and the Intangibles Surveys, however the questions asked were somewhat different and may partially explain these differences. 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. 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 slightly less significant, at least in the Warnings Survey.
All forms of help varied significantly in the different locations targeted in the surveys. In some areas neighbours or friends were the main sources of help, in others less than half were. Both the social composition and social cohesiveness of the areas and the characteristics of the flood events may contribute to this variation. In the Intangibles Survey, there were significant differences in help received according to the depth and extent of flooding experienced, while in the Warnings Survey those who were warned were significantly more likely to report receiving help from outside the household, but there was no difference in help from neighbours and friends according to warning receipt.
Receiving help 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. In the Warnings Survey, however, tenure and social grade were not significant factors in help, although the lowest social grade groups (DE) was again less likely to report some outside help compared with other social groups. Living in vulnerable housing also attracted less help in both surveys. A similar finding emerged in the Intangibles Survey where those who could be regarded as more vulnerable were considered e.g. the elderly and those with poor prior health or households will ill or disabled persons, however this was not the case in the Warnings Survey. Single person households did not attract any more help in either survey.
It appears therefore that there was no more, and in some cases less, help forthcoming for those who could be regarded as socially disadvantaged. 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. In both surveys, households with children under ten years of age were more likely to be helped by neighbours and friends than other households. 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. The results were also consistent with the findings from the literature in that people seek confirmation of a threat once they become aware of it.
Being given help from outside the home was a significant factor in taking actions to protect property and prepare for flooding. There appear to be a number of drivers to action taken to prepare for flooding and to protect property when there is a threat of flooding or indeed during a flood. Institutional factors such as the receipt of a warning from a formal source and help from the authorities appear to be one driver. Social cohesion reflected in the high proportion helped by neighbours and friends and the operation of an unofficial warning system appear to be another. The vulnerability of households in terms of age, ill health and disability and living alone does not emerge as a major handicap.
Evacuation is one possible behavioural response to flooding. This response was only measured in the Intangibles Survey. No mass evacuations were organised during the main flood events covered by the Survey, however, it is striking that 65% of households had at least one member leave home because of the flooding. This proportion is more than twice the proportion of people reporting doing so in events that occurred at least ten years earlier. Explanatory factors could simply be that the earlier events were less severe with fewer properties flooded and a lower depth of flooding. It is also possible that current households have higher standards and expectations of comfort and convenience in their homes and are less prepared to live with the discomforts of a flooded home than those interviewed a decade earlier.
Length of evacuation was reported as between three and nine months, with mean duration of 23 weeks. For 4% of households it was more than a year after the flood before they could live in the property again. Which particular rooms or areas in the property were flooded was a significant factor in evacuation; the more rooms flooded the longer the likelihood and duration of evacuation. There were also significant correlations between the depth of flooding in particular rooms and the propensity to evacuate; flooding was significantly deeper in the rooms of those who evacuated compared with those who did not.
Other flood characteristics were also significant as drivers of evacuation behaviour. These included: speed of onset, the presence of contaminants, receipt of flood warnings, social characteristics and material resources. Evacuation was less likely where flood waters were reported to have risen quickly and where contaminants were present in the flood waters. Respondents who received a flood warning of some kind before the flood were significantly more likely to evacuate than those who did not. Institutional factors, the performance of the formal warning system, social factors, and the social networks operating informal warnings appear to have affected propensity to evacuate. The literature on warning response indicates that the source of a warning (and level of trust in those issuing the warning) is important to the warning being taken seriously and acted on, however, this issue was not explored in the analysis.
Households containing children under ten were more likely to evacuate than households without young children. Vulnerable households such as those living alone and with residents aged over 65 had a significantly higher propensity to evacuate as did people living in vulnerable property. Those in the lowest household income group are likely to be living alone, and to be elderly people living on pensions. These factors may explain the high evacuation rate in this income group. Those with higher income and probably greater resources were less likely to evacuate than those with less income, the reverse to what might be expected. Having some form of insurance cover was also a significant factor in evacuation, with those with insurance more likely to evacuate.
Worry can also be considered as an affective response to a perceived risk. It may, along with flood risk perception, be a driver of behaviour after the flood where an event has occurred, or before an event where no recent flooding has taken place. Not surprisingly, ‘flooded’ respondents in the Intangibles Survey were more worried about flooding than the ‘at risk’. There were also significant differences between flooded men and women with higher proportions of female respondents reporting being ‘very worried’ compared with male respondents. A similar significant difference was found between men and women in the at risk sample, however, these findings were not present in the Lower Thames Survey. The degree of worry appeared to be location specific and varied by area in the Intangibles Survey, possibly a reflection of the presence of flood alleviation schemes or warnings systems or any developments perceived to have potential to exacerbate the flood risk, as well as social and demographic characteristics.
6. The impacts of flooding 6.1 Subjective severity of impacts The manner in which people may respond to flooding and their capacity to recover may be affected by their subjective severity of the flood impacts. Only the Intangibles Survey sought to measure the subjective impacts of flooding and magnitudes of impacts in detail on its flooded sample. Therefore, this and subsequent sections of this report present further analyses from that survey.
In the Intangibles survey, the flooded respondents were asked to rate a list of ‘subjective effects’ of the flood on their household’s life on a scale from 0 (no effect) to 10 (extremely serious effect). Only those who considered that they had experienced the effect rated it and those who did not experience the effects were excluded from the calculation of the means, medians and percentages. The list of effects has been developed on the basis of FHRC qualitative and quantitative research over many years and has been used in many FHRC post flood event surveys. In the Intangibles Survey, three new items were introduced on the basis of our qualitative focus group research. This showed that problems with builders and insurers were significant factors that exacerbated the stress experienced by households during the recovery period. Loss of pets and the distress and adverse effects on pets also emerged as significant concerns to flooded households in the qualitative research for the survey.
The respondents were also then asked to rate the ‘overall severity’ of the above effects on the household using the same 0 to 10 scale in the following question: ‘Overall, how serious were the effects of the flood upon your household?’ The results are presented in Table 6.1 in order of the seriousness of the effects.
In the Intangibles survey, getting the house back to normal, i.e. the disruption to life and all the problems and discomfort whilst trying to get the house back in order, were rated as most serious of the effects, followed by the stress of the flood event itself, having to leave home and worry about flooding in the future. The first three intangible effects were rated as markedly more serious than the tangible damages to the contents and structure of the property.
There were striking and significant differences in the rating of the effects between men and women, with women giving a higher rating than men to almost all the effects. Women also rated the flood overall as having a more serious effect on their household than did the men. As stated in Section 5.5, women traditionally have more responsibility for the management of the household than men and may suffer more inconvenience when it is disrupted. Women too are likely to be more aware of the impacts because of their key role in the household. Women’s often greater emotional investment in the home may result in them feeling a greater sense of loss when possessions are damaged or lost. In addition, in carrying out the main responsibility for caring within the household women may be put under greater strain following flooding. Finally, women may be more able to admit to and to express their feelings. The Intangibles Survey results confirm that women felt that their households were more affected by most impacts than men (RPA/FHRC, 2004), but it is interesting to note that these striking differences according to gender were not identified in earlier FHRC surveys.
The correlation matrix in Table 6.2 summarises the relationships between the subjective severity scores. All the correlations are significant at the 0.01 level (two tailed).
Some strong associations between the severity rating can be identified in the matrix. The most highly rated impact, disruption, and all the problems of getting the home back to normal, was most closely associated with the stress of the flood event itself, also a highly rated impact. This suggests that the stress associated with the flooding extended beyond the event itself into the recovery period. The rating of damage to the contents of the home was also associated with disruption.
Table 6.1: Subjective rating of the severity of the effects of flooding on the household: