Emergency planning

These pages look at emergency planning for flooding.

Civil Contingencies Act, 2004

The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 is one of the most relevant pieces of legislation to emergency planning for flooding. It lists local authorities, the Environment Agency and emergency services as 'Category 1' responders to emergencies. It places duties on these organisations to:

  • undertake risk assessments
  • manage business continuity
  • carry out emergency planning
  • warn and advise the public during times of emergency.

The Environment Agency has a key role in relation to flooding. It is the lead agency for warning those at risk and maintaining and improving flood defences.

Local resilience forums (LRFs) – of which the Environment Agency is a member in all regions – have developed multi-agency flood plans (MAFPs). These cover various elements associated with a flood.

LRFs bring together Category 1 and 2 responders within a local police area for the purpose of cooperation in fulfilling their duties under the Civil Contingencies Act. There are also a number of LRF sub-groups that will cover specific subjects such as severe weather and flooding.

While the LRF and associated sub-groups focus on planning for incidents, there are other levels of control that convene to manage the response to an incident. They are:

  • Bronze Operational level, at which the management of ‘hands-on' work is undertaken at the incident site or impacted areas
  • Silver Tactical level of management is introduced to provide overall management of the response
  • Gold Strategic decision makers and groups at local level. They establish the framework within which operational and tactical managers work in responding to and recovering from emergencies.

This has been further strengthened by the government's National Flood Emergency Framework. It provides a forward-looking policy framework for flood emergency planning and response and brings together information, guidance and policies to act as a resource for those involved in emergency planning and responding to flooding from:

  • the sea
  • rivers
  • surface water
  • groundwater
  • reservoirs.

Read the National Flood Emergency Framework for England on the Defra website

Local authorities are responsible for coordinating emergency plans for reservoir flooding and ensuring communities are well prepared. Local authorities should work with other members of the Local Resilience Forum (LRF) to develop these plans.

General emergency response plans, which all local authorities have in place already, can be expanded to include emergency response associated with reservoir flooding.

Potential impacts

Flooding can cause a variety of impacts. The most serious flooding events can lead to injury and loss of life, as well as severe disruption. The societal, economic and sometimes environmental impacts can take months, even years, to overcome.

The consequences of serious flooding may include:

  • failure of telecommunications.

This can clearly have very serious knock-on effects in terms of ability to respond effectively to other consequences:

  • emergency rescue
  • evacuation and temporary shelter
  • arrangements for dealing with fatalities and injuries
  • reuniting people with their families
  • repairing structural damage and removal of debris and sediment from transport routes
  • providing alternatives for essential services that may have been affected, such as transport, electricity, water and sewage, and communications
  • temporary accommodation for people forced from their homes
  • cordoning off of dangerous areas
  • disposal of dead livestock and other animals
  • assisting with the recovery process
  • supporting non-essential services such as schooling and maintaining continuity for communities
  • disposing of building materials, which may sometimes be contaminated.

As well as practical considerations, flooding can also create a number of physical and mental health challenges. Communities may require considerable assistance and support in recovery and developing social cohesion.

Further information

Emergency planning on the GOV.UK website

Civil Contingencies Act 2004 – on the legistation.gov.uk website

Detailed Guidance on Developing a Multi-Agency Flood Plan (Defra, June 2011). [Note: this guidance is due to be updated in mid-2018].  

National Flood Emergency Framework for England (Defra December 2014).  Sets out the government’s strategic approach to for all organisations involved in planning for and responding to flooding.  Covers roles and responsibilities; explains key information in one document; explains the multi-agency approach to managing flooding events; provides a basis for responders to develop and review their own plans.

Expectations and Indicators of Good Practice Set for Category 1 and 2 Responders  (Cabinet Office, Oct 2013).