Steve Maslen, JBA’s Head of Environment, reflects on being flooded yesterday when the River Wharfe burst its banks in Ilkley.


It’s an interesting turn of events when over half your professional life is spent helping to manage the risks and uncertainties associated with floods - and then you get flooded yourself.  Sunday wasn’t the first time we’ve experienced flooding at this home, though it was the first in over ten years. The impact on us and the property was minimal as no water entered the house, but the garage and gardens flooded and we were effectively marooned.

Now that the water has receded, the debris been cleared from the garden and paths and items removed to safety returned to their original places, are there any lessons for me, both as homeowner and as a flood risk professional? I’ve picked out three which I think are worth considering.

1. The flood warning phone call comes in at 3.30 am.  This has an immediate energising effect even at that time of night, but by 4.30 am there is still no sign of the river out of channel and sleep and a warm bed beckon.  At 8 am when I do wake up again the river is definitely out of channel, flowing down the road  and heading up my drive.  Now it occurs to me that at 4.30 am I should have moved the cars, just in case.  I am now rapidly running out of time to move them safely to higher ground.

Lesson 1 to myself. Don’t ignore the flood warning even when there is a warm, comfortable bed saying, ‘you can move the cars later when its light’.

2. This was the first flood in this community where social media has played a part.  I have mixed feelings about its role.  Our local Twitter and Facebook site @ilkleychat  listed all the road closures and conditions and was regularly kept up to date throughout the day. Very useful for those not being flooded who might want to come and see the spectacle. I didn’t spot much advice during the day apart from on traffic matters. The community pages were filled with photographs, some from first light which at least allowed me to catch up on what I had missed.  The social chatter was friendly, occasionally amusing and with an overall sense that this was a community event. 

Lesson 2. Social Media is reactive, quick and messages spread quickly so how do we include flood warnings, preparedness and safety messages?

3. Outside our property the water in times of flood narrows into a high velocity stream with calmer water either side.  We know about this from the experience of seeing individuals attempting to cross it being knocked over and having to be rescued.  It is also a wide crossroads junction and as such is usually busy, so this is where the emergency services deploy. The police are very aware of the risks here and attempt to stop the ‘waders’ which they did very effectively yesterday.  However just 200 metres away a fire engine had to rescue two people knocked over by the water and transfer them by stretcher to an ambulance.  I know everyone is instinctively curious about a local flood event and wants to ‘see for themselves’ but it isn’t safe or healthy (especially judging by some of what I cleared from my drive). 

Lesson 3. We FRM professionals need to explain more clearly the dangers associated with flooding – not just the the ‘dos and don’ts’ but also the reasons behind them - to all members of the public, including those who are there just to witness the spectacle.