As East Anglia braces itself for the Christmas storm, the Environment Agency has been looking back at how it dealt with the last natural disaster - the storm surge that hit earlier this month.

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A reminder of the awesome power of nature, the tidal surge that battered our region’s coast left a trail of destruction in its wake.

From Felixstowe’s promenade to The Hazelwood Marshes – Suffolk didn’t escape unscathed.

Thankfully no-one died and unlike the terrible events of 1953 this time we knew it was coming.

At the height of the drama it was to the Environment Agency that the public turned to for information, reassurance and advice.

Flood and coastal risk management is an important part of the work of the agency and from its regional headquarters in Peterborough the work to make us safe and keep us informed carries on.

Steve Taylor, telemetry team leader for the agency, said that after the floods in 2007 that affected the south west of England the Environment Agency created a nationwide flood forecasting operation.

He said: “We work closely with the meteorological office and we receive forecasts four times a day for various locations across the UK.

“This gives us a forecast of around five to six days in advance and is the first heads up that there may be problems at certain locations.”

Steve added: “As we get closer to the tide of interest the forecast becomes more accurate and we become more confident of the water levels that will be reached.

“We can never be 100 per cent accurate and every event is different but the forecast is used as the best possible guide of what we can expect is going to happen.”

Once it becomes clear an incident is likely or is declared the regional incident room in Peterborough is convened and staff are called in from across the agency to disseminate and collate information from the national and local level.

David Young is the Anglia region’s incident and emergencies planning manager.

He said: “Once the forecasts come through we can assess the likelihood of risk in various places.

“Our role is to gather information from forecasters and those working on the ground in order to coordinate and mobilise our resources once and incident has been declared and liaise with emergency services.

“There are various systems and lines of communication that kick into place across the region.”

Agency staff are mobilised to cover the incident room 24 hours a day.

David said: “We operate a three shift system with four or five people in the incident room at any one time.”

Based in Ipswich, David Kemp is one of the agency’s flood resilience team leaders. He has worked for the agency for the last 13 years.

He said: “We use the information from forecasters to help us decide what action to take in individual communities on our coastline.

“We set the severe flood warning thresholds where we think life is at risk enabling us to send the right message to the right communities.”

David said the message to evacuate homes was delivered at 5.30am on the Thursday of the recent sea surge in order to give as much daylight as possible.

He said: “We issued 33 severe flood warnings in 33 different places. It is much safer to evacuate homes in the daylight rather than in the dark. Over the years and especially since 2007 we have put in place emergency plans at the strategic and tactical level and also at the parish level so that everyone knows what to do and what action to take when these warnings are issued.”

David said the forecast issued of how high the tide would be largely correlated with what actually happened.

He added: “We have to use the most accurate forecast at the appropriate time in order to give emergency services, councils, and residents the time to take action.

“In 1953 there were warnings of gales issued by the BBC at 8am and again at 6pm and that was it. There were no other sources of information available. Now we are 24-36 hours ahead and we know exactly what we need to do.”

David said the high tides still act in unexpected ways.

He added: “The Suffolk estuaries and Ipswich were affected significantly earlier than we thought they would be. Tides never behave in the same way twice.”

As the clear-up operation continuous along the affected areas the Environment Agency is already collecting information and data to use in future incidents.

It will also be assessing its infrastructure and repairing any damage.

David added: “In places the tides were higher than they were in 1953. A lot of the reason why there was no significant loss of life is because of the infrastructure and investment that has been made over the years.”

Webstite: http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/floods/31618.aspx

Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/#!/environmentagency)

Flood widget (http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/floods/137543.aspx)

Regional Twitter account at 
(www.twitter.com/EnvAgencyAnglia)

Smartphone app (http://www.halcrow.com/floodalert)

Floodline Direct service (phone, email or text alerts) (https://fwd.environment-agency.gov.uk/app/olr/home)

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