Communicating about flood risk

Last Monday, 15th March, was a great day as our Governance Group approved the ‘Communication Flood Risk Project’. This means we can now get on with designing and delivering tools which will help Risk Management Authorities (RMAs) overcome challenges they face when communicating about flood risk to members of the public.

In late 2019, RMAs from across Yorkshire approached iCASP to ask for help communicating with  communities at risk of flooding  to help them become more resilient. Leeds City Council, the City of York Council, the Environment Agency and the Living With Water Partnership became our main project partners teaming up with academics from Leeds, Sheffield and Hull Universities to find ways to overcome these challenges.

We have been interviewing representatives from RMAs across the region to find out exactly what challenges they face and how the existing literature could help us to find solutions. To check that these challenges ring true with members of the public, we have also been speaking to community representatives involved in flood risk such as flood wardens and members of flood groups.

Our five communications challenges

These are the challenges they have identified which we will be tackling:

  1. Communicating technical terminology and concepts to the public to clarify the complexities around the likelihood and magnitude of flooding, the level of protection offered by flood schemes, sources and functioning of flooding and the key components and timescales of the development of a flood scheme
  2. Using digital media to communicate about flood risk – especially as COVID may limit face-to-face communications indefinitely  
  3. Identifying meaningful ways to establish relationships with those at risk and develop resilience amongst communities
  4. Engaging those who are difficult to reach or not engaged
  5. Coordinating and signposting members of the public between RMAs efficiently providing clarity on the roles and responsibilities of different organisations.

One in six homes in England are at risk of flooding and yet research commissioned for the Environment Agency’s latest Flood Action Campaign showed one in eight (12%) people have no idea whether they live in a flood risk area. This means that millions of people could be at risk of being caught out by a flood.

Therefore, it is crucial that we support those responsible for managing flood risk so that they can help those residents and businesses who are at risk to understand their exposure and what they can do to increase their resilience to flooding.

During this project we will be drawing on knowledge which advocates that to improve flood resilience, communication needs to centre around public involvement, community empowerment, community development and be peer to peer.

Our next steps

Our next steps will be to design and deliver tools which will help RMAs to take this community focused approach to flood risk communications. These will start to be used in the Autumn and include:

  • Role play exercise – to simulate key flood risk communication scenarios between RMAs and the public during an incident and to explain the stages in the development of flood alleviation schemes
  • How to guides – will help RMAs communicate complicated flood processes to the public
  • Webinar series – will enable RMAs and engaged members of the public to learn key from leading academics and practitioners in the field
  • Buddy systems – will enable RMAs and engaged members of the public, in different geographical locations, to learn from each other and develop best practice to flood communications.

We will also be acting as an advisor to RMAs on current projects that involve engagement with the public.

As a result of climate change there is likely to be an increase in extreme weather events so effective relationships between organisations and communities are extremely important for ensuring that everyone can work together to tackle flood risk.