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Lessons learned on surge

PUBLISHED: 18:12 14 February 2008 | UPDATED: 10:26 03 July 2010

Liz Coates

A review of emergency response procedures in the wake of November's tidal surge is in the melting pot - and could help to seal the fate of Great Yarmouth borough's flood sirens.

A review of emergency response procedures in the wake of November's tidal surge is in the melting pot - and could help to seal the fate of Great Yarmouth borough's flood sirens.

More sandbags, rest centres and trained “civilians” such as teachers are being flagged as the key to a better emergency response. The last alert saw people heading desperately for the beaches and filling their own bags in the dark.

The drama put Great Yarmouth in the national spotlight with media, officials and householders mounting a tense “watch-and- wait” vigil to see just how high the waters would rise. Now, the review looks at what worked well and what didn't, with the public being asked for their opinions to help shape procedures and

maybe train to become part

of the effort themselves.

In a statement, the borough council said important new lessons had been learned as a result of the successful operation to safeguard the borough on November 8-9, with the availability of sandbags a key issue.

It added that ways of issuing flood warnings, evacuation procedures and the role of the flood sirens were just some of the issues highlighted in the review.

Others included integrating the council and police flood plans; organising better local intell-igence, having better rest centre provision and being more prepared.

Council head of communities Mark Burns, who led the council's response at Silver Command, said: “Although the authorities and public dealt pretty well with this, it was actually the best learning experience any of us could have. In the, hopefully, unlikely event something else happens we want to do even better and we want the public to feel more reassured and ready to cope as well.

“The schools responded magnificently, especially Caister High School. We think it went pretty well, but we need more people to draw on and more rest centres. In a situation like that you burn up resources pretty quickly. We are not resting on our laurels and have already run training courses in rest centre management.”

Mr Burns said the near miss had brought the issue of flood sirens into sharp focus, with some saying that sounding them would have triggered panic and congestion. He said modern weather fore-casting meant at least 24 hours notice of a flood event, enough time to prepare for an orderly evacuation.

He added: “The police were particularly effective in giving advice through door-knocking many houses in flood-prone areas. Rest centres were opened and prepared in advance to receive evacuees.

“However, a counter view is that sirens still offer a last resort option.

“Before this event I too felt the sirens still had a last-resort role to play, but when you think about it setting them off early could spread panic and confusion.

“Setting them off after a major flood is too late and again may put people in danger if they venture on to the streets in large numbers. However, we want to hear from the public about their thoughts on this and all the other aspects of the response.”

He added that the council was looking into new hi-tech sandbags but the ones they had seen so far did not work well with sea water.

You can write or email your thoughts to the council at Tidal Surge Lessons Learnt, Emergency Planning Officer, Maltings House, Malthouse Lane, Gorleston,

Great Yarmouth, Norfolk,

NR31 0GY; email tidalsurge@

great-yarmouth.gov.uk

The borough bouncil is facing a bill for about £53,000 following the tidal surge and is applying to the Department for Communities and Local Government for £20,000 to cover emergency costs.

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