We’re here when times get tough

By Rob Barlow | 20 August 2019

On 11 June, agencies in Lincolnshire began to prepare for heavy rainfall. We expected it to be a significant amount but we didn’t expect two-and-a-half months’ of rain would fall in just 72 hours causing a breach of the River Steeping Relief Channel near Wainfleet, resulting in 600 properties being evacuated, firefighters floating down roads in boats and one of the largest pumps in Europe being called in to support a relatively small community.

The declared emergency was responded to by over 50 agencies through the Lincolnshire Resilience Forum. The operation was supported by a number of cells based in the County Emergency Centre in Lincoln – all with a key role to play in ensuring a co-ordinated response to what was emerging.

With a Rest Centre established in Skegness’ Embassy Theatre, people were asked to leave their properties while RAF Chinook and Puma helicopters (approved by Government following a Military Aid to Civil Authorities request) dropped 270 one-tonne bags of ballast to fill the breach in the riverbank. After a lengthy operation the breach was temporarily stemmed, giving colleagues at the Environment Agency time to begin work on a permanent fix.

By this point a number of streets in Wainfleet were under water and properties flooded.

An event such as this is a true test of both a plan and the team of individuals pulling together to deliver on it to best support and protect the community.

Our role in the response phase was to support the blue lights. We had teams working alongside local residents and businesses to sandbag properties. We ran a 24/7 rest centre which provided a range of support services for those with nowhere to go. We offered a 24/7 information point in Wainfleet itself. We placed the people affected into temporary accommodation; we called into Strategic and Tactical Co-Ordination Group meetings at county level and supported the dissemination of information to affected residents and businesses.

With national television cameras on the ground for the duration of the incident, the profile it was given resulted in many volunteers wanting to support the response effort.

While we didn’t lead the management of the volunteers, it was clear that their co-ordination was key to ensuring they were given tasks to suit their skillset.

Working with an experienced and registered charity, we quickly established an official scheme for financial donations. We were clear we wanted an independent organisation to run and promote the financial donation scheme rather than something directly linked with the council.

Our most important role would be during the recovery phase. In 2007, our communities suffered major flooding in the towns of Horncastle and Louth and we were able to draw on the experiences our organisation learned at that time. Recovery isn’t just about getting people back into their homes and businesses as quickly as possible; it is about ensuring we are there for our community when they need us most. The first step was to appoint a flood recovery link worker to ensure every resident and business affected had access to the right advice and support.

Having taken on the chairmanship of the Strategic Recovery Group, it was apparent that we were still one piece in a much bigger jigsaw made up of a whole range of partners who need to be active in the Wainfleet area for some time to come.

Working collaboratively to establish the true extent of the impact has been a challenge due to the changing nature of the incident that unfolded.

Current analysis suggests that 63 properties suffered internal flooding and some 40 farmers over 550 acres around the area of the breach have total loss of crops.

We took a long-term booking on the local community hall in Wainfleet and deployed Wellbeing Teams, Housing Teams, Housing Standards Team and Neighbourhood Teams into the area alongside partner agencies including health and the voluntary sector.

The trust, flexibility, focus and partnership working between all organisations – with great leadership by the Police – has been nothing short of outstanding. There is no doubt that our support for the community will be required for many months. Supporting our communities when they are most in need is what our sector does best.

An incident like this also shows the strength of our communities and how they pull together when times are tough.

Rob Barlow is chief executive of East Lindsey DC

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