A school will be evacuated, helicopters scrambled and people rescued from rooftops this week as part of a £1.8 million exercise to test how prepared England and Wales are for devastating floods.
Exercise Watermark will involve around 10,000 people, 10 government departments, emergency services, utility companies and communities in what ministers say is the “largest civil defence exercise ever” in Britain.
By testing responses to flooding, the exercise fulfils one of the recommendations of the official review by Sir Michael Pitt into the 2007 floods which devastated parts of Yorkshire, the Midlands and the West Country.
Over the next week Exercise Watermark will test how Government, local authorities, emergencies services and communities deal with flash flooding, overflowing rivers, a reservoir threatening to burst and even a North Sea tidal surge in different parts of the country.
Ministers will take part in mock emergency Cobra meetings and “local resilience forums”, which include police, fire and rescue services, local authorities and public bodies, will test their response to a potential disaster.
Five water companies and nearly all electricity providers will also be checking they are prepared for flooding.
In Lincolnshire, Sutton on Sea residents and a primary school will be evacuated and at Tattershall Country Park people will be rescued from roof tops, submerged vehicles and caravans using boats and helicopters.
Even Prince William could be involved as RAF helicopters are used as part of live water rescues, including saving people from the top of a submerged bus, at Bala Lake, in Wales.
Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: “More extreme weather and rising sea levels mean we have to be prepared to deal with the impact of a major flood.
“Exercise Watermark will be Britain’s biggest ever emergency exercise and provide a unique opportunity for us to test our responses.”
Mr Benyon insisted the exercise was not taking funding away from flood defences, which suffered cuts under the spending review, as the money came from a separate protected pot for emergency planning.
And he said the flood budget had been protected “way in excess” of other areas of funding as it was a priority of Government.
He said ministers had ambitions to protect an extra 145,000 homes from flooding over the next four to five years, but that even more could be done as small measures such as raising curbs or putting in low walls of bricks could protect households from surface water flooding, which caused much of the damage in 2007.
Surface water maps which estimate where water would collect in the event of flash flooding are being developed across the country.
The Environment Minister also announced more than £800,000 in grants to emergency services, charities and other groups to buy flood rescue equipment and training, as part of a £2M fund to improve the response to floods across England and Wales.
The grants include boats and equipment for fire and rescue services and St John Ambulance and equipment and training for the RSPCA.
“Exercise Watermark will test the plans that Government, the Environment Agency, local authorities and communities have put in place since the devastating floods of 2007,” Environment Agency chairman Lord Chris Smith
“It will help protect lives and homes against future floods.”
“One in six properties in England and Wales is at risk from flooding,” he added.
“I urge everyone in that position to sign up to receive free Environment Agency flood warnings.”