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Go with the flow

People living in coastal areas which are below sea level may find it difficult to get insurance for their property, and recent reports in the national press have suggested that insurance companies are set to put even more of a squeeze on things.

But according to HR Wallingford coastal group engineer Ian Meadowcroft, much of the problem lies in the way insurance companies evaluate flood risk. He is involved in organising a seminar at HR Wallingford later this month which he hopes will enable the industry to appreciate the wide range of techniques available to them.

'The methods that are used are not as advanced as they could be,' Meadowcroft says, pointing out that in general these conservative methods result in exaggerated estimates of risk.

One example is the practice of assuming that just because a property lies near to or below sea level, it is at a high risk of being flooded. While it is impossible to predict where a breach will occur, and how big it will be, modern techniques allow a reasonably accurate estimation of the flood risk. And even if there is a breach in the sea defences, water will only flow through for a certain amount of time before the tide turns, so only a small part of the low lying land is likely to suffer.

A map of 'flood basins' can be produced, which takes into account the topography of the ground and any flow restrictions - walls, roads etc - between different basins. This can be used to calculate the flooding risk more accurately. Insurers also need to take into account the type, condition and extent of sea defences, as well as the presence and efficacy of any flood warning system.

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