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How prepared is the UK?

The question

All eyes are on New Orleans this week as recovery and aid continue. With severe weather events increasing in intensity, are the UK's major cities adequately protected?

The wrong combination of extreme weather and predicted future sea level rise would threaten low lying regions of many of our coastal cities.

As engineers we believe that we have the knowledge and capabilities to protect against almost anything, but at what cost- Who is predicting future conditions and the solutions the public will accept- What is beyond question is that once a protection strategy has been committed to, then it must be absolute as the consequences of failure are clearly catastrophic.

Simon Lawrence, 32, senior engineer, Cardiff Speaking as somebody with property close to the river in central London, I only hope that the designers of the Thames Barrage have checked their original forecasts of likely storm surge levels against recent weather patterns.

Bill Addington, 49, geotechnical consultant, Kuala Lumpur Most of the things that need to be done are actually undoing what we have done in the last 50 years, such as building on floodplains and concreting over our cities. We need to learn from the US and actually take heed of early warnings and activate emergency plans well in advance, rather than wait until after the event. Boscastle reminds us that natural events are unpredictable in both timing and severity.

Rob Andrew, 40, policy manager, Cornwall In this country in 1953 a freak tidal surge in the North Sea killed 307 people and destroyed 24,000 homes. Have we learned from this- We are about to see a vast new development built on a flood plain in the Thames Gateway, so the answer is clearly no. Politicians must learn from the past and listen to the experts.

Kenneth Brown, assistant engineer, Lithinglow I do not think that we should be looking to achieve adequate protection since this is likely to be an unsustainable option, but we do need to ensure that we are prepared when it happens. Let's hope we all manage to learn some lessons in effective emergency planning from New Orleans' tragic experience.

Charis Fowler, 33, senior engineer, Midlands It does not matter how big the defences are, there is always a flood or storm that will beat them. At best all we can do is provide protection to minimise the risk plus ensure that proper emergency warnings and plans are in place for when things go horribly wrong.

And we must stop building in flood plains.

Robert Pike, 43, project manager, Exeter From my experience of the wind loadings used to design buildings 25 years ago, UK cities are certainly not protected from widespread damage in such severe storms. The effect of recent strong winds in Birmingham, for instance, would seem to confirm this.

A revision of standards would only apply to new structures, as retrofitting existing buildings would be uneconomic. It remains then to ensure that there are organisations capable of coping with such emergency situations, to avoid the chaos evident in New Orleans.

Mike Paul, 52, senior engineer, Stuttgart, Germany

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