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Sheffield’s great flood reminder of infrastructure’s importance

The 1864 Dale Dyke Dam failure, a disaster which caused over 240 deaths, serves as a stark reminder of the need to invest in reliable and appropriate infrastructure in the UK today, said ICE President Geoff French last week.

Geoff French

Geoff French: ICE President

French was speaking at an event marking the 150th anniversary of the event, now known as “The Great Sheffield Flood”. The disaster, which started at midnight on 11 March with a crack the size of a knife’s edge, resulted in the collapse of the dam and devastation for the surrounding communities.

The anniversary event at Sheffield University, hosted by ICE Yorkshire and Humber and the British Dam Society (BDS), provided guests with expert analysis of the collapse from Atkins director of dams and reservoirs Andy Hughes, a former BDS chairman. Hughes also spoke about how lessons have been learned and steps taken to reduce the risk of such a disaster happening again.

French said: “The failure of Dale Dyke Dam resulted in one of the greatest peacetime losses of life in this country, with 240 deaths confirmed in the following months, although more recent studies have shown that the number is closer to 300.

“The Institution was less than 50 years old when this happened but it played a crucial role in the investigation into the causes of the failure. No fewer than eight of my predecessors as President investigated and reported on Dale Dyke Dam.

“It is often said that people don’t appreciate infrastructure until it doesn’t work. The Dale Dyke Dam failure - and sadly some more recent examples in the UK - serve as a stark reminder of just how important it is to have reliable, adequate and appropriate infrastructure.

“The challenge for us is to stop this list getting any longer - not only in managing flooding but in ensuring that there is sufficient power generation, adequate road, rail, air and port capacity, a clean water supply and safe disposal of wastewater and of other waste,” he said.

“Civil engineers have a responsibility to use their integrity to communicate these realities - and properly engage people in showing how civil engineering and infrastructure are directly relevant to their lives, to prove that we’re prepared to tackle the world’s biggest challenges.”

French also joined fellow representatives at a remembrance service where wreaths were left to commemorate those who lost their lives.

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