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Staff stories. . .


Simon Heckle

One of the most exciting aspects of flood risk management is being involved when flood incidents happen. Each region maintains a rota of staff for a 24-hour on-call response service if a flood occurs and, as flood incident management team leader, chartered engineer Simon Heckle manages that rota for part of the North West region.

Heckle's role if the alarm is raised is to head up the incident room, watching weather and river level information and calling in staff from the duty rota as the situation develops. His opposite number on the operational side organises the workforce to clear debris screens, operate flood gates and organise physical defences, while Heckle's Warrington-based team helps to implement emergency plans for warning - and even evacuating - residents affected by the flooding.

'It can be quite a pressured role - especially if you're busy in your day job, ' he says, 'but it's one of the most rewarding parts of the job. You can really make a difference.' The 'day job' for Heckle is to manage the Environment Agency's input into preparing residents for potential flood events in Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Merseyside. It involves working with 24 local authorities and the emergency services on emergency planning, incident planning and public awareness. 'We have to raise awareness among people that they're in a flood risk area and get them to think about preparing for a flood before it happens, ' he says.

About 100,000 people in Heckle's operational area are at risk of a one in 1,000 year flood.

'The floods in Carlisle in 2005 remind us that we shouldn't be complacent, ' he says. Heckle's team also visits schools, attends emergency planning meetings, conferences, exhibitions and community groups.

Audrey Latapie

Audrey Latapie joined the Environment Agency on an ICE graduate training scheme in 2004. Her first two months were spent in the North West area flood warning team, familiarising herself with the different river catchments in the region and producing flood risk maps using geographic information systems. She then spent some time helping the asset system management team develop pre-feasibility studies and supervising small flood defence repair projects.

For the past 12 months Latapie has been part of the site supervision team for the Lower Lancaster Flood Alleviation Scheme. 'This has provided me with variety and experience of liaising with the consultant, contractor and the landowners affected by the works, ' she says. 'It has been one of the most exciting placements so far and has given me a good oversight of the Environment Agency from the outside.

'It made me realise that having knowledge across a wide range of engineering, hydrological, hydraulic and ecological disciplines is one thing, but being faced by real problems on site and trying to solve them is another. Seeing a flood alleviation scheme being constructed is quite amazing.

Latapie has started working with the flood forecasting team in the North West regional office in Warrington. 'My role is to analyse and interpret data, prepare technical reports and make recommendations on new strategies, ' she explains.

'Every placement has been so interesting that I haven't yet made up my mind where I'd like to be once I become chartered.'

Simon Beavan

During a 10-year career with the Environment Agency Simon Beavan has worked at national, regional and area level, and has also had an 18-month stint on secondment with one of the organisation's framework consultants. 'That was eye-opening, ' he says.

'I was impressed by their professionalism and clarity of purpose, but there was a difference between the ethos of the two. Working for the Environment Agency you can be more innovative and not constrained by a prot margin - although you still have to deliver the day job.' Beavan undertook the secondment as a way of gaining design and site experience for the ICE Professional Review, which he passed in 2005. 'I would recommend it to anyone, ' he says.

For the past three years Beavan has worked for the Thames region in Reading, where he leads a team responsible for the region's flood defence assets. He has an annual budget of £80M for asset renewal, new works and strategic studies for ood risk management.

'It's about maximising ood risk reduction and setting out a more strategic plan for the assets in the region, ' he explains. 'A lot of my work is about looking at future years' programmes and developing scenarios for future funding proles. I also look at the overall bid programme and assess that for deliverability, and put together all the funding options.' Beavan's role involves liaison with other parts of the organisation and managing a diverse team of technical specialists. 'It's not traditional civil engineering, ' he says, 'but we're at the forefront in many areas of innovation. When you're answerable to the public, you play a big part in people's understanding of what ood risk management is about and how innovative civil engineering is.'

Carol Hall

Carol Hall is a senior engineer in the Environment Agency's South West regional ofce in Exeter. She is a technical specialist in strategic and development planning, identifying issues that will affect the region's coast and rivers in 20 years time.

Her particular area of expertise is in shoreline and coastline management, and she is currently at the start of the 'second generation' of shoreline management plans for the South West.

Hall has worked for the Environment Agency since it was formed 10 years ago. She has been a senior engineer since 1996 and has held her current post for a year. 'My career keeps branching off into directions that I wasn't expecting, but really enjoy, ' she says.

'There are always opportunities and if you are getting itchy feet you can go and work in another team doing something different.

'Although I've been a senior engineer in this team for 10 years, I've never done the same job for more than two years at a time.' Hall describes her current strategic role as 'fascinating', but tries to maintain her engineering skills by short secondments both to consultants and elsewhere in the organisation.

These are contributing to her store of experience that should see her become chartered through the ICE's Technical Report route next year.

For the past 18 months Hall has worked part time since returning from maternity leave.

Her job, she says, is ideally suited to part-time working.

Steve Hayman Chartered engineer Steve Hayman works for the Environment Agency's National Capital Programme Management Service (NCPMS).

'We manage the development of strategy reports, scheme option appraisals and the implementation of civil engineering projects, ' he explains.

The need for a project is initially identied at the area level and then passed to the NCPMS, which has been building up its project management skills over the past five years. 'We have established frameworks with our chosen consultants and contractors, and adopted an integrated team approach to maximise efciency. Our teams have the satisfaction of seeing schemes progress from the initial feasibility stage through to construction on site, ' says Hayman.

Hayman has a national role and is based in the regional office in Peterborough, where he has specialised in multi-million pound sea defence schemes on the East Anglian coast and a public private partnership project on the Norfolk Broads. 'Our focus is increasingly on 'softer' forms of coastal management, such as beach replenishment, where we work with natural processes to reduce flood risk, ' he says.

Hayman particularly enjoys the interface with the public that is an important aspect of his role. 'Most of the time our work is either on private land or in important amenity areas, such as the Norfolk Broads, so consultation and public liaison is very important, ' he says.

He also likes the constant challenge: 'Once you start getting involved on the coast you get a good deal of respect for the sea.'

Robert Runcie

Robert Runcie says his current job is 'the best I've ever had'.

Runcie, a chartered engineer, is the Environment Agency's regional director for the Thames region: all 235km of the River Thames and everything that happens within its catchment area.

'I've been to see ministers this week, and was with the mayor of London last week, ' he says, describing a typical working day. 'I've also been sharing knowledge on spatial planning with people from the Netherlands and been with people who are working on the Olympics to make sure we have the environmental infrastructure in place.' He has teams improving recreational use of the waterways, maintaining the environment and ecology, regulating business and looking ahead to see how London will be protected from ooding over the next 100 years.

'I'm not a policy person, ' says Runcie, 'but I like to have ownership of a patch and say I've helped to improve the quality of people's lives.' Runcie started his career with an engineering consultant and went to Sabah and Guinea. As resident engineer on a project to maintain Guinea's main port he was responsible for a small group of expatriate workers and 75 locals. 'That was the catalyst for me in terms of moving from project engineering to project management, ' he says. 'It requires a different skill set to bring people together to achieve demonstrable outcomes.' He joined the Environment Agency's predecessor, the National Rivers Authority, as a senior engineer in 1989.

Before becoming regional director in the Thames region, Runcie held the same position in the Anglian and North West regions working with the water industry, manufacturing and nuclear sectors. Then the opportunity came up to lead the Thames region. 'It has the largest single set of issues: the capital's here, and there are issues ranging from the Olympics and the massive housing and growth agenda for the South East, to big operational assets such as the Thames Barrier, ' he says. 'It's got everything at a scale and pace and intensity that makes the job just fabulous.' He adds: 'I don't think I was a typical engineer, but engineering gave me the opportunity to utilise a wider range of skills and capabilities around a core of delivering engineering projects.

What drew me to the water side was working with nature and the balance between how good the science - the engineering - is and how much is done on experience and judgment.'

Benefits l Flexible working arrangements: staff can request exible working, such as parttime, exi-time and job-share.

Comprehensive maternity and paternity schemes.

Cars: if you need to drive as part of your job, you may be offered a choice of lease cars.

Interest free loans: for bicycles and public transport season tickets.

Benefits plus: corporate discounts and specially negotiated benets, including 'green' shopping and leisure options and childcare assistance.

Sports and social club:

subsidised facilities for staff and families.

Holidays: between 25 and 30 days annual leave, depending on level.

Final salary pension.

Graduate training scheme The Environment Agency recently launched the Graduate Flood Risk Engineering Scheme, a structured training programme involving internal and external assignments to help graduates build skills in everything from asset management to project feasibility, planning design, project management and site supervision. Normally, graduates spend between three months and a year on each assignment.

Graduates are well supported, with a supervising engineer or chief supervisor to oversee their work and a delegated engineer to help on a day-to-day basis. It usually takes between two and four years to complete the scheme, with graduates assessed in four core areas - technical, commercial, professional and management skills - before going on to the Professional Review with the either ICE or CIWEM.

The Environment Agency has been acknowledged in The Times as one of the Top 100 graduate employers.

For more on the Graduate Flood Risk Engineering Scheme and sponsorship opportunities go to www. wishfor. co. uk/grads

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