Any flood defence system is only as strong as its weakest part, so a cornerstone of the Environment Agency's flood risk management strategy is to develop a whole-life approach to managing its infrastructure of assets such as channels, walls, embankments, gates and pumping stations.
'We need to improve the ways we assess the condition of our assets and the effects of any management action, such as channel dredging or embankment maintenance, on the performance of the flooding system, ' says Bramley.
With 35,000km of flood and coastal defence embankments alone to manage, that in itself is a mammoth task.
A project led by research house HR Wallingford began in February to develop a performance-based asset management system (PAMS) for flood and coastal defences.
This addresses flood management at the local, or river reach, level. The management system is intended to help engineers understand better the link between the condition of defences and damage to property from flooding.
'Current approaches are somewhat crude and make it difficult to assess maintenance options, ' says Bramley.
The five year PAMS research programme aims to improve understanding of how different flood defence structures deteriorate and how they respond to extreme flood or storm events. Initially, a new condition assessment classification will be developed together with load/response functions for typical structures.
Engineers will be able to use the management system to examine the changes in performance, estimated as average annual damages, resulting from different maintenance options. It will be trialled on a number of typical fluvial, estuarine and coastal flood defence systems, including the Thames tidal defences.
In the long-term, PAMS will be integrated into a national software-supported asset management system and will be linked in to flood risk management strategies at catchment and national levels.