How can we make our buildings more resilient to flooding?

Professor David Proverbs, co-editor of International Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation (IJBPA), has over ten years’ of experience as a Project Manager in the construction sector prior to entering the world of academia. With extensive expertise in flood risk management, David Proverbs discusses how we can implement vital research to ensure buildings are more flood resilient.

The recent flash flooding in my home city of Birmingham and seeing the images of flood affected homes and schools prompted me to contribute to this blog. Flooding can cause considerable damage to homes, businesses and communities, bringing about much disruption to daily lives. Buildings affected by flooding can take many months to dry out and then be repaired. The costs associated with repairs, clean-up activities and temporary accommodation are likely to be very expensive. Our research has shown that many small and medium sized companies are poorly prepared for the impact of flooding and will often take months, sometimes years, to recover with some going out of business altogether. Floods can also cause injuries and fatalities to people directly affected and the longer term effects can bring about mental stress issues and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

While some properties located in flood-prone areas have been intuitively adapted over time to be less susceptible to flooding, many remain exposed and vulnerable to the effects of flooding. Flash flooding linked to extreme weather means that many buildings are ill-prepared for the shock of a flood event. The concept of property level flood resilience is now being recognised as a new approach to help deal with flooding. The approach is an emerging concept and recognizes that in some cases it is inevitable that flood water will enter a building. Hence, a hybrid approach might be favoured, in which the amount of water entering a property is limited, together with the likely damage that is caused. The technology and understanding is moving forward with a greater appreciation of the benefits, from combining strategies and property level measures right through to incorporating water resistant and resilient materials. The process of resilient repair and considerate reinstatement is another emerging feature, recognizing that there will be a need to dry, clean, and repair flood-affected buildings. The importance of effective and timely drying of properties, including the need to use materials that dry rapidly and are easy to decontaminate, has become more apparent and is gaining attention.

The key issue for property owners is to be prepared as there is little one can do in the immediate time before the flood takes place. In many cases, it is not possible to prevent water entering the property and so you might want to consider steps that will make your property more flood repairable, for example by having raised electrical sockets, replacing carpets with vinyl or rugs, raising your electrical goods and tech (TVs, music systems, etc) and having removable internal doors and furniture that is lightweight. There is a lot more you can do to protect your property – go to the Flood Repairable website to find out more.

Whilst these approaches are being encouraged by the UK government, the uptake of such measures and interventions remains fairly low. Our recent work for DEFRA sought to overcome some of the barriers to uptake, by working with a flood affected community in Tewkesbury, to co-develop a series of low cost measures that were subsequently trialled in their homes. The impact of this research has been extended further to help communities in parts of Cumbria to be better prepared for future flooding. The intelligence gathered through this project is helping to inform future flood risk management policy and research directions.

This growing attention to making individual properties more resilient to flooding is now being further developed as we look towards a means of measuring property level flood resilience. Our initial thinking was based on using engineering systems and fuzzy logic to define and characterize resilience. We have now further refined this into a conceptual framework that draws on both engineering and psychological concepts of resilience as shown below.

Figure 1. Conceptual Framework for Property Level Flood Resilience

In addition to recognizing the characteristics of the building and the nature of flood risk, this framework also acknowledges the important contribution of the human element in defining resilience at the property level.

Having initially shared our ideas when I chaired the 6th International Conference on Flood and Urban Water Management in A Coruna, Spain, we are now going to be testing this framework further at our forthcoming Newton Peru Researcher Links Workshop on ‘Building Resilience in Flood Disaster Management in Northern Peru’. We hope to explore the application of the framework through working with a flood affected community in Chulucanas, Peru.

In helping to disseminate the latest research towards making buildings more resilient to flooding, the International Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation has published a number of research articles related to these issues and challenges. We welcome further contributions from researchers investigating this important topic towards helping communities become more resilient to such natural hazards.

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