«Case study, survey, diary and interview research on FCRM volunteering Report – SC120013/R3 We are the Environment Agency. We protect and improve ...»
A flood warden in Peterborough talked about the social element of volunteering and getting to know people in his neighbourhood, talking to people he might not normally speak to. He also suggested that, through the actions of flood wardens, the public were more informed about the risks, know flooding is likely to happen at some point and have some idea of what to do in a flood event. Being a flood warden also provides 40 Case study and survey research on FCRM volunteering them with a voice into the Environment Agency where they feel they can have an influence.
Being prepared was also cited as a benefit and having a better understanding of risk and resilience. The Environment Agency felt that volunteers would gain benefit from an increased sense of ownership and responsibility, and an increased knowledge of how to protect themselves.
Parish councils can benefit by having someone identified as a key contact point for advice and information when a flooding problem occurs. Flood wardens also felt that the Environment Agency gained local information and knowledge on the ground that it would not otherwise get access to; Environment Agency staff also felt this was important for the organisation.
For Lincolnshire County Council, the benefits of volunteers are massive and ‘outstrip the resources the council puts in place to inform people’.
The benefits to the Environment Agency are that volunteers act as ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground in local communities. If managed well, they can also increase the status of the Environment Agency.
One flood warden believes the parish council is taking the right approach:
‘We don’t have to worry people unduly but we can remind people there is a risk through the newsletter’.
Another felt the wider community benefited from having someone connected to the authorities and who could flag up problems as they arose.
Decision making As part of the Lincolnshire Resilience Forum, LCC has a focus on community resilience. It has a risk register of about 80 risks and looks at nine enduring risks. The highest risk is pandemics and the second highest is coastal inundation.
Getting young people involved and interested in flooding issues is important for LCC.
The ‘Safe Haven’ project, in which schools become shelters in an emergency situation, is running in Lincolnshire. LCC representatives talk to the pupils about the emotional impact of emergency events and preparedness, and also promote potential career paths and job opportunities. ‘This is a valuable tool and might make a difference’. The pilot scheme ran until April 2014 and LCC hopes to run it out across the county.
Working with younger people according to the LCC interviewee ‘can have a significant effect on how communities engage with new ideas’.
The Environment Agency focuses on the high and medium risk areas as its needs to prioritise Northern Area staff resources. It is currently working on a five-year mediumterm plan. The Environment Agency is looking at how to use flood wardens more, for example, in identifying care homes and caravan sites at risk, as evacuation plans may be needed. The Environment Agency also wants to engage with existing volunteer groups to explore how it can utilise what they do.
Questions from the Environment Agency were included in a recent questionnaire from ‘First Contact’ about when flooding worried older people; First Contact is an LCC scheme that offers people aged 60 and over advice and services to help them continue living independently. The First Contact coordinators go to Royal Voluntary Society meetings, disability meetings and clinics with leaflets that contain referral forms which people can tick a box to receive more information. This initiative is being piloted and the Environment Agency is getting a couple of these referrals a week. The Environment Case study and survey research on FCRM volunteering Agency believes there is potential to train the coordinators within the scheme as flood wardens.
Flood Resilience Officers from across the Environment Agency who focus on community engagement hold monthly teleconferences which are important in outlining issues coming through the Environment Agency national office. One Environment Agency staff member felt that meeting face- to-face, particularly with others who faced similar flooding issues, would be most useful to gain insights. There was concern however, that such meetings would be less frequent in the future due to cuts in funding.
One Environment Agency FRO made the distinction between a flood warden who was described as specific to a particular community and a flood volunteer who covers more than one area or parish. The flood wardens interviewed in this case study were all focused on a particular community. The distinction between a flood warden and a flood volunteer is also made in Table 6.1 of the Work Package 1 report (Environment Agency 2015a) ) where it is suggested that a flood volunteer was someone more than a flood warden, that is, they are someone getting involved in emergency responses, planning, river maintenance, bringing authorities together to raise funding, linked to flood groups, working with local landowners to look at long-term catchment issues and volunteering for different roles alongside other agencies.
Another Environment Agency staff member talked about working closely with the Environment Agency Partnership and Strategic Overview (PSO) teams which focus on flood alleviation. They work together to get messages out to communities. Volunteers need to be managed carefully to ensure the focus in on solutions that are practical and affordable; this is linked to ideas about managing expectations. As the staff member
‘It can be intensive to manage the volunteers. It can take up a lot of time and, once you start investing time in a community, you can’t always control what is going to happen. Some places spiral in the amount of time that needs to be spent on them’.
Flood wardens make decisions about:
• how much to do
• how they need to identify vulnerable people in their community
• how to ensure they do not put themselves at risk as they undertake their activities Challenges and issues A flood warden described the need to be sensitive and strike the right balance, not to scare people who may ‘get the wrong end of the stick’ and think they are more at risk from flooding than they actually are. Another talked about how members of the community had panicked or become hysterical when flooding occurred in 2012.
Having the right contacts and phone numbers was considered important in a flood event. One flood warden was concerned that, after volunteering and building trust with staff in the Environment Agency, when a flood incident happened he was passed to those who did not know him or his local situation. He felt annoyed about this as he thought he had spent enough time building trust and the key contacts he needed.
There was concern expressed by all the flood wardens that some in their town, city, village were not particularly inclined to get involved to help themselves or others; words such as ‘lethargy’ and ‘apathy’ were used to describe people’s attitudes. One example 42 Case study and survey research on FCRM volunteering was concerns that some riparian owners were not being active in clearing a watercourse bordering their property.
A couple of flood wardens also questioned the Environment Agency flood maps which some insurance companies use to check vulnerability of properties to flooding. They have spent about three years pursuing this with the Environment Agency trying to change the maps so that they show their properties are not at risk. They employed a surveyor and worked with an insurance company to reduce the cost of insurance by showing their houses were not at risk.
The provision of sandbags during a flood event was also a point of discussion for most of the flood wardens. Local authorities differ in whether they provide sandbags to residents or not. If they do provide sandbags, this is often directed at vulnerable groups. Ensuring flood wardens, and via them local communities, understand their local policy is important.
The flood warning system can be confusing for some people. One flood warden stated that he found the flood warning system ‘unnecessarily complicated and potentially confusing for a layman to understand’. He therefore drafted a guide of what the system means for the local community. He asked the Environment Agency to comment on the draft and was grateful for the helpful and relevant advice he received.
An example was given of flood wardens who threatened to leave their roles as they felt they were not getting warnings in time. Eventually in discussion with the Environment Agency, they signed up to Flood Alerts as well as Flood Warnings, even though the Environment Agency generally recommends that people sign up to a Flood Warning, as this is when houses are likely to be affected. The Environment Agency staff member felt that it the differences between the terms and their meaning could be confusing for people.
Lincolnshire has one of the largest areas of static caravans in Europe, some housing migrant workers. LCC is involved in sharing information about caravan sites and trying to get caravan owners to sign up to flood warnings and get flood plans in place. A joint LCC and Lincolnshire Resilience Forum seminar was held on 20 January 2014 to help caravan owners understand the importance of having evacuation plans in place to ensure the safety of their residents before, during and after a flood.
For Fenland District Council:
‘The challenge is keeping people engaged and keeping them involved and not waiting for 12 months till they get a call about a flood risk’.
Its council representative liked to meet flood wardens face-to-face once a year and thought newsletters can be helpful in disseminating information.
Reward and recognition There are awards around the county for volunteers and flood wardens can be put forward for one. One flood warden did receive an award for his services in a flood.
In terms of organisational recognition, LCC said it can give volunteers a voice so they can be heard and taken seriously. LCC has a scheme in place to reimburse reasonable costs incurred by flood wardens in an emergency but they do not have anything in place for the everyday activities of flood wardens. The Environment Agency, LCC and Fenland District Council do not provide any specific rewards to flood wardens for their efforts.
None of the flood wardens mentioned that they got reimbursed for any costs they faced as flood wardens, which was mainly petrol or phone calls. One stated that he was Case study and survey research on FCRM volunteering going to start claiming expenses from the residents association he is director of.
Another had been keen to attend a flood warden drop-in session organised by the Environment Agency and LCC, but she had to decline because she could not afford the petrol money on her low income. Although being reimbursed did not seem crucial to most of the volunteers, they would probably welcome being offered the opportunity for reimbursement as it is part of a recognition of what they do.
Guidance and support In 2011 the Environment Agency’s Anglian Region produced the Anglian Warden Toolkit which consists of three Microsoft® PowerPoint presentations. The first focuses on ‘engaging the community in flood risk management’ and is aimed at Environment Agency staff, emergency responders and experienced flood wardens. The second and third presentations are aimed at flood wardens. Presentation 2 on ‘who does what during a flood?’ outlines the role of flood wardens, flood plans and flood warnings.
Presentation 3 is about ‘how to access Flood Warnings Direct web pages’. There is also the Anglian Flood Warden Guide (Environment Agency 2002), a guide for voluntary flood wardens on how to set up a flood warden scheme.
The Environment Agency FRO felt that guidance for Environment Agency staff needed updating to recognise that any national guidance needs to highlight that councils across the country have different insurance policies.
An annual event for flood wardens is organised by the Environment Agency with input from those they work closely with. These events are an opportunity for flood wardens to meet each other, meet Environment Agency staff and partner organisation staff, and to exchange knowledge and information. It is also an opportunity for organisations to thank the flood wardens for their efforts and actions. The FRO felt that meeting on a quarterly basis would be more beneficial as it would allow flood wardens to stay better connected, build rapport and find out what each is doing. It is not clear if current Environment Agency funding would stretch to this.
LCC works with the Environment Agency to put on training for flood wardens so that they know the difference between a Flood Alert and a Flood Warning. They run workshops and seminars with volunteers, and go out to meet volunteers face-to-face.
LCC and the Environment Agency are also interested in how the flood wardens could meet more regularly to exchange information and ‘reinforce their commitment’.
Some of the communities were ‘fed up’ with different templates for developing a flood plan, so LCC has developed a one plan template with the Environment Agency.
LCC is going to revamp its web pages so that is can deliver e-training.
LCC runs an annual campaign focused on coastal flooding called ‘We’re Ready for Flooding: Are You? (Figure 4.26).
Some of the volunteers felt they would have benefited from a clearer steer of what the role of a flood warden is when they started.
‘…being told what being a flood warden entails and what it involved is important. I did not get any manual of what the role entailed. We made it up as we went along and were probably too ambitious and too helpful’ (flood warden volunteer).
Evidence Separate to the survey as part of this research, Environment Agency staff sent out a questionnaire to flood wardens in 2013 to gain feedback on what the flood wardens 44 Case study and survey research on FCRM volunteering were doing and if they had flood plans in place for their communities. Staff in the Region will be using this information to inform its future contact with flood wardens.