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The Wave (2015) – an emergency planners review

The Wave (2015) – an emergency planners review

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Inspired partly by Parasite director Bong Joon Ho’s acceptance speech at the 2020 Golden Globes I decided to watch The Wave, a 2005 Norweigian film based on the Tajfjord rockslide in April 1934, which resulted in a 40m tsunami killing 40 people.

Before I even had to contend with subtitles, the first challenge was finding a way to watch it. At the time of writing, it’s not available via Netflix UK or Amazon Prime Video, but I tracked it down and watched on YouTube.

Like lots of disaster movies, and many real-life disasters, the warning signs were there from the outset.

The context is clear. It will happen again, but scientists don’t know when.

Well reader, I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler that I confidently predict something decidedly bad will happen in the next 90 minutes.

Cut to the present day.

Kristian is working his last day as a geologist, relocating his family to take a job with the dark side of the oil industry. Groundwater sensors embedded across the mountain indicate something is amiss but it’s dismissed by his colleagues. It takes time for Kristian to convince his colleagues that ‘something is up’, he abandons his children and they set off to find their hotel manager mother. A good rule of thumb based on most disaster movies and all horror movies that I’ve seen: do not split up.

Anyway, by the time the data is telling a compelling enough story, the geologists have slightly 10 minutes to save the town. Even in a town of just 250 people, arranging evacuation in 10 minutes is a tall order.There are signs that the situation has been planned for. The alarm is (eventually) sounded, people take to their cars, pausing to pack personal possessions. There aren’t many routes out of the town, but it’s all relatively well ordered.

Bucking the Hollywood trend, the film shows no scenes of looting. This supports a growing evidence base that people affected by disaster are typically pro-social. I found this really refreshing.

After the tsunami arrives focus shifts to Kristian’s attempt to find his family. He’s reunited with his daughter fairly quickly, but he has to mount a one-man rescue mission to find his wife and son. I don’t want to spoil the dramatic tension in the latter part of the film, but suffice to say that one scene, in particular, is reminiscent of Titanic.

Overall I really enjoyed The Wave. There were still some great action sequences but it was a different, slightly calmer take on disaster.


30 Days 30 Ways: Day 3

30 Days 30 Ways: Day 3

Reading Time: 3 minutes

And I was like, I mean, this is exhausting, blogging every day!

Thankfully, NorthantsEPTeam and CRESA have done all the hard work and I don’t have to actually think about coming up with ideas, just ordering my thoughts into something vaguely logical! Blogging professionally must be really difficult!

UK Challenge 3 – Risk of Flooding? 

Take That - The FloodToday’s challenge requires me to

  1. Check to see if your home is at risk from flooding by going to the NCC Floodtoolkit website.
  2. As a bonus, have a look around the website and let us know what parts you like the best.

Unfortunately the data on the Flood Toolkit website is limited to the Northamptonshire area, but of like me you’re outside of that area you can use the Environment Agency map to check the same information.

I already knew that I was outside of the risk area for flooding from rivers and the sea, but it did reveal that I have a low risk of surface water flooding. That means that in any one year there is somewhere between 0.1% and 1% chance of being flooded.

My favourite part of the website is the Flood Library, specifically the case studies from businesses who have direct experience of flooding. It might not be the most flashy part of the website, but for me it’s the most important.

Although we like to think that we’re modern beings, actually we’re still hardwired very similarly to our ancestors whose main method of conveying important information was to turn it into a story. Stories both inform and engage because they activate both hemispheres of the brain, which also helps with retention.

Emergency planners aren’t always great at framing information in the language and style that people are receptive to. So for that reason I think its great that businesses have shared their stories. It gives the information immediate ‘relate-ability’.

USA Challenge 3 – throwback thursday, or #tbt 

We want you to share a link or picture of an event that moved you to take some sort of preparedness action.  Along with sharing the link/picture, tell us what action this event caused you to do and if that helped motivate others around you.

I’ve been involved professionally with a large number of incidents, but the one which I remember having a marked effect on me happened over 4 days in August in 2011 when London seemed to ‘loose it’. Public disorder sparked by a police shooting occurred spontaneously and was sustained for a number of days.

Near where I live a whole section of the High Street was damaged by rioting, and it was very unnerving having the police helicopter directly overhead for three consecutive evenings. It was strange seeing shops proactively boarding up at 2pm in advance of further looting that evening. It was worrying walking to and from the station in the dar, in what is usually a comparatively safe area.

I remember seeing the following footage live, and being concerned for the reporter, who makes some interesting comments which I’ll leave to speak for themselves.

Personally for me, the biggest challenge came towards the end of the day when I had to think about eating. Because shops were closing early I was unable to purchase food (at the time I shopped on a daily basis). This meant reliance of takeaways for several days, which was both expensive, unhealthy and also in high demand.

Since then I’ve made sure that I always have ingredients to make at least one meal. A frozen pizza here, a couple of cans of beans there…nothing which is massively expensive, and certainly not the 72 hours that some sources suggest.

Oh, and why that picture at the top? Well it’s a still from The Flood by Take That, and it seemed appropriate to a post about awareness of flood risk as one of the lyrics goes ‘although no-one understood, we were holding back the flood…’

What’s in a name: toponymy and risk

What’s in a name: toponymy and risk

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Two years ago I sat on the underground with my friend Martin and studied the tube map for places with the suffix –ham, which means farm (I’ve found activities like this make the journey go quicker!). It was clear from those place names that London’s metropolis actually grew from a large number of farms, and that a lot can be understood about history just from what we call places. I didn’t then realise that I’d come back to blog about this in relation to risk!

Recently I attended a presentation from Somerset County Council on their experience of flooding in Winter 2013/14. The presenter made one comment which really resonated with me

“Muchelney…by the way, any place names which end in ‘ney’ means island…”

It was just a passing comment, but one which I’ve been reflecting on for a little while. Place names reflect local history, so can toponymy tell us anything about risk?

If a place has a history of repeated emergencies (lets say flooding), does that become part of its present and future through being incorporated into its name? To explore this a little I thought I’d investigate the meaning of place names on the Wikipedia UK flood list.

Modern Place Name Meaning Place name is a possible Indicator of flood risk?
London We’re often told that London has its roots in the latin Londinium however, Richard Coates suggests it could derive from the earlier Old Europeanplowonidā meaning ‘river too wide or deep to ford’. Flooding from a wide and deep river could have significant consequences. Yes
Sheffield Open Land by the River Sheaf Yes
Lynmouth Mouth of the River Lyn (meaning ‘torrent’) Yes
Canvey Island Not a lot of consensus, but either means Island of Cana’s People or Island Island. Possibly
Glasgow Green hollow Possibly
Boscastle Botreaux Castle No
Cockermouth Mouth of the River Cocker (meaning ‘crooked one’) Yes
Cumbria Compatriot Land / Countrymen No
Somerset Levels Somerset – Settlers by sea lakesLevels – refers to level marine clays Yes
Wraysbury Wïgrǣd’s fort No

A quick Google later and I found this map via Being The Hunt, which provides the meaning of country names in Europe. At this level it doesn’t say much about risk (with the exception of Land of Revolt), but I wonder whether the same could be done for place names in the UK/London, and what hidden patterns this might reveal?


And it’s not just place names. Our own names may give some indication about historical events and could potentially be used to infer future risk…

The map below shows the prevalence of the surname Flood in England in 1891. What strikes me is that the surname is more common in coastal areas or those which anecdotally are prone to flooding. It’s impossible to infer much from this, but would be interesting to do a longitudinal study to see how these surname clusters have moved over time, and it’s an interesting pattern nevertheless!


I’m not sure, other than being interesting, what a detailed exploration of this would reveal. However, I’ve recently been doing some work on risk perception, and wonder whether people who live in places which have flood-related names have a higher degree of risk awareness?

Your thoughts and comments would be welcomed. This is very much just a collection of half-formed ideas rolling around in my head, and if anyone could help me make sense of them that’d be great!

Londonist have just released another alternative Tube map – I wonder if their next one could be ‘meanings’ of current places?

30 Days, 30 Ways: Day 4

30 Days, 30 Ways: Day 4

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Today’s 30 Days task relates to the weather. Engage any British person in conversation for more than a couple of minutes and we’ll find a way of talking about it, so I think this one will be a walk in the park (or more likley…rain!)










I’m not sure if there is a particular name for it, but I think the transition between summer and autumn is my favourite time of year. It’s still warm enough not to wear a jacket, but it’s cool enough to get away with drinking red wine!

So, on with today’s task

1 Pt:   Identify your closest National Weather Service office and follow them on Social Media

2 Pts:   Tell us the difference between an “Advisory”, “Watch” and “Warning”

I already follow the Met Office on Twitter and have their iPhone app. Hopefully that means the first point is in the bag!

In the UK the terms associated with weather events are slightly different. We use rather more self explanatory terms

  • Be Aware
  • Be Prepared
  • Take Action

However, our terminology for describing flood risk, which is the responsibility of the Environment Agency (who I also follow on social media!), more closely aligns with American terms, so I thought I’d post about them too! In the event of flooding being forecast, the following escalation levels are used:

  • Flood Alert – meaning flooding is possible, be prepared
  • Flood Warning – which means flooding is expected, take action
  • Severe Flood Warning – which essentially means flooding has occurred and there is a risk to life

I am inclined to think that our weather warnings are more intuitive as they provide an immediate and clear instruction, whereas the flood warnings (and American weather warnings) rely on people already understanding the terms. That said, all of these terms are better than using the more vague numbered, lettered or coloured levels without corresponding description.

Heatwave Warning Level 3 – what does that mean? Level 3 of how many? Which way does the scale slide? What do you expect me to do?!


Whack-a-Mole Resilience

Whack-a-Mole Resilience

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I don’t condone mole-whacking and here’s why…

Whack a Mole

Blog posts have been a little sparse recently. Since the St Jude storm in October 2013 the weather in the UK has been ‘freaky’ (this was a comment made by a colleague at the Met Office, there’s no arguing with insight like that!). Storms, gales, unprecedented rainfall, flooding…you name it, it’s battered our green and pleasant land!

London has largely escaped the worst of the weather. There have been some issues relating to groundwater flooding in susceptible areas, but nothing on the scale of what has been seen in Somerset or Surrey. (Incidentally. whilst this is terrible for those people affected, I do encourage people to occasionally pause, look at international incidents, and try to maintain a degree of perspective). However, an absence of significant impact hasn’t meant that a lot of work and long hours haven’t been necessary.

Since early February people have been beavering away (yes, another mammalian metaphor!) both on the ground and in offices to try and mitigate the impacts that flooding is having, or could potentially have in London.

Risk management is a funny old thing, and not dissimilar to that whack a mole game.

Take flood defences, massive investment like the construction of the Thames Barrier brings flood risk ‘under control’. This, combined with continually changing political drives, means that resource and attention is then focused elsewhere; counter terrorism perhaps, or protection against space weather. However, a combination of changing science, political oscillation and adjustment to resourcing mean that at some point the ‘control’ offered by the intervention diminishes and the risk returns. And whilst the risk returns to the same level, the vulnerability to it has increased, often because there has been development in that area.

The mole has popped up again, this time bigger and angrier. While our natural reaction, and that observed in the current flooding is to whack the mole (“we need to prevent this from happening again“) inevitably that will mean that attention is taken away from managing some other risk, providing an oportunity for a different mole to emerge.

Whilst I’m not surprised about the forward-leaning nature of politicians and senior leadership that has been seen recently in the UK (this seems to be an international trend) I think it’s important to stand far enough away from each mole individually to see when the next one is about to pop up.

Also, moles are undeniably cute, and don’t deserve to be whacked!

UPDATE: it looks like I’m not the only one to have observed this whack a mole effect. CNN reported a similar situation when talking specifically about the Fukushima response late last year

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How to lie with Flood Maps

How to lie with Flood Maps

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The title of this post is drawn from Mark Monmonier’s entertaining book, which I remember from my Geography degree. Maps can be fantastic ways of conveying complex spatial information. However, like speeches and presentations, maps can also be subject to bias, in both what is presented and what is ignored. Exercising a degree of skepticism when reading a map is good practice, and helps minimise misinterpretation.

Following severe storms and flooding in many areas of the UK last week the Environment Agency issued this tweet with a picture of a map (which I’ve included as an image so you don’t have to click away)…

At the time, many areas of the east coast were being flooded directly and consequently the level of media attention was relatively high, with several outlets picking up on this ‘good news story’. I’ve included a couple of lines from this Evening Standard article from 8 December which included this map.

Thames Barrier saved London from flood chaos in tidal surge

Submerged: vast swathes of London would have been underwater if the Thames Barrier had not shut. This apocalyptic picture shows the devastation London would have faced if the Thames Barrier hadn’t protected the capital from the worst tidal surge in 60 years.Vast swathes of London would have been submerged but for the defences, experts predicted.

The original EA tweet is technically accurate, the shaded area shows the areaprotected by the barrier. However, to tweet it during active flooding may have led to some misinterpretation. It is NOT a map showing the area which would have been flooded had the Thames Barrier have been non-operational last week.

Whilst the events of last week were significant, they were not approaching the 1 in 1000 year flood events that the EA modelling is based on. Had the Thames Barrier not been in place last week, tide levels would have peaked at 0.2m below the top of flood defences. So rather than ‘vast swathes of London being submerged‘ actually, all of the water would have been confined to the river channel.

My main issue with the map is not that it exists, but the way in which it has been interpreted. It’s a useful planning tool to describe possible flood extent (which is one of London’s top risks), but don’t be fooled into thinking that because a map is released at the time, it represents the current situation.

And whilst I’m moaning about maps…why choose to only show that area? Predicted flood impacts clearly extend beyond the map view chosen, so why exclude the other areas? Yes, I expect people are familiar with those particular river bends from Eastenders, but it would have provided a more complete picture similar to that in the London Regional Flood Risk Assessment (although this shows flooding of mutiple types).


Don’t be intimidated by maps – they can help uncover patterns and spot relationships that other ways of presenting data can’t, just keep a couple of things in mind when reading and interpreting them:

  • What does the map show ? – try to find out as much as you can about the data. When was the data collected? Was it summarised or simplified before being displayed?
  • What doesn’t the map show ? – this might be as simple as features, or in this specific case, it might be that it doesn’t show what other people have suggested it does
  • Who made the map? What are they trying to get you to take away from looking at it?

Have you spotted any misleading or hard to interpret disaster maps? I’d love to see other examples!


Rooted in Resilience

Rooted in Resilience

Reading Time: 2 minutes

This was originally posted on the London Prepared Blog, I’ve slightly adapted the original to cater for the audience of this blog.

This week is London Tree Week, part of RE:LEAF – the initiative to help protect and increase the number of trees in London.London park

Far from just standing there, trees offer many benefits from a resilience perspective. Here I investigate the important role that trees play in developing our own resilience to emergencies:

  • Trees stabilise our soils and slopes – the root systems of trees, and other plants, hold together soils which would otherwise be gradually washed away by rainwater. Elsewhere in the world, trees offer protection against avalanches and landslips.
  • Trees reduce flash flooding– the tree canopy intercepts rainfall which reduces the rate at which rainwater hits the ground, this reduces the likelihood of surface water flooding.
  • Trees provide a buffer to extreme temperatures – on average forested land is 2-4 degrees cooler in the summer and 1-2 degrees warmer in the winter. This means they are natural helpers in our preparations to reduce the impact of Heatwaves and episodes of snow and ice.
  • Trees reduce wind speeds – which can be a major source of building damage. Thanks to building regulations, large-scale damage or destruction is unlikely to occur as a result of wind speeds in the UK, but is has caused issues internationally.
  • Trees reduce pollution – as well as their role in converting carbon dioxide to oxygen (which is important in reducing the rate of climate change), tress also help remove sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which are major components of acid rain. Have you noticed those trees with the patchy bark? The London Plane tree is type of sycamore which was extensively planted in Victorian London. When the pores of the tree trunk get clogged with pollutants, the tree sheds its bark, escorting the pollutants to the sewer system.

Downed trees and branches can impact on power lines or block roads, which can cause disruption. However it’s worth thinking about how much worse the disruption or damage could be if the tree hadn’t taken the brunt of the force.

For balance, it’s important to realise that trees can also contribute to, or provide a habitat for, some risks:

  • In late 2012 scientists at the Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA) confirmed a number of cases of Ash Dieback, which can cause tree death, across Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent and Essex
  • In 2006 the Oak Processionary Moth caterpillar was confirmed on trees in the London Borough of Richmond following an incidence of skin rash symptoms among local residents. There has since been a spread of this caterpillar to different areas of London.

However, if we make sure that trees are properly looked after and maintained, then they offer a range of hidden benefits which make us more resilient to many kinds of emergency.


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