John Griffiths, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development
At this time one in six properties in Wales is at risk of flooding from rivers, the sea and surface water. As our climate changes, we can expect that number to increase, and it is likely that more people will experience more flooding on a more regular basis.
We cannot stop or prevent flooding, but we can take steps to manage both the risks of flooding occurring and the consequences for those communities affected.
After the 2007 summer floods in England, the UK Government commissioned a report from Sir Michael Pitt. In completing that report Sir Michael undertook a comprehensive review of the floods themselves, the response to them and the arrangements that the responding organisations had in place.
The Pitt Review made 92 recommendations in the interests of improving our response to flooding, one of which was that an emergency exercise should be undertaken, allowing responding organisations to test their arrangements for flood events.
While the recommendations contained in the Pitt Review were specifically concerned with flood risk management in England, they were equally applicable to Wales where a similar risk from flooding exists. We committed to learn the lessons of the Pitt Review for Wales including taking part in any major flooding exercise.
Exercise Watermark was developed in response to the Pitt recommendation and took place at the beginning of March 2011. The exercise was one of the largest civil defence ‘preparedness’ event ever held in Wales and England and provided a robust test of the systems and arrangements in place to respond to major flooding events.
Over 60 organisations from Wales took part in this exercise, which saw emergency services and other responding organisations work alongside the voluntary sector and communities. There were three levels of engagement in the exercise; “Core”, “Bolt on” and “Plug and play”. The Welsh Government tested national arrangements as part of the “core” with testing of local arrangements as “bolt on” and specific sites and community arrangements as “plug and play”. Both our response and recovery arrangements were tested during this exercise.
The exercise provided the opportunity to thoroughly test our flood readiness and demonstrated that existing plans and arrangements work well.
In the aftermath of Exercise Watermark, the Environment Agency were tasked with undertaking a formal review of the exercise, covering all stages of exercise planning and play.
I am pleased to announce the publication of the Final report for Exercise Watermark which provides a detailed evaluation of the exercise. Alongside the Final report is the ‘Exercise Watermark planning, delivery and review report’ which captures the lessons learned from the planning, delivery and review aspects of the exercise and is aimed in helping those planning and delivering major exercises in the future.
A summary document has also been published for communities’ aimed at both communities and responders and provides case studies of community activities that took place during the exercise.
I recommend taking the time to read the suite of reports. As always, there are lessons to learn and the reports draw attention to these learning points with recommendations to further improve our flood response capability at all levels, from local communities to government.
I have tasked the Wales Flood Group, made up of the Welsh Government and responding organisations, to consider the Exercise Watermark reports and whether the recommendations are appropriate for Wales. The Welsh Government and Defra will provide a formal response to the reports in early 2012.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who took part in Exercise Watermark. Many organisations have to play a vital role in contributing to flood risk management in Wales and it is vital that we work together as government, responding organisations and communities to test and rehearse out arrangements to ensure that we are prepared to respond effectively in the future.