Ambiental can offer a range of data and services to assist Housing Associations and property managers with understanding flood risk and making preparations to reduce potential flood impacts.
Protecting residents and staff from the impacts of floods
A core function of Housing Associations is to provide their residents with suitable and safe accommodation. This is especially important when those residents comprise of vulnerable groups such as the elderly, people with disabilities and families on low incomes. Therefore, it is very important that housing providers have a good understanding around the exposure of their housing stock to flooding and that they develop robust response plans in preparation for when flooding occurs.
Housing Associations are private not-for-profit organisations which provide low-cost social housing. Many UK local authorities have transferred their council housing stock over to Housing Associations who provide a range of services including lettings, maintenance, management and development of new properties. They also provide a range of community services to ensure the wellbeing of their residents. As Registered Social Landlords they are regulated by the state.
The impacts of flooding affect the entire community and Housing Associations will inevitably be impacted. Even when properties are not inundated with flood waters there are still related impacts, such as transport disruption and business interruption, which will often be felt by staff and residents. Media reports from previous flooding events such as Southern England in February 2014 and the North West of England, Wales and parts of Scotland in December 2015 demonstrate that Housing Associations have needed to respond to flooding through implementing crisis plans to evacuate residents and to remediate damaged properties.
Promoting best practice in the housing sector
Ambiental recently presented at the GI4Housing Seminar at Midland Heart headquarters in Birmingham. This event brings together professional users of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) within the housing sector along with solution providers, to share best practice and promote the usage of geospatial solutions. GIS can deliver considerable benefits to the way in which Housing Associations manage their property ownership gazetteer, plan their asset management and coordinate their grounds maintenance works, to name but a few. The challenge often involves developing the right technical skills and data holdings to achieve this. The GI4Housing user community therefore was founded to share knowledge so that GIS professionals do not work in isolation and benefit from each other’s experiences. Ambiental’s objective for the seminar was to improve the capabilities of Housing Associations to manage their flood risk as well as also to demonstrate how we can add value as data suppliers and through our GIS development services.
Flooding can happen in various ways, and whilst some Housing Associations may have already assessed the risk of river (fluvial) and coastal (tidal) flooding many have not yet considered the risk of surface water flooding (pluvial). Surface water flood models can often identify potential risks in unexpected locations which are away from flood plains. Furthermore, some flood data products such as the Environment Agency Flood Zones for planning only consider two probable return periods, whereas Ambiental’s UKFloodMap data provides six return periods, which enables a much fuller understanding of flood likelihood. Furthermore, the Environment Agency Flood Zone layers give no account of the potential flood depths and velocities which will have a huge influence on the severity of flood risk. UKFloodMap gives precise depth estimates and velocity measurements to enable decision making with much more granularity. UKFloodMap can also provide flood maps showing defended and undefended scenarios. These can be important in understanding the risk posed to locations supposedly protected by flood defences which could still face a residual risk through defence failure or mismanagement.
Integrated housing management solutions
As flood risk specialists Ambiental can provide solutions which enable non-experts to get to grips with flood risk management. An example of this is our FloodScore product which overcomes technical challenges through combining a multitude of flood risk data into an easy to interpret flood risk score for properties in the UK. FloodScore provides a summary index of risk ranging from 0% (no or negligible risk) through to 100% (highest risk). This enables a full understanding of the properties at risk and a consistent way of interpreting this risk. FloodScore is delivered as point data which has a variety of attributes for detailed analysis. By linking flood information to Ordnance Survey’s AddressBase data it is possible to obtain a precise risk rating for every property managed by a Housing Association and to prioritise and sort results based on the level of risk. This data can be seamlessly integrated in existing Housing Management Systems with minimal effort so that flood information can be easily referenced within the organisation.
As experienced environmental consultants Ambiental can provide flood risk screening services which comprehensively analyse the land owned by Housing Associations. Ambiental’s team of GIS experts is also able to support the development of geospatial data systems through offering services such as polygon digitisation and address geocoding. Flood insight can be delivered as datasets, summary reports and also through more detailed consultancy projects. Ambiental can assist Housing Associations with land development through Flood Risk Assessment reports which are often a requirement of the planning application process and which typically demand specialist experts to interpret complex flood datasets.
Preparing for the impacts of flooding
In locations where flood risk has been identified it is necessary to form Flood Response Plans. These documents define key actions necessary to prepare for and respond to flood hazards. This can include key actions which must be taken to warn staff and residents of dangers, and to coordinate evacuation and recovery efforts. Adequate planning will inform an organisations Business Continuity Plans and ensure that support and services to residents can be maintained if flooding occurs. Through pro-active preparation the danger posed to lives can be reduced, along with limiting the impact to properties. For example, property level protection such as flood doors, waterproofing and the installation of non-return valves can prove cost effective ways for preventing damage and disruption. Furthermore, through demonstrating an understanding of flood risk it is also possible for Housing Associations to negotiate better insurance premiums through demonstrating how they have mitigated their risk of flooding.
In urban areas it is often now a requirement of the planning process to consider Sustainable Urban Drainage (SuDs) technologies. The goal of SuDs is to limit the overall risk of flooding faced by communities through slowing down the rate at which rainwater is discharged away from a development. This avoids overburdening the drainage network and limits the potential for flash flooding when water quickly accumulates through rapidly discharging into drains and flowing overland. SuDs technologies include the replacement of impermeable surfaces such as tarmac and concrete with surfaces such as vegetation and permeable pavements. SuDs can also provide further benefits by enhancing biodiversity, improving amenity value and controlling pollution through systems such as reed bed and attenuation ponds. Ambiental is experienced in detailed drainage design work and can advise on a range of solutions which ensure planning compliance, flood control and a better living environment for residents.
Working together to reduce flood risk
Ambiental is committed to working with Housing Associations in managing flood risk, and through supporting the effective use of GIS and mapping technologies. GIS Manager of Plus Dane Group and coordinator of the GI4Housing event Alexander Hill, had this to say: “It is great to hear that Ambiental would like to promote their company to our sector, and I expect there will be a lot of interest”. Ambiental’s GIS & Data Manager Paul Drury has first-hand experience of working in the housing sector having previously implemented GIS software and a spatial data infrastructure for Raven Housing Trust in Redhill. “In this role I was acutely aware of the benefits that GIS can deliver to the housing sector. Most Housing Association activities are strongly location focused. Geospatial analysis of land holdings against a variety of other data can provide powerful insights, and strong visual outputs can help to engage residents and stakeholders internally and externally. GI4Housing is a strong user community which I was previously involved with, so it is great to now share flood knowledge and experience with them. Ambiental’s products can simply and effectively bring real benefits to social housing tenants”.
You can view the presentation Ambiental delivered at the GI4Housing event by following this link where you can download a copy of the slides. This presentation outlines information to help develop an understanding of flooding, it explains how Ambiental simulates flood risk and it offers useful guidance intended to assist Housing Associations prepare for the risk of flooding. Ambiental is also able to offer free, no obligation trials of our FloodScore online cloud service, which provides instant access to easy to interpret flood data. Simply contact us for further information on the range of products and services which Ambiental can offer to Housing Associations.