Exercise Watermark flood report – FBU reaction
Fire services must have legal duty for floods and Government must halt plans for more savage cuts to fire service.
The Fire Brigades Union has called for fire authorities to be given a legal duty to deal with floods after another key report recommended action to clarify the issue. The report also highlighted concerns over how stretched resources were in dealing with an “artificial” four-day exercise which was not run 24 hours, round the clock, at any stage.
The union warned that the loss of thousands or more frontline fire crews planned over the next few years will make matters worse. Such cuts will inevitably put the lives of the public and fire crews at greater risk in dealing with flood response.
The cuts will inevitably mean pressure on fire authorities to retreat back to do only what they are legally required to deliver, which excludes flood response. This could lead to a crude postcode lottery, as each fire service will make its own decisions, undermining a coherent response across the country.
The union said the DEFRA report on Operation Watermark was bold and open in its ‘warts and all’ approach, highlighting where things went wrong and the lessons learned. Such an approach was always welcomed by the frontline professionals who respond to such emergencies.
The report on Exercise Watermark, published today (Monday 31 October), recommended that government departments work with stakeholders to clarify how local and national flood rescue assets should be coordinated. Key recommendation 26 – The review recommends that Defra should work with the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Cabinet Office and the Welsh Government to clarify how local and national flood rescue assets
should be coordinated, for example statutory duty, framework, Memorandum of
This echoes recommendation 39 of the Pitt review into the 2007 floodings which stated: “The Government should urgently put in place a fully funded national capability for flood rescue, with Fire and Rescue Authorities playing a leading role, underpinned, as necessary, by a statutory duty.”
Feedback from participants in Operation Watermark said flood rescue organisations… need to use their resources better, decide whether there is enough resource and to consider how best to coordinate with others (3.91.p.24). The report noted that stakeholders favour statutory duty to tackle this.
While today’s report makes no specific recommendation about resources, it does flag up clear concerns. The frontline resources available during Operation Watermark are facing major cuts, with the likely loss of thousand more frontline crews in the next few years.
Today’s report highlights:
3.102. Many different groups including UK government departments, local
authorities, the Environment Agency and utility companies, were able to prove
enough resource for the four days of the core exercise. They said that they would
have found it difficult to provide enough resource had the exercise run 24 hours a
day or over a more prolonged period of time.
3.103. A wide range of emergency planners and responders said that it was good
to have an opportunity to test internal resource plans but it showed that the
amount of resource needed is not fully understood for the impact of a severe,
3.104. All responders need to be able to react to flooding events of the scale
described in the Cabinet Office national planning assumption by using existing
resources better and by getting help from elsewhere (for example, mutual aid,
3.105. The resource demands during Exercise Watermark need to be carefully
assessed and balanced with the artificial nature of the exercise. The core
exercise did not happen over a 24-hour period which would have needed more
resource but some of the additional ‘bolt on’ exercises held at the same time
used resources that could be available as mutual aid in a real incident.
Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary said: “Genuine professionals welcome the ‘warts and all’ approach taken by those who prepared this report. It is an antidote to the mutual back-slapping that so often follows the immediate aftermath of real major incidents.
“The only way of improving in the future is by clearly identifying what has gone wrong and recommending how to put it right. This report does not shy away from this and the professionals will take this on board.
“We expect government to move forward with proposals to place a legal duty on fire authorities to respond to floods, which it can do without primary legislation. The need for urgent action on this point was highlighted by Pitt in 2008 and it is now time to act.
“The major cuts to frontline fire crews, command and control centres and officers must be halted. There is a very real danger that lives will be lost if the cuts are not stopped.
“The huge cuts will add intense pressure on fire authorities to cut services back to what they are legally required to do, and that excludes flooding. As each authority makes its own decisions, there will inevitably be a postcode lottery in flood response, undermining attempts at ensuring a common approach across the country.”
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