Research highlight

Environment: Flooding impacts emergency response time in England

Nature Sustainability

May 19, 2020

First responders, such as fire and ambulance services, will likely struggle to reach urgent cases in a timely manner during low-level flooding in England. These findings are reported in an analysis of emergency response time in England under adverse geographic and climate conditions, published this week in Nature Sustainability.

Ambulance and Fire and Rescue services are the primary responders for flooding events, during which demands for emergency services rise considerably. Flooding can impact their ability to respond within the 7- to 15-minute timeframes expected for responders by making roads impassable or increasing traffic congestion. Climate change is also expected to increase the magnitude and frequency of flood events which will make responding to emergencies more difficult.

Dapeng Yu and colleagues investigated how various levels of flooding impact the ability of emergency services to reach urgent cases. They conducted topographical analysis and traffic mapping for all locations of Ambulance and Fire and Rescue stations in England.

The authors found that 84% of the English population can be reached by ambulance within the 7-minute window for life-threatening incidents. However, under a 30-year river or coastal flood scenario, this drops to 70% and for a 100-year flood it is only 52%. The proportion of the elderly population that can be reached during a 30-year flood scenario is 65%, compared to 80% in normal conditions. The authors also highlight regional disparities in response times. Low-lying areas in the southeast and rural areas such as Cornwall see a reduction in response time under a 30-year flood. Greater London is also negatively impacted by surface flooding.

The authors conclude that although the impacts of the geographic spread of emergency services is well understood, the ‘cascading’ effects of flooding events must be used for more robust planning.

doi: 10.1038/s41893-020-0516-7

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