Are We Prepared for a London Flood?

With many parts of the UK still under water and further bad weather forecast, it’s remarkable timing that a new disaster film, due out shortly, is based on London being flooded by a storm surge. The film is based on a book by Richard Doyle. I haven’t read the book it but the Web site is worth a look, as it contains some useful background on the risks of such an event. Amongst other things it points out that the Thames Barrier was built to a risk level of 1 in 1,000 years. The odds against a flood might be long, but it can still happen. We also have the prospect of global warming loading the dice. And it’s not impossible for the Thames Barrier to be put out of action, by a terrorist incident for example.

The business impact from a London flood would be massive. So how well are organisations prepared? In my experience, not very well. Several years ago I took part in a crisis exercise simulating such an event. It was difficult to say the least. Without advance planning and immediate access to a diverse range of information, it’s impossible to quickly identify and assess the impact on a range of offices, outlets and staff operating inside a specific geographical area. It’s also extremely difficult to evacuate and secure premises, vehicles and assets within a short period of time. Evacuated premises could be inaccessible for weeks, so critical or valuable assets need to be duplicated, relocated or secured. And that’s not easy if staff are unavailable, roads are blocked and public transport is suspended.

For any organisation with offices or business outlets operating near the Thames, I’d strongly advise developing a specific business continuity plan. A London flood is not likely but it’s possible. And you need a lot of advance preparation. You won’t be able to wing it on the day.