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Flooding… ‘what if?’

Rosalind McDonagh and Keith Wilburn share their experiences of the Doncaster Flooding in June 2007 and give advice on staying safe during a flood.
Hello my name is Rosalind McDonagh. I’m the Resilience and Emergency Planning Manager at Doncaster Council. My job is to consider all the hazards, and threats, and things that could affect our everyday life, and consider those hazards and threats with our partners and put plans and arrangements in place to respond if those things happen. When we develop plans and arrangements as well, we also train around those arrangements, we exercise, and we share awareness about the hazards and threats, and what things people can do to keep themselves safe. And important that we’re on call 24/7 so we’re available to help and support in the event of emergencies, incidents, and disruptive challenges to everyday life really.
Doncaster Council works closely with our community flood wardens. These are all local Doncaster residents who have had experience of flooding and keep us updated on flood risk within our area. One of the flood wardens that I work with is Keith Wilburn. He’s a community flood warden who lives in the village of Toll Bar. Keith and I talk regularly. Keith is constantly out checking watercourses and feeding back to me and letting me know how things are looking, what’s happening out there in the different seasonal changes, and how they’re impacting our flood risk in the area. The partnership between us and the council is very important because we get feedback from each other. We now work as a team.
We are very good together.
Keith is very much at the forefront of helping his community, practically working with the emergency services, providing local information to the emergency services, and making sure that during evacuations that everyone’s been evacuated as well and making sure that the vulnerable people in the community been highlighted to the emergency services. It is life threatening and that’s what people really should be taking into account. You know if the water’s coming in to your house you know you’ve got to be safe yourself. Make sure that you’re safe.
2007 was exceptional for me in that we had a huge amount of rainfall. I think it’d been the wettest June on record in the UK. And some areas of Doncaster actually had a month’s worth of rainfall in one day. Following that heavy rainfall, we had 48 different communities in Doncaster flooded. We needed to evacuate 3,000 residents and we had major damage to homes. We had about 290 businesses damaged as well. In the first few days we had over 7,500 calls for help and assistance. So we had to put a huge response in place to support people affected by the flooding. I mean our village were flooded I would say flooded for about three weeks before the water actually went.
I had family that were in the village who was really badly taken by it and still suffer to this day. In fact, if it rains heavy it sets that memory back again.
People had to be evacuated from their homes often with very little notice, taken to places of shelter and safety. They were frightened, they hadn’t got the right medication, they didn’t have waterproof clothing with them, and many people had to stay there for weeks and weeks. The impact it had on them, it made them ill. One or two people it’s also they never went back to their house.
The recovery process following flooding is a long process. The impacts of flooding are far reaching. Initially there is upset, shock, anger about what’s happened. Then the process of recovery, and rebuilding, restoring, it starts and it’s very, very difficult. When people are in rest centres, we try and prepare people for what it’s going to look like when they go home, but nobody can prepare you for what it looks like when you go home. You know when you’ve taken somebody back to their own house and you see what devastation is in the house, and people how it affects them, it can break them there and then. We try and deal with it best we can.
But when you take them into the house and you see all their belongings floating about in the house, it’s so upsetting for them, you know, it really is. There’s other things as well the flood takes away. It takes away your social networks. So maybe your schools are disrupted. It takes away the local shop that you depend on, the local post office, it damages the roads that you normally used to go to work, maybe you’ve even lost your place of work. So it takes away your social networks as well as your place of safety. People I’ve worked with have experienced flooding talk about they’ve lost their home but they’ve rebuilt a house, and that’s quite hard to hear.
It is very important if we’re asking people to evacuate their homes that they do listen to the advice they’re given. It’s not a decision we take lightly. It’s usually when there is a genuine risk or threat to your life and importantly your family’s life as well. So what we ask you to do is keep aware, tune into whatever media source you’re used to, whether that’s the radio, or the television, or social media. And if you’re not sure, check it out. You know you can go on a website, you can ring the help lines that were set up the council. If you are asked to evacuate, please follow the advice you’re given.
You’ll be told where to go to, where the place of safety being set up. And once you get there’ll be lots more information about what’s happening and there’s trained people there to help and support you as well.

When we think of flooding, images of the levees breaking in New Orleans (2005) or the annual flooding in India/Asia may spring to mind, however, there are very few places in the UK that are immune to floods.

In this video we talk to Rosalind McDonagh, Senior Emergency Planning Officer, Doncaster Council and Keith Wilburn, Community Flood Warden and Resident of Toll Bar in Doncaster about their experiences during the Doncaster Flooding in June 2007. The flooding caused widespread damage and displaced many hundreds of people.

What can you do if you’re about to be flooded?

The following links offer advice on how to be prepared.

Check the National Flood Forum or speak to a Floodline adviser to find out how to stay safe during a flood.

Floodline is a 24-hour service: Telephone: 0345 988 1188. Find out about call charges

You can check if there’s currently a flood warning in your area.


Contact your local council to find out where to get resources. Sandbags are not as effective as some resources as they can get contaminated and are then difficult to dispose of. Many Local Authorities do not supply them for these reasons.

Look for Flood Sacs or “sandless sandbags” (brands include ‘Floodsax’ and ‘Hydrosacs’). These have Fullers-Earth inside them and expand on contact with the water which means they are better at sealing gaps. They can also be disposed of safely. A number of companies also do emergency kits that can quickly seal vulnerable parts of premises. Floodkit provides a good example of products available.

If you need to travel, check flood warnings and road travel information.


Having considered the practical steps you can take, make notes in your Action Workbook.

  • How might you ensure any valuable items that can’t be replaced are made safe?
  • We asked in the steps about fire what would you leave behind. Has this changed?
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