GAB Robins' Graham Burgess warns of a Carlisle happening in the South

The trauma caused by the floods in Carlisle last year were covered extensively in the media. But Graham Burgess, UK technical director at GAB Robins, gave a fascinating insight into the situation from the point of view of the powerlessness of the local Environment Agency.

He cited the example of Kim Nicholson, the Environment Agency's north area manager, who said that the flood warning system was designed to trigger on the levels within certain rivers in the Carlisle region, but the levels did not rise in the way that the agency's model had anticipated.

"Basically the conditions were such that some of the assumptions inherent in the design of the system just didn't happen.

"The system behaved differently, and the agency itself said that it was hearing about the flood from people who were suffering flood damage before the agency's system suggested that it was happening."

He had one story about an insured that he was dealing with, who said that he'd subscribed to a mobile telephone alert system, and received a warning to say that did he know that his premises were about to flood. "His response was, 'Yes I do, I'm actually standing waste deep in it at the moment'.

"For the individuals affected it was undoubtedly a disaster," says Burgess. But he says there are certain factors that ought to be considered about the events not just in Carlisle, but also Selby in North Yorkshire, and Boscastle.

"They were comparatively small in terms of the area they affected. None of the areas involved has a mass transit system. I understand that the only one affected in recent years was, was Prague, and its underground system is much shallower than ours.

"Carlisle itself is not a major high density housing area. There are enormous difficulties in rehousing people, and many I understand had to move to premises up to 30 miles away."

But in reality there was not the sort of problem that could be envisaged in areas in the South East. "I'm told that it took the reported losses to somewhere in the region of £300m," says Burgess.

But he had a warning that this could be a sign of things to come. "Against that background, and repeating that for the individuals involved in Carlisle, it was undoubtedly a disaster, but amongt ourselves today, we can look at Carlisle as rather an exercise in what might happen - what might happen in the South East, and what might happen if we damage the means of mass transit."