Will McBain, Associate Director of Arup, on flood maps for better defence

We recently launched Water Matters, a series of events investigating a range of water management issues.

The first of these events was a debate titled 'The Next Big Flood - Why The UK Won't Be Ready'. With a panel of high profile expert speakers and guest chair Janet Street-Porter at the helm, this was an exciting, engaging event that stirred up great conversation.

Willl McBain, Associate Director of leading global firm of consulting engineers Arup, was one of our expert panelists for the debate and highlighted the need to focus on the UK’s strengths in dealing with the next big flood.

”First of all, we need to remind ourselves that we have one of the leading research and development programmes in the world for flooding,” he commented on the night. ”We have huge amounts of collaboration through professional bodies such as the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) and Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) and we are the envy of the world in terms of our flood mapping capability.”

Will McBain, Associate Director of Arup consulting engineers, discusses how the UK is leading the way in flood mapping, but more investment is required to ensure adequate defence

Flood maps for better defence

”Our national flood maps are better than FEMA’s in the US and British companies are creating flood maps all over the world,” Will explained. ”Also, how we manage our flood defence assets – the system used by the Environment Agency to manage the condition of those assets and look at the pressures they face hydraulically from rivers and the coast, as well as the consequences of failure – is very impressive and is a very sound basis on which to prioritise investment.

Also, on capital investment; the Dutch admit that we are way ahead of them in terms of making sure the money spent gets best value for the taxpayer. However, we probably won’t be ready for the next flood, and it’s not because we don’t have the skills and the technology in the industry. The reality is that flooding has been a Cinderella issue and we don’t spend as much money as we should.”

Investment required to better prepare for the next big flood

”The 2007 and 2013 floods reinforced the point that our critical infrastructure systems are very exposed,” Will observed. ”There are approximately 14,000 electricity substations in this country and as the current hydrological system shifts we need to build resilience into that asset base. It’s a long process which takes concerted investment in terms of asset management, business continuity and climate change adaptation programmes. Utilities are trying to push for this, but economic regulators are saying customers aren’t ready to spend the kind of money required. We need to do it more slowly.”

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Will is Associate Director of leading global firm of consulting engineers, Arup, where he has worked for the past 20 years, previously as National Framework Manager. His core expertise is flood resilience and he focuses on how to reduce risk and impact of floods for vulnerable people, properties and infrastructure. Currently based in Arup’s Leeds office, Will has worked on a wide range of water and environmental projects during his career, liaising closely with the Environment Agency, and forms part of Arup’s business executive for water in the UK, the Middle East and Africa.

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