How SEPA innovators are helping Scotland adapt with climate change

  04 July 2022
The Scottish Flood Forecast is the biggest change to SEPA's flood warning service since 2011 and will help communities respond to more frequent floods as a result of climate change.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is demonstrating its commitment to tackling climate change by shifting focus from ambition and targets to action and innovation.

Climate change won’t wait, and it is widely accepted that it now affects every country on the planet. Extreme weather events and rising sea levels are having a detrimental impact on communities, and Scotland is no exception. Flooding in particular remains a growing threat in cities, towns and villages here. The risk to homes and businesses can be severe and the damage devastating.

In announcing her Resource Spending Review last month, Scottish Government Finance Secretary Kate Forbes revealed tackling climate change as a top priority, as well as the need for digital reform - both of which SEPA is focused firmly on. 

SEPA is Scotland’s national flood forecasting, warning and strategic flood risk management authority. In 2011, the organisation began operating the Floodline direct warning service to warn the public when flooding is likely to occur. Those signed up can receive regional flood alerts and local flood warnings 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, as the frequency of flooding increases with climate change, so too does the demand for more information sooner.

Project Manager at SEPA, Laura Paterson, was part of the team faced with addressing this around three years ago. She said: “I began speaking to people across the country who were victims of flooding and heard from them why it was important to receive earlier notice where possible. One woman told me about the fear and panic she felt when she could see the water rising outside her home. A man described a time where he was frantically knocking on neighbours’ doors to help them escape during flooding, and another revealed how he would stay awake all night just in case water came into his house. It was clear to me from the start that flood forecasting was not just about convenience, it was about people’s lives.”

More user research was carried out, which revealed a need for clearer geographical information and reassurance when flooding is not expected. Workshops were hosted with the general public and community groups to involve them in the design of a new forecasting product in partnership with the Met Office, which would be available alongside the current Floodline service.

After developing customer journeys and prototypes, a test version of the new Scottish Flood Forecast was launched on SEPA’s website in May this year to give communities warning of flooding three days in advance. The colour coded map is reviewed and published every morning and describes what the impacts of any flooding are expected to be. Information and advice is also offered on what steps people can take to protect their homes and their businesses.

Laura added, “This project has been the biggest change of SEPA’s flood warning service since we started issuing direct messaging in 2011, giving people the earliest indication possible of when flooding is likely and a better chance to take action.

“I am delighted it has reached this milestone, especially as the pandemic and cyber-attack on SEPA slowed a lot of work down. Despite these challenges, the people this service is designed to help remained at the forefront of all our minds and kept momentum up within the project team.

“This is the first step on a journey to helping communities become more resilient to flooding and climate change. The Scottish Flood Forecast is currently being tested at a national level, but the aim is for the final version to display more localised information, which we know will make the biggest difference to people’s lives.”

While the new Scottish Flood Forecast is piloted this year, work continues on other innovative projects within SEPA’s flooding team including a new Future Flood and Incident Messaging Service (FFIMS). This extension of the current Floodline system will incorporate other hazard notifications for communities and businesses across Scotland and make use of more digital technology to issue alerts such as social media and Google.

New pluvial flood maps, which show surface water flooding, are also in development for 2023-24. They have been publicly available on the SEPA website since 2013, however a 2018 National Flood Risk Assessment identified surface water as the biggest flood risk affecting Scotland. The new maps will provide a complete refresh using the most up-to-date data on current and future rainfall projections, ensuring maximum confidence of where surface water flooding is likely.

Laura concluded: “All of these changes are driven by the need to respond to climate change and support Scottish communities to do the same. I joined SEPA more than ten years ago to work on projects just like this, which are meaningful, worthwhile and provide a valuable service to people. Our climate is changing for the worst. I have a ten-year-old daughter, and I know that our children are worried about the way it is going. I’m thinking of her and the future.

“If Scotland is to be a successful country where our communities and businesses flourish, it is vital that we continue to understand the potential implications of climate change for flood risk and create tools which will ensure the resilience and wellbeing of everyone affected.”

ENDS

 

NOTES TO EDITOR

  • SEPA’s flooding role is to support communities to avoid flood risk where they can, protect where they cannot and act when warned of flooding. We:
    • Provide Scotland’s flood forecasting and warning service.
    • Are the strategic flood risk management authority.
    • Are a statutory consultee and key agency in the planning process.
    • Regulate the safety of Scotland’s reservoirs.

 

  • The Scottish Flood Forecast can be found on SEPA’s website. The public are being asked to provide feedback via a link on the page to help improve the service.

 

  • The Scottish Flood Forecast is provided by the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service, a strategic partnership between the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Met Office. Together, they combine hydrological and meteorological information, so that both organisations can share their expertise to improve the accuracy of flood forecasts for the whole of Scotland.

 

  • SEPA collects data from its network of over 650 rainfall, river and coastal monitoring stations throughout Scotland generated 24 hours a day. This hydrological information is combined with meteorological information from the Met Office, which our team of experts use to predict the likelihood and timing of river, coastal and surface water flooding.

 

  • SEPA and Met Office also work together to produce a daily, national flood guidance statement issued to Civil Contingencies Category 1 and 2 agencies, such as emergency responders, local authorities and other organisations with flooding management duties. Each daily statement gives an assessment of the risk of flooding for the next five days and provides organisations with valuable time to put preparations in place to reduce the impact of flooding.

 

  • The partnership between SEPA and the Met Office also directly helps those using SEPA’s Floodline service, by providing more specific information allowing SEPA to issue more timely flood warnings and give people a better chance of reducing the impact of flooding on their home or business.

 

  • Floodlineprovides live flooding information and advice on how to prepare for or cope with the impacts of flooding 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sign up and get notified when the area you live, work or travel through is at risk of flooding.

 

  • SEPA Flood Maps (Flood Maps | SEPA - Flood Maps | SEPA) show areas which are likely to flood from rivers, the sea and surface water. They are designed to:
    • encourage individuals to take responsibility for their own flood protection and preparation.
    • to help the emergency responder communities be better prepared for flood events and provide an expectation about the potential impacts of flooding on our communities.
    • support decision making in land use planning to avoid development in flood risk areas as a first principle and identify where further assessment of risk may be required.