Flooding in the UK: what does it mean for the public and utility companies?

Sandie Simms
Aug. 2 2019
Office building

I’m a 40-something guy with two small children and a wife. Don’t worry; I won’t give you loads of family stories.

This post is to discuss what’s happening in the United Kingdom and the tremendous microclimates and extremes in weather we’ve seen the past few months.

Odd weather

Within the last week alone, we’ve had the warmest day in July memory, and then the heaviest downpour of floods in recent memory.

However, us British are a resourceful bunch. When the heat was unbearable last week, a stranger told me to get my dog off the pavement and directed me to place her in the shade under a tree in a rare bit of Manchester city grass.


This week, the floods were so bad that whole roundabouts were underwater and many roads were unusable. Link roads were also closed due to the River Mersey’s banks bursting.

My wife, Rachel, called me in a panic. Every road from Macclesfield to Manchester had whole trenches of roads that were impassable. Traffic was at a standstill. Lorries were doing three-point turns on tight, congested roads. There was no way home, it appeared.

Her 20-minute journey was now estimated at 4 hours. She had only driven 1.5 miles. Even GPS couldn’t cope. Routes were calculated and recalculated with Xs all over the place indicating road closures. As great as Google Maps is, it can’t tell you which route is the least likely to drown your car in times like this.

So what did we do to get her home in one piece? Well we did what any grown up would do: we called our parents. They directed us through a maze of complex routes and side roads, all based on not how quick the journey was but how high the hills were.

Rachel navigated like a fighter pilot on a reconnaissance mission. Turn left at the bale of hay, go halfway down the hill and pass a small track next to a farm, then up the hill again away from the swampy roads and floating cars of South Manchester.

She got home in about 5 hours. When she walked through the door, her hands remained in the steering wheel grip position. Her eyes stayed fixed in a thousand yard stare. Was this post traumatic road stress? Maybe. Or perhaps it’s just more proof that the UK is ill-prepared to handle any extremes in weather.

So what does this mean for utility companies?

Floods of any nature are a hazard to both the users of utilities and the companies themselves. Thousands of calls from distressed drivers who just want get home alive are placed. Not to mention the heady mix of fast streaming water and electricity leading to power surges, or complete losses, in some cases.

Severe floods also mean that gas, water and electricity need to be turned off and evacuation processes need to take place with the support of the emergency services. We also must think about the elderly, the ill and of course children who may not be able to manage this sort of evacuation process. Staying put could be the most dangerous option for them.

The British are fascinated with weather and small talk can always be directed to the latest forecasts. I understand why now.

Is it global warming, is it poor investment in infrastructure with roads that should have been re-laid completely fixed with a temporary band-aid of hopeful asphalt over pot holes and issues? According to David Weeks director of the AIA, Scandinavia and France do not have issues with potholes or broken roads because they mend the roads properly. Has the UK spent enough in flood defences? It’s a simple rule of economics really. If it’s a choice between a new school, a new nursing home or a lump of fresh tarmac and flood defences, with a decision by committee, it takes a brave group of councillors to not fund their community’s urgent requirement.

Questions to ask

If you run a utilities company, customer service and real-time, proactive notification delivery are imperative during natural disasters:

  • Are your customer communication methods ready?
  • Is your contact centre equipped to handle multiple methods of communication?
  • How can you support your most at-risk individuals?
  • Have you tested what would happen if your datacentres and telephony hubs got flooded?
  • How quickly could you be back up and running?

And all joking aside, is it time that we put a sat nav solution together that can let us know the best hills and high roads to travel on to stop our cars sinking? I’m not sure that our 70-year old parents are going to be able to provide this service to same level for the next decades to come…

Written By

Ready to talk?