Free article: Flood risks: is your dental practice prepared?

Martin Hodgson provides a timely reminder to have procedures in place in the event of a flood.


  • Practices that identify a possible flood risk should complete a full risk assessment.
  • The assessment should inform a programme of preparedness which includes emergency planning and the development of a business continuity plan.
  • Practices at risk of flooding should be made as resilient as possible.
  • During bad weather the practice should monitor and heed national and local flood warnings.
  • If a flood should occur, safety is the main concern.

Last winter many parts of the country were affected by severe flooding. People were forced from their homes, businesses were disrupted, transport links were severed and widespread disruption was caused.

Financial costs have been considerable. In Somerset, the worst hit area, costs were estimated at over £100 million. Across the country the total cost of insurance claims may reach £1 billion.

Extra money has been committed by the Government for flood defences. But with over 2.4 million properties in England and Wales being at direct risk from river or sea flooding – and a further 2.8 million properties being susceptible to surface water flooding – many are resigned to the risk of floods affecting their premises again.

As we head into winter, what are the lessons learnt and how should dental practices prepare if they are in a flood risk area?

What causes flooding?

During periods of heavy rainfall, rivers, lakes and local water courses can become swollen and burst their banks. Land can become unstable and slip. Additional flooding can occur in coastal areas as a result of storms and tidal surges.

Even areas not associated with water courses can also be affected. Periods of heavy rain can cause local flash flooding, especially in built-up areas where there may be problems with water run-off and drainage.

Last winter was wet and stormy. However, many believe that flooding is becoming more frequent and blame climate change, modern building practice and town planning, and a lack of flood defences.

Those that point the finger at climate change say that global warming has affected weather patterns around the globe and that we can expect more unpredictable weather in future. Others say that periods of very wet weather happen from time to time and that last year was exceptional.

Those that blame modern buildings point to the development of houses and businesses on flood plains and a failure to construct flood resilient structures. They criticise increasingly high-density occupation, which means that large areas of ground are covered by buildings, concrete and tarmac, and claim that flooding can be reduced by implementing modern forms of drainage control and chang-ing the way land is used.

Flood defences include coastal sea walls, flood barriers, and dredging to increase the capacity of rivers. These are vital if flooding is to be reduced but there is evidence they have been neglected in some areas in recent years.

Preparing for flooding

All practices should carry out an assessment of flood risks. In England and Wales an online flood map produced by the Environment Agency is a good place to start. Typing in a post code will display maps showing water courses, flood zones and flood defences. Different maps show the risks of flooding from rivers and the sea and flooding from surface run-off water. In Scotland similar information is produced by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

Where a risk is identified, dental practices should:

  • assess how prepared they are for flooding
  • assess the likely impact to their business of flooding in the local area.

Businesses in or near to a risk area on the map may be advised to purchase their own more detailed flood report or get a specialist risk assessment completed by a suitably qualified consultancy.

Practices should use the risk assessment to inform a programme of preparedness. They should:

  • make changes to buildings so they are as safe from flooding as possible
  • put in place an emergency flood plan for coping with both minor and major flooding disruption – link these to community flood plans where they exist
  • have in place business continuity and contingency plans – protect critical business records and have computer back-ups
  • identify stock that requires special protection or may be hazardous in a flood
  • check warranties for essential equipment and that the practice has sufficient insurance cover for damage and business interruption
  • train employees so they are aware of the flood plan and know what to do in an emergency.

Making premises more resilient

Dental practices in flood risk areas should be made as resilient to flooding as possible. A range of specialist products are available. Environment Agency guidance Prepare your property for flooding provides ideas for measures to limit damage to properties. Advice can also be obtained from specialist contractors or from the Flood Protection Association.

Suggestions to keep water out include:

  • waterproof covers for air bricks and vents
  • flood skirts or guards and boards for doorways
  • raised door thresholds
  • non-return valves fitted to drains and water inlet and outlet pipes.

Suggestions to limit flood damage if water enters buildings include:

  • raising valuable equipment and electrics above ground level
  • using water-resistant materials for skirting, doors, flooring and walls.

Properties adjacent to water courses should maintain river beds and banks and make sure channels are not blocked.

In addition to improvements and reinvestment in flood defences, a number of changes are being considered to increase the re-silience of the country as a whole to flood risks. These include:

  • making it harder to build on flood plains
  • development in flood risk areas only allowed if flood resistant and resilient
  • new planning guidance for local authorities and strict flooding tests
  • for planners.

Where new premises are being designed or built, developers should be aware that surface water systems and sustainable drainage systems are mandatory in new building design under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.

Insurers have asked for a zero tolerance approach to flood plain building and rural campaigners have asked for added protection for green belt land.
More money has been promised at a national level to combat flooding, and flood defences in many parts of the country are being upgraded and rivers dredged to increase their capacity.

Flood warnings

During bad weather the practice should monitor and heed flood warnings. In England, flood warnings can be obtained from the Environment Agency. The national Floodline telephone service can also be used and practices can sign up for email or text alerts. (See Further information box.)

There are three levels of flood warning:

  • Severe Flood Warning (severe flooding – danger to life)
  • Flood Warning (flooding is expected – immediate action required)
  • Flood Alert (flooding is possible – be prepared).

In Scotland the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service should be used.

Action during flooding

If a flood should occur, safety is the main concern. The practice should be prepared to evacuate and have a plan in place. Staff should be advised to stay out of floodwater, which can be hazardous. People have been drowned and injured in floodwaters, which can also be contaminated with sewage

Help can be accessed from local emergency resilience services, which are responsible for coordinating activities by local au-thorities, the police, fire and rescue services, and emergency health services.

Traditionally, sandbags are used to block doorways, drains and other openings. They are often made available by local authorities but premises managers may wish to have their own ready. They can help to keep water out for short periods, especially if used in conjunction with plastic sheets, but modern alternative barriers are more effective and more sanitary.

Flooding usually occurs in the winter and can affect power and water supplies and sanitation. Contingency plans should therefore be in place, including flashlights, batteries and warm dry clothing.

Floods not only cause damage to buildings and property but affect transport services as well. This can cause problems for staff getting to and from work and will stop patients getting to the practice, even if the practice itself is unaffected. Telephone and internet links can also be disrupted. Remember that staff themselves may be victims of floods in their own homes.

The practice should have contingency plans to be able to cancel appointments if it is forced to close for a period. Staff and patients should be informed of any closures.

Action after flooding

Practice staff should exercise extreme caution when clearing up after a flood. Floodwater can represent a serious health hazard and
is often heavily contaminated with sewage. Sandbags contaminated with hazardous substances must be disposed of as hazardous waste.

Further information


Use the items below to put the ideas in this article into practice:

About the author


Martin Hodgson MSc, PGCEA has worked in adult education in the NHS for much of his career and has an MSc in primary care. His special interests are training, premises management and health and safety.


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