Archive for the ‘weather’ Category

“People just become fragmented again. Their lives take over again. I think it was a common experience that drove everyone together.”   Leave a comment


Do disaster events such as floods re-establish communities? And do these communities exist only as long as the common experience prevails? Many of the interviews conducted for this project suggest that flood experience fosters a sense of community that is not necessarily seen under everyday conditions. Many people refer back to the Blitz Spirit, which seems to be the quintessential disaster community they remember. A constant theme throughout this interview is how the community spirit positively – and surprisingly – supports flood victims:

“And the Brewers Fayre, the Travelodge place up by the motorway, was just ram-packed because everyone had just come off there and in fact all of their rooms had gone, and I remember stories afterwards that how well the waiting staff had done. There were free hot chocolate or free drinks and things. I remember a letter in the newspaper at what a credit the staff was. They couldn’t get home but they kept working, serving all of these people and trying to get blankets. I know a couple off the Ashchurch Road; I know they went out with cups of tea and things [to people] that were stuck in the traffic. I think they let some people stay. I think they just said to them, “Are you stuck, do you want to come and stay in our spare room?”

Tewkesbury flooded, July 2007: the disused railway line is the dark green line across the image, uninterrupted by flood water (from http://www.webbaviation.co.uk/gallery/v/greatfloods/).

This emergency community was established in a Travelodge, a place that many people would not visit on an everyday basis. Perhaps an unconventional location adds to the sense of urgency and exceptionality that allows this community spirit to emerge.  The interviewed couple also talks about a disused railway line, now a foot- and cycle-path, as such an extraordinary, ‘liminal’ space.  As the only way in and out of town during the floods, the railway line is another example of a different location of the disaster community that came into existence through the floods. In the image above, the disused railway line is the dark green line across the image, uninterrupted by flood water (from http://www.webbaviation.co.uk/gallery/v/greatfloods/). Normally, people would drive to town in their cars, hardly interacting with each other as they are strapped into their motorized confines. During the floods, however, they had to walk along this footpath, encountering plentiful situations to interact with each other. This would have lead to a temporary community of people sharing experiences or solving practical tasks together.

P2:          I was quite lucky because that railway line close to where you were didn’t flood. People thought there was no way into the town centre but actually there was, and a lot of people used that. A lot of people did their shopping in the middle of town in Tesco.

P1:          It got incredibly busy.

P2:          Normally you would never see anyone on it, and suddenly there were masses of people on it. That was interesting because it actually got people out of their cars for a while for local journeys.

This shows that flooding brings people together but not necessarily in the ways or places they expected.  It also shows how flooding can change human behaviour in positive ways and let stories be told. Many of the people using the footpath might not have talked to each other if the roads had been open.

As the title quote suggests, the couple believe that community is there when they need it.  Their community spirit is dormant, and only re-invigorated in residents’ consciousness during events like this. It is summed up by:

“I think there was an initial bringing the community together, but I think people re-established that they were a community and maybe they don’t do as many events as a community as you would hope, but it still re-established communities. [They] were there and in times of need they come together again.”

 

Maybe the sense of permanent community is a social construct that has vanished in the younger generation. The generational difference does not only become apparent in the meaning of community, but also in the way different generations react to events such as the flood. Both the interviewees highlight this point by detailing their experiences of previous floods. One even regularly played in the floods. This sounds dangerous in this day-of-age, but this participant learned a lot about floods whilst playing in them:

P1:          And like you say […] you used to play in the flood water, we used to go down a back road in Twyning and put our wellies on. Always with our parents, well we did anyway…..

P2:          ……more of a liberal upbringing then (laughs)……

P1:          ……I used to look at the flood water and that was part of it.

Flooding being a part of life of the participant as a child may develop a level of self-education in flooding, leading to a ‘watery sense of place’ and even an attitude of ‘biophilia’ towards floods.

Well actually it is something quite natural for it to flood.

The participants constantly refer to people rolling up their trousers and wading through water, further suggesting a watery sense of place exists in locations like Tewkesbury. With a perceived ‘nanny state’ and improved flood defences and warnings, the next generation are being told that flooding is a dangerous and extremely negative event, whereas people who have experienced many floods see flooding as a part of Tewkesbury. A watery sense of place is beneficial to floodplain residents, as seen in previous blog posts. So with the protection of the younger generation from floods, can they be taught a watery sense of place without frequently being exposed to actual floods? Apparently, many children affected by the floods had little knowledge of flooding:

They [the children] thought as soon as it chucked it down, floods were going to come; they didn’t understand how flooding happens.

By the same token, if flood risk on the floodplain were to decline, the watery sense of place would perhaps disappear along with people’s flood experience. However, events like the 2007 floods are exceptional but may happen again. Flood risk is never totally eliminated. The interviewees say that nature always finds a way of imposing itself, and this needs to be taught to children, for instance with an annual Flood Week in schools; this would expose children to flooding in their home area, and provide them with a current and locally relevant subject.

Throughout the interview, the couple’s generally positive attitude towards the floods, and occasional laughter, was noticeable. This may be due to their own houses not being flooded. This meant that the couple could:

‘Possibly draw out the positives a lot easier than other people can.’

The couple does comment that if they had been flooded, their memories would be different and possibly they would resent the flood. They also tell stories of people who had been flooded, in order to convey a balanced view of the floods.

With memories meaning different things to different people, naturally the starting point to the respective narratives is different. For example ‘If it had been five years earlier and without digital cameras, we would be running out of film’ starts a month before the actual flood event. This person sees the start of a rainy period as an important beginning to his narrative, whereas the present account starts during the heavy rain of Friday 21st July. Both accounts show the way narratives are constructed and personal, despite in parts telling the same story.

What this account explores is:

  • A dormant community spirit which seems to become re-established during flooding or similar disasters

  • Self-education of flooding leading to a watery sense of place

  • Flood victims tend to look at the wider picture

  • The construction of memory, especially the start of people’s narrative.

The Floodline – potential and limits   1 comment

Floodline is a service provided by the Environment Agency to inform residents about their flood risk, and to warn them about incipient floods. Recently, a rather dramatic commercial was released to draw attention to this service:

Earlier Floodline commercials are a bit less dramatic, and more funny, like this one…

… or this one:

The Floodline certainly provides valuable service. But, judging from the experiences of Gloucestershire floodplain residents, it is not the ultimate answer to all their flood-related problems. Many have had numerous false alarms in the past, being woken up by automated calls in the middle of the night. Some of them were very distressed by the calls; others had enough local knowledge to see that they were not about to flood by looking into their back garden or onto the river. Still others remember receiving a call from the service when they were already flooded, somewhat late for a ‘warning’. This has made many residents rather cynical concerning the Floodline.

Nevertheless, the service is being improved continually, and so are the models and scales the warnings are based on. Alongside this, perhaps an awareness is growing that such large-scale schemes work best when integrated with local memories and knowledge, rather than set apart from them. Furthermore, no one should have to rely on the Floodline alone, but also talk to neighbours, the local flood warden, and other people with flood experience.

The Floodline can be an expedient tool – if used properly and not at the expense of keeping an eye on our dry and wet environments.

‘If it had been five years earlier and without digital cameras, we would be running out of film.’   1 comment

Photographs play a crucial role in remembering floods in Gloucestershire. Particularly during the more recent floods, with widespread digital photography, popular photo-sharing websites (e.g. flickr) and affordable photo printing, flood memories have been saturated with flood photos. The importance of photographs for memory comes to the fore in this interview conducted with an owner of a Tewkesbury-based business and former chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce. This interviewee explained that he used photographs for two purposes: in order to support his insurance claim on the one hand, and to bolster his memories of the flood, on the other. The quote in the title attests to the sheer number of pictures he took during the 2007 flood, as well as to the role of the technology facilitating his way of documenting and remembering them.

an image 'brned into the retina' of a local business owner

Like many businesses in Tewkesbury, his company got flooded leading to damage and loss of stock. So to make an insurance claim, the owner took photos of the extent of the flood damage. However there is one image in particular which he does not associate with his insurance claim. It is the image above, which he saw so often during the floods that he purchased a copy of it and hung it up in his office afterwards. He illustrates why this image is important to him:

‘[On the Monday] we just sat at home; and that picture which is on the wall, it was the one that Sky News kept showing. I was seeing that every twenty-five minutes or so, and it was driving me up the wall seeing that picture which is why I had to get it.’

It was shown so frequently that the interviewee felt it was ‘burnt onto my retina’.  Throughout the interview he uses the image to visually supplement his stories and to stimulate remembering other stories. We, the interviewers, got to see his stories from the perspective of the image. Looking at the picture, listeners may be able to validate the story being told and to question possible exaggerations.

Flood memory and narrative

Memories are often structured as narratives, and this one was a particularly striking example. The account did not require much interference from us interviewers to prompt the participant to re-tell his flood stories. He designed his narrative in a strict chronological order, just like history, with earlier event being told first and later events thereafter. It seemed that one story was a trigger to remember the next story and so forth. As with all narratives, this one had a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning sets the narrative into motion. This story started a month before the actual flood, with a recollection of the amount of rain during the months of June and July, which effectively lead to the ground in the catchment being saturated.  A different person would probably begin their narrative with a different event, and would thereby emphasise different aspects. But framing his memories in this particular way seemed important for the interviewee, perhaps to make the point that this flood happened in a particular hydrological context, which was not only exceptional, but also should have alerted people.

The middle part of the narrative represents the main event. Throughout this ‘middle’, the interviewee recalls plenty of small but interlinked memories, ranging from near-misses and other businesses’ problems to the power of the water. As with all these memories, they are very descriptive, told from his particular point of view. The following may serve as an example:

‘We walked around the building checking things whilst taking saw blades off the floor to dry out, to try and save customers’ blades. Because we sharpen blades for them; so they are not our property. We were walking around, and Alan [his colleague] walked in front, and I followed him. Because we are a saw workshop our floor is a timber floor. It is a suspended timber floor. I was following Alan and I looked down and saw one of the trap doors had floated away, so I was able to extend my foot just enough to go to the other side of it. Alan had walked straight over it and had fortunately missed it, otherwise he would have gone down a metre into the flood waters.’

He ends his narrative with talking about the ‘Over The Rainbow’ event. Ending with this event re-visits what has already been discussed in this blog: Choosing the well-organised festival that declared ‘Tewkesbury back in business’ a year after the floods seems a suitable end to the narrative of a Chamber of Commerce chairman. The event serves as a fine bookend of that flood memory, much like ‘Over The Rainbow’ had probably been intended to be.

Having a narrative makes his account more compelling, as it flows from one story/memory to the other with ease. With such easily-flowing stories, however, it also becomes evident that they have frequently turned into well-rehearsed formulas, which are reproduced in particular occasions. We must therefore ask: when the interviewee is telling his story, is he referring to the memory of the event itself, or is he remembering and recounting the last time he told his story of it?

Flood memory and sense of place

Throughout, the interviewee exhibits a strongly watery sense of place. A watery sense of place is a sense of place that incorporates flood risk as part of local character and even everyday heritage.  The interviewee’s flood knowledge comes from living in the area for a long period of time. He has experienced the flood meadows during regular but minor floods, but more importantly, he can access his flood memories when needed. Some of this knowledge was accidentally voiced when he peered at our interview sheet:

‘So at the top of that piece of paper there, where it says ‘the River Severn Floods of 2007’ – actually it wasn’t. It was the water from brooks coming off the Cotswolds escarpment trying to get to the river. So when this happened, the rivers weren’t in flood, had we not had the ‘47 flood defences in place, this would have gone straight to the river and we wouldn’t have flooded.’

His knowledge extends to say that the Rivers Avon and Severn don’t flood from the rain that falls in Tewkesbury, but from what falls further upstream, in Kidderminster and Worcester. Later in the interview he uses this knowledge and applies it to illustrate a larger picture:

‘If it [the torrential rain] had been sat over the top of Manchester, a lot more than five people would have died. Had that storm moved 5 miles east, then that water would have gone down the Thames catchment area and a lot more people would have died in London. As it is, it probably found the right place; apart from the Somerset Marshes, otherwise here is the next best placed for it to have fallen.’

Unlike many people affected by floods he doesn’t just focus on his immediate area. Rather, he has calculated the possible effects this storm would have had on bigger urban areas and their possible unfortunate consequences. His local hydrological knowledge also extends beyond his immediate surroundings to include wider issues of land use in the catchment. He highlights especially the historical depletion of the UK’s forest, suggesting flood wouldn’t have happened if more forests were still standing.

Perhaps this indicates that ‘local knowledge’ about flooding in one place is never limited to that place alone. Along a river – and when dealing with water more generally – local phenomena are necessarily bound up in wider contexts. Water always comes from somewhere and drains somewhere. Sometimes, floodplain residents sum this up in the phrase: ‘One person’s flood defence is another person’s flood.’ Clearing drainage ditches or raising flood banks in one place usually means that the water is channelled or compounded in other places, where it may cause or aggravate flooding instead. Consequently, ‘local knowledge’ in a flooding context is not limited to the local. As the chairman of the Tewkesbury Chamber of Commerce he had many opportunities to talk to the media about the effects of the floods. During the interview he told us that he found it important, but also rather difficult, to communicate positive stories of how Tewkesbury dealt with the floods.  The press seemed interested in negative news, as floods are generally considered a disastrous event. Our interviewee, however, wanted to emphasise that Tewkesbury is not just a community of victims, but is also dealing well with the floods.   Rather than painting the picture of a place devastated by a catastrophe, he wanted to convey that Tewkesbury was open for business as usual.

What this account explores:

  • The role of images for memory

  • How memories can be structured into narratives, whose specific beginning and end frame them in a particular way and convey a certain message

  • Local flood knowledge necessarily incorporates very non-local aspects, e.g. the wider meteorological context and land use changes in the catchment.

  • The struggle of representation in flooded places, between those who want stories of suffering and devastation, and those – often including businesses anxious about their image with customers – who  want to convey that all is working well in spite of the disruption.

A reminder or the bookend of an historic event?   Leave a comment

Exactly a year after the floods in Tewkesbury, the town held an event known as ‘Over The Rainbow’ on 20th July 2008. The aim of the event was to positively showcase the town after the negativity portrayed about Tewkesbury during the floods. A variety of activities were put on including fireworks and concerts, but more importantly the activity that was held in highest regard was the holding of hands around The Abbey.

This event attracted the media (see above) and even included a BBC report.

The start of the BBC report highlights ‘Tewkesbury back in business’ which is the tagline reproduced by the Tewkesbury based PR company Vivid who promoted the event. The tagline could have been ‘everyone back home’ focusing on the social recovery of the floods, but this event focuses on the economic recovery of the town. This could be to make tourists aware that Tewkesbury is up and running again after the floods. This is where the positive state of the event is used to possibly entice the tourists back.

Yet the social aspect of the town is shown in the iconic image of this event is the holding of hands.

                                       

The holding of hands was to signify the community resilience during and after the floods by creating a human border around The Abbey at the extent that the floods reached. The common misconception during disasters is that the victims are shocked to the point where they don’t react. This show of agency allows people to see that the residents of this town are not passive victims, but totally the opposite. There are stories which further highlight the active nature of the people in the town. Thus, the Over the Rainbow gesture served to portray Tewkesbury residents as active and joined up in the face of adversity.

However, this event has only run once. Was this event a ritual marker to the end of the 2007 flood? As this event has only run once, Over The Rainbow can be perceived as marking the end of the floods and flood recovery. These events can be used to put an ‘official end’ in the minds of the community. So does this mean that Tewkesbury has moved on and even possibly forgotten the floods? Are memories – and awareness – of floods being suppressed by marking the end of flooding in such a way? Or does the celebration of community resilience, and being back in business quickly after a devastating event, foster lasting memories?

Such an unusual event is likely to be remembered for the rest of victim’s lives but not necessarily in the forefront of their mind, and possibly deliberately forgotten. Despite the act of suppressing a negative memory, certain factors can re-spark these memories such as the date – 20th July – the level of the river, the force of the rain, or photographs. However most people don’t dwell on such memories in order to move on, which is possibly why such a significant event such as Over The Rainbow was held only once. Over The Rainbow can be viewed as the last structured reminder of the 2007 floods thus a bookend in this unique time in Tewkesbury history. If it were to be organized more regularly, on the other hand, it would perhaps add to the above list of reminders of the floods – and probably keep alive both flood risk awareness and a sense of community resilience to floods.

Floodplain resident’s collection of flood and bore tide videos – out on Vimeo now!   Leave a comment

A resident of Alney Island, the river island between two channels of the River Severn at Gloucester, has been filming the water in his neighbourhood for over a decade. In his extensive collection, there are many videos of floods and bore tides, which he illustrates with insightful comments.

Have a look at some of his videos on the River Severn Floods and Tides Vimeo channel.

In this particular video, the author points to some features in photographs from the 1947 floods in Gloucester to argue for a better understanding of flooding in the area, and for taking into account historical changes in the floodplain.

1947 flood photographs with Ray’s comments re flood risk management on Vimeo.

“People wake up with our breakfast presenters every morning. They deem them as members of the family, and trust your opinion.”   Leave a comment

This quote comes from a lady who works for a local radio station – Heart Radio Gloucestershire, which used to be Severn Sound in 2007. She explains why during exceptional events, people don’t tend to contact the Local Authority, the police, fire brigade, school board or other formal body. Rather they usually turn to their local radio station.

It is sometimes really frustrating when you take a call and people go ‘Do you know if the number 23’s running?’  Why don’t you ring the bus company!  Seriously.  You know, that can be a little bit frustrating sometimes.  But it’s how it is.

During the summer 2007 flood, this particular role for the people in Gloucestershire made the radio station decide to run a flood help-line.

I mean basically, because we are a local radio station, you obviously got contacts […]. We have the news team here, so obviously through news all the information was coming in. And they were basically appealing for anyone that could come and help. And obviously because, you know, we do have a bit of clout sometimes. And we kind of know all the people that are in those positions [of leadership in Local authorities and businesses].

[…] we got extra staff into the radio station, there were so much coming […], so much information. And we were getting so many calls. […] You will find this quite interesting with radio stations: people think we know everything, okay? They will ring us rather than… So we’ll get things like the fairs in the park, something. And people will ring us, “oh, do you know what time the fair opens?” They won’t ring the fair, for some reason the radio station. So, you know, straight away, when anything happens, people ring the radio station. It’s like, you know… It was all sorts of things. It was things like just people telling us their stories.

Rather than giving out lots of information, which was moreover susceptible to changing as the emergency unfolded, the staff at the radio station decided to give out only one phone number on air, and deal with people’s various questions on this quickly improvised helpline. They had the infrastructure in place due to annual Christmas Auction that the station organises.

People were giving us so many different phone numbers for all, you know, if you need this or if you wanna get hold of that information. And we came to the conclusion very quickly that we have to think about ‘clean air’ on the radio, so that it is very much a very clear message. […] the analogy is, you know, if you’ve got one ball and you keep throwing it in the air, you can catch it quite easily. As soon as you start doing two, three, you are like ‘phrrt, I don’t know what I’m doing’. So very quickly we came to the conclusion that there is so much information that needed to […] set up a help line. And the only number we gave out on air was our number.

Alongside pointing people with questions into the right direction, the station also worked with a group of volunteers to follow up some people’s requests, and help out where necessary.

We had a huge number of people wanted to help but trying to get them in contact with the right people, because they said ‘shall I just go along my road and knock on doors?’ and we can’t tell them to do that because obviously if there is some little old lady, you know, Mrs Jones at 27 so-and-so is having problems getting to her bowser, we can’t send some random person along because they could rob the old dear.  So it was quite difficult, we did quite quickly set up a really good liaison with Cheltenham Volunteering Centre who then took responsibility for organising volunteers and we basically then put them in contact with them and they would allocate them to a water distribution point.  Or to some of the churches set up teams who were knocking on doors and Cheltenham Volunteering would get people then to report to a group but then they would then go with the people, so it would be run by the local church so people could turn up and volunteer, not quite randomly, just knocking.  […]

Things that were quite difficult were the fact you had so much information and I think the water shortage, I think that was slightly unusual, but even with the transport problems initially, and from a radio station’s point of view you almost need something that filters before then, because we had the trains, the buses, highways patrol, police, everyone contacting you with information, if you see what I mean.  […]

Because we really made that our big thing, and every problem, if we were given a phone number, we ran it with radio station staff but also quite a lot of offices closed because of no toilets and water, so because we’ve got contacts through the radio station we got volunteers in from those, so people like the Chelsea Building Society, and one of the travel companies call centre, they were sending staff in to help man our phones so we literally had volunteers here working that were coming in to help.  And every phone number we had, we checked it, so before we would put a phone number on our website or give it out we would check, ring them up and say ‘look, what kind of queries are you dealing with’.  But it changed all the time because obviously with lack of water or even with flooding we had people with animals in problem.  We had nursing homes, the worst case scenario where they had no water supply and all the residents went down with food poisoning.

It was an explicit policy of the radio station to supply locally relevant information and stories, self-conscious of being a ‘local radio station’. In the flurry of information and misinformation, Severn Sound developed into a central hub for directing general advice and connecting particular needs and offers of help.

Some old bloke phoned us and I loved the remark he made, ‘I don’t listen to Severn Sound normally; I’m a BBC man, but all the BBC are telling me is when bloody Gordon Brown’s coming here.’  He said ‘I want to know when my lecky is back on!’ And I think that was our choice, was yes in news we dealt with the fact that Prince Charles had popped in to see what was going on, the fact that we had the Cobra, which is the services, were dealing with, obviously the news dealt with that side of it but we decided we would deal with: how is this directly affecting our listeners?  What are their problems today?  And we actually made it a point to address those problems.

[…]

We rang people and aimed to find the answer.  […] we would have people here doing internet searches, talking to people and then actually through the […] say ‘these are the big questions we’re being asked today, we need to know: where do people go for this information?’ and they would take that list of questions that we were getting over the phone.  And sometimes we would say on air, ‘the big question everyone is asking us today is ‘where can I get a shower’?’ people want to get showers, and then the phones would start ringing and it would be Leisure Centres just outside the area would say ‘okay we’re going to open later tonight if anyone wants to come over they can come and have a shower.’

[…]

And just simple things like, we had quite a lot of people who had lost their wedding reception venue, because […] there were a few who had been flooded that were like the second Saturday, so about Wednesday or Thursday we found out that one venue in particular had been flooded that had several weddings that weekend, we put an appeal out to say has anyone got a wedding venue available for this weekend because we’ve got 3 couples who are getting married who have lost their wedding venue.  So we would put people in touch with each other.  What we were very, very keen on was to not tell people information.  We never ever said we’re experts on anything, so it would be with things like baby bottles we would never say yes it’s fine to do, we would say ‘this is who you need to contact for that information’.

[…]

Yes, Friday night was obviously first of all the weather.  You know, the heavens have opened.  Then you start, everyone’s trying to get home from work so everyone was ‘are the buses running, are the trains running?’  So that was a bit like ‘oh my god it’s a bit difficult to get information, offices were beginning to shut early because obviously it was starting to get quite bad.  Then you’ve got the flood warnings coming in so people want to know what the latest flood warnings are, because people just do not know where to go for this information. […]

Most people wouldn’t know to call the Environment Agency, they wouldn’t know that they dealt with flooding.  So you’ve got the flood warnings and then obviously we had the problem of displaced persons if you like, that was that evening and that went into the following morning.  Then, over that weekend, it was the actual people who had been flooded, and obviously the ongoing weather forecast, ‘is it going to rain again?, is there going to be more flooding?’,  […] and then we were keeping up to date, and the flood warnings continued because water was draining into the river and it’s obviously is tidal, so depending when the tides were, so one of the things on the website we kept up to date with was what were the current flood warnings, we published that on our website and put them out on air what all the latest flood warnings were.  Then obviously the people who had been flooded, we were talking to them. […] like people that had cleared their house, what do they do with all their stuff.  We had people who had been offered empty houses but got no furniture, so it was putting them in contact with furniture recycling, centres, also people wanted to donate furniture to people who had been flooded.  Loads of people ringing up ‘I’ve got a second spare room with a 3-piece suite sat in it, can we donate it to someone?  How do you do the logistics of that?’ […] So it was putting the right people in touch with each other.  So this was basically what people were asking us, who should they talk to, and the same with all the people who were ringing up saying ‘I’ve got a dining room table, I’ve got some beds, I’ve got loads of bedding’.

It is not only during floods, however, that local radio stations  act as information hubs in exceptional periods. Rather, this role is regularly rehearsed when it snows in England.

For here, for us, snow is our biggie.  People will ring us as opposed to ring their school because we start at 6am.  They know that people from their school, no one is probably going to be in until 8am so every time it snows every radio station in our group, we have a snow team going.  We have special bits of our website set up and ready to go. We have teams of staff that can get to the radio station even if it snows because we take all the school closures and we publicise online for all our websites all the school closures.

[…]

Every school phones up.  […]  They call us, so we basically have a team that will be in at 5.30am – we’re on snow alert! – and that happens in every radio station in our group.  Especially Heart stations because our listener base is very family orientated.  […]  We are basically, our listener base is 25 to early 40s.  Family based, and we pride ourselves that our audience is a very family-based audience.  That’s why schools to us are the biggie.  Our websites go through the roof when we have school closures.  People don’t go to their school to find out their closed they come to our website.  Because we are seen as the most authoritative information on what schools are closed.  Snow is huge.  We have snow plans.  Plans of how we’re going to work during snow.  What staff are on call.

She remembers the snow alert during the winter of 2010/11:

I had staff stay with me because I’m walking distance, so presenters stay in my flat so we knew we would be able to be on air at 5.30am with presenters.  So I had two girls stay with me and then another guy who lives in Gloucester two of the presenters stayed with him, so that was six of us who would all be able to get in in the morning because we’re all walking distance.  I think they put a couple of people up in a hotel because we had a lot.  It went on for a long time. So we ended up putting people up in hotels within walking distance because everybody calls us.  All the schools call us, all the parents call us to find out.  For that kind of information the radio station is seen to be the people to talk to.

Today, the radio station also contributes its share to not forgetting the floods of 2007, and the fact that the lower River Severn occasionally floods.

We talk about it loads.  Yes we do.  We’ve always done like the first few years we’ve done a look back at the floods and that sort of thing on air.  So the first couple of years, even up to this year, 20th July, we all talk about it on air.  It was such a major thing in so many people’s lives that people do still talk about it.

If a similar emergency to the 2007 floods would happen again, she reckons that local radio stations will take on a similar role again, because they continue to be the first contact point. Only, they would be doing it better next time, due to their confidence and experience gained in 2007.

I do think now you would feel much better, if it happened again we would feel much more confident to do it again.  But I still think we would have to do it again.  I don’t think there is that facility still anywhere else, not that I know of.  I don’t know that the council or anyone else has anything set up that coordinates across all the different things that people need to know about.  And I still think, even if they did have it how would they get that information to people?

[…], we literally walk through that door and can talk to a hundred thousand people.  Our listener base went up hugely through the flood.  Huge.  […] You go down to places like the council offices and they would have signs outside saying ‘for information please listen to your local radio station’ and it would be BBC Gloucestershire and Severn Sound.  They were actually saying don’t ask us, listen to them.  That was very much the message that was going out.  Saying that the best way to get the most up to date information is to listen to your local radio station.  So I do think local radio has such a huge part to play in this.

Severn Sound thus played a major role for the emergency response in Gloucestershire during the 2007 floods. The events triggered by this period, however, also had very direct consequences on the interviewee’s biography:

It ended up changing my career.  Me having a different career because I’d never done online writing and I did a lot of stuff during the floods and loved it. I love the immediacy of it.  Of actually doing something and what you’ve done is published and it’s there.  And also when you’re getting people coming back and saying I’ve been on your website and seen this and they’re asking me questions about it.  And you can get stats from a website really easily.  You can get them in real time so you can actually go in the last hour we’ve had x-thousand people looking at that particular page or looking at whatever.  I just loved that immediacy of it. […] And after I did the website stuff that year, later that year a job came up and I was approached to say you did such a good job during the floods would you be interested in it.  I looked after just a couple of radio stations and now I’m an editor right across the Heart network.  So I actually write across about 42 radio stations.  […]  So it’s all that.  For me it ended up changing my career.  So the floods ultimately changed my career.

But not only on a personal level have the floods turned out to be a highly significant period. According to the interviewee, the common tackling of this formidable challenge shaped her generation, similar to the blitz having shaped the people who lived during World War II.

It’s our war!  Does that make any sense?  People say you should have lived during the war. You don’t know you’re born, if you like, for a different generation that lived through that couple of weeks it’s like the equivalent of our war.  We lived through the floods, and I think it kind of felt a bit like that.  The fact that you did feels as though you survived.  And just the camaraderie, here, because we were working a ridiculous amount of hours and people were coming in to help, and we were taking lots of calls, and we had volunteers because it was busy in here.  There was that kind of blitz that people talk about don’t they, the kind of blitz mentality, when you’re all in difficult situations and you just get on with it, and you have a great time.  I loved it, absolutely loved it which must sound strange, but I really felt as though I was doing something really useful.  You could go home at the end of the day and think I really felt as though I really helped people that day and that’s a great feeling[…] For me, that was the big thing to remember. Yes, you had stupid people, you had stupid people who were damaging bowsers, people that were taking, we had some small corner shops who went on selling water from the distribution points for years afterwards, because we do know that people were going round and collecting water from every distribution point.  Same as everything isn’t it.  You could say it, with the floods, it brings out the best and worst in people.  I think for me that’s the thing I’ll remember, is that anything like this brings out the best in the best and the worst in the worst.

The questions that this account addresses include:

How is local media involved in flood risk management, formally and informally?

In what ways can local radio help to develop flood memories?

How local does ‘local media’ need to be, in order to provide meaningful service during an emergency?

To what extent have the summer 2007 floods influenced people’s biographies, and the consciousness of an entire generation?