I was kept well-briefed by the Senior Command Team throughout the period of the floods – from the first day (Thursday, 7 November) onwards.
On the following Tuesday I visited College Road Police Station, Doncaster, for a further update and then called in at the strategic command centre in Doncaster’s civic offices. This was a revelation. The office is open plan and it was possible to take in at a glance the sheer number of council officials and other partners – environment agency, Fire and Rescue, army, police, etc – who were involved.
Planning the response to the floods was a huge and complex affair. Information and intelligence had to be gathered very rapidly – the location and scale of the flooding, how many homes and people were affected and to what degree, what roads needed to be closed, what did people need immediately and longer term – sand bags, food, clothing, accommodation, and so on.
Policing alone required a huge effort: How many officers would need to be deployed, where and for how long? What clothing did they need? How would they get reasonable breaks? What further implications might there be for safety and safeguarding if some homes were being abandoned?
I was then taken in a fire and Rescue vehicle, driven by a South Yorkshire police sergeant, to look at some of the flooded areas. I spoke with officers who were posted at various points to enforce road closures. This was a pretty miserable job – stand in the open for long stretches in driving rain.
Everywhere we went we saw the emergency services at work. Fire crews had come from all over the country – from Derbyshire to Cumbria – and their huge hose pipes and pumping equipment was everywhere.
I was also able to meet some of those whose homes have been devastated, and spent some time in one house where a couple told me this was the second time they had been flooded. Everything on the ground floor was lost – from white goods to curtains. The floor was still sodden from the foul-smelling brown water that had swept into their home. They had no insurance and nowhere to go. They were living out of their bedrooms with their two school-age children. The whole street and the streets around were all in the same place. It was quite heart-breaking to hear their stories.
I am pleased to be able to say that the people affected were, on the whole, immensely grateful for the rapid response of the emergency services and for all they were doing. At times like this we realise why we need police, fire and rescue services and why they need adequate numbers.