A STATE-of-the-art facility which can replicate real-life flooding emergencies is to be built in the region to train crews from round the country.
The £3m Ark Project will prepare crews to work in fast-flowing water up to three metres deep as well as training other organisations, from police to utility companies, to work in flooded areas.
It comes after the tidal surge last December inundated 1,100 homes and amid predictions that extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent.
The first in the country to recreate domestic flooding scenarios, Humberside Fire and Rescue Service say the facility will help businesses, including the utilities, ambulance service as well as councils better understand the risks associated with flooding.
More than 90 delegates including health trusts, the Environment Agency, Met Office, Associated British Ports and utility companies were at yesterday’s launch in Hull.
The giant water tank will house a street scene, with the frontages of houses, streetlights and even cars.
Crews will be able to practice rescuing victims from front rooms, which can be flooded at the touch of a button, as lockgates are opened, allowing in huge quantities of water.
Another touch of a button will see the water – deep enough to race about in power boats – drain away in seconds.
An exact location has not yet been decided, but it will be on the south bank of the Humber.
Head of training Nick Grainger said: “Bodies like the Environment Agency, utility companies will not be dealing with water that moves at a terrific speed but in water 12 inches deep, but that doesn’t mean they are not at risk.
“Manhole covers can float away and people could fall in, causing potential injury or even worse. The aim is to normalise these situations as fast as you can. If we can get telephone engineers back in the community then normality will return to situations far more rapidly.”
The nearest centre for their 500 firefighters to train is at the Tees Barrage, but Mr Grainger said natural water tended to carry viruses and firefighters sometimes fell ill.
The facility also aims to show school-aged children the danger of stepping into fast-flowing water.
Chief fire officer Dene Sanders said: “Not only will the new centre provide us with an excellent training venue, it will enable us to help our communities by educating them about protecting their homes from flooding.
“It means we can also assist residents to be better prepared by simulating what actually happens when flooding occurs.”
Earlier this year the Government’s special envoy on climate change Sir David King said the UK may have to double spending on flood defences to £1bn a year by 2020, as extreme weather events were likely to become more frequent.
The Environment Agency predicts that sea levels will rise a third of a metre by 2060, with severe events which occurred previously every 25 years now experienced at six-year intervals.
Humberside Fire and Rescue has seen a seven-fold increase in the number of call-outs, from 130 in 2005 to a peak of 933 in 2007. Mr Sanders added: “This new training centre will be used to ensure our own staff are trained to the highest standard by simulating what happens when large-scale flooding occurs.
“It will create a realistic environment for crews to train in water rescue scenarios, whilst simultaneously reducing training costs.”
The service has to make cuts of £5.5m by 2016-17, but some of the funds have been already raised by the fire service’s community interest company HFR Solutions and a bid has been made for a Government funding.