CIPR Excellence Awards - Crisis Communications - Flood crisis turns into a success

Campaign: In the Eye of the Storm

Stormy waters: scenes in Cumbria
Stormy waters: scenes in Cumbria

Client: Environment Agency
PR team: In-house
Timescale: November 2009
Budget: £30,000

On November 19, 2009, severe flooding hit Cumbria. More than 1,500 properties were flooded, 200 people were evacuated, six bridges collapsed and PC Bill Barker tragically lost his life. It was the UK's wettest day on record. The Environment Agency comms team wanted to build on previous experiences, such as flooding in Carlisle in 2005 and across the country in 2007.


- To deliver rapid, clear and consistent information to the public, media and emergency services

- To provide clear and comprehensive training to staff and stakeholders

- To make sure staff were fully supported by the comms team.

Strategy and plan

The key audiences were local communities and businesses at risk of flooding, MPs and other stakeholders.

Three days before the floods hit, the Flood Forecasting Centre issued warnings for Cumbria. National and regional teams planned a communications response, with senior comms staff involved in all national operational meetings. A commitment was made to respond to all media enquiries, despite pressure on resources.

Two days before the floods, journalists were briefed and regional and national media warned people of the flood risk. Warnings were reiterated through regular press notices, hourly updates on BBC Radio Cumbria, MP briefings, prominent web updates, door-to-door community liaison and Twitter and Facebook updates. People were directed to the agency's website and Floodline for further information.

Between 18 and 26 November, the national and North West press offices handled more than 500 media enquiries and arranged more than 160 interviews. Round-the-clock media monitoring helped press officers respond to development and deal with any negative enquiries. After the floods, communications has focused on the importance of flood warnings, investment in defences and insurance issues.

Measurement and evaluation

Blanket coverage was secured before and during the floods, with continuous coverage on the BBC, Sky and regional broadcast channels. Follow-up work has included features on The One Show, Newsnight, in FT Weekend Magazine, The Times, in trade media and online. Of the coverage, 97 per cent of Environment Agency mentions were positive or factual.


In total, 123 flood warnings and seven severe flood warnings were issued, and 13 communities and 1,550 properties in Cumbria received advanced warnings.

The Environment Agency's website received more than 130,000 visits in seven days, more than double its usual traffic. There were 33,000 calls to the agency's Floodline.

There was a clear improvement in comms compared with flooding in 2007, in which 33 per cent of coverage was adverse and the volume of coverage was significantly lower. The agency received just nine flood-related complaints. The campaign won the Crisis Communication category at the CIPR Excellence Awards 2010.


In the Eye of the Storm - Environment Agency

Previous incidents meant a clear threat to reputation if operations and communications were not handled well. Communications were an integral part of the management plan and demonstrated substantial organisational learning. Traditional and social media were used well to issue warnings and information, and key decision-makers and influencers were kept in the loop. Thorough evaluation against objectives was demonstrated.

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