Holding back the tide: How one county council is using comms to combat flooding

West Sussex County Council has employed PR techniques to raise awareness among 159 local councils and nearly a million people within its boundaries about access to an online mapping tool to protect themselves from flooding.

Burst banks in Arun valley, West Sussex, during flooding in 2014 (Pic credit: Environment Agency)
Burst banks in Arun valley, West Sussex, during flooding in 2014 (Pic credit: Environment Agency)

The tool, Parish Online, uses geographical mapping data and Ordnance Survey to show data provided by flood authorities of drainage systems, flood zones and areas of flood risk for the county’s 836,000 residents, 100,000 of whom are considered to be at risk of flooding.

Parish Online is part of Operation Watershed, a fund set up in West Sussex in 2013 to encourage communities to act against flooding.

Operation Watershed was set up after the county experienced record levels of rainfall in the summer of 2012, with several serious incidents of flooding taking place in subsequent years.

Now, using Parish Online, it is hoped that communities can add to the available data and fill in missing gaps in the maps, with the aim of creating a two-way flow of information between communities and flood authorities.

David Jones, senior media officer at West Sussex County Council, said West Sussex was using traditional PR methods, across multiple channels, to get the word out to 159 parish, town and neighbourhood councils about access to Parish Online.

He added: "The message has been delivered face to face at community events and council meetings. Details have been published on our website. A news release was widely reported in the local press and on social media. It will be demonstrated live at a conference for parish clerks next week."

Jones said the local authority would track which councils had signed up to use the flooding tool to measure the success of its comms programme.

He added: "Ultimately, we measure the success of Operation Watershed by evaluating whether areas that flooded before no longer flood."

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