<strong>Fire and Rescue officers pull an inflatable raft in Bewdley, Worcestershire, earlier this year.</strong>
Fire and Rescue officers pull an inflatable raft in Bewdley, Worcestershire, earlier this year.

Flooding, Heatwaves, Terrorism: What Would Happen If A Second Crisis Hit The UK During Coronavirus?

Heatwaves, flooding and even space weather don't respect social distancing measures.

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The last thing the UK needs right now is another crisis on top of the coronavirus pandemic.

But the reality is that headline-making events are all too frequent in this country and they won’t stop just because we’re all on lockdown.

Just think back to last summer – record temperatures during August’s heatwave, flooding that meant an entire town in Derbyshire was evacuated, and a power cut that temporarily paralysed transport in large parts of the country.

“We are focusing our attention on Covid-19 right now and that’s totally legitimate but the problem is we’re forgetting that other things are going on,” Dr Gianluca Pescaroli, from University College London’s institute for risk and disaster reduction told HuffPost UK.

What kind of crisis can we expect?

Loads, potentially. As you’d imagine, the government keeps a list of them called the National Risk Register.

National Risk Register
National Risk Register
National Risk Register

Emma Parkinson, senior lecturer in emergency planning and crowded places at Coventry University, told HuffPost UK: “There are natural hazards like flooding. Other severe weather, as well – heatwaves.

“Space weather comes up in the National Risk Register. It sounds dramatic but it substantially affects communication.

“And we’ve had volcanic issues before where volcanic ash has interfered with travel.

“Air quality incidents, where excesses of pollution have caused considerable problems to the public. Wildfires became a significant problem last year.

“And then there’s always the risk of malicious attacks, cyber attacks and terrorist attacks.”

Well, that all sounds grim

It does, but the lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic actually has some positives when it comes to the risks faced by you, the British public.

“We spend a lot of time planning for terror attacks on crowded places, but right now we don’t have any crowded places to attack,” says Parkinson.

“In terms of a heatwave, we look at the transport network and trains having reduced running speeds and reduced services and, again, right now, we’re already in the position.

“Heatwaves are a particular problem in mass gatherings but, again, we’re not having them at the moment.”

That’s not to say the UK is letting its guard down. A Cabinet Office spokesperson told HuffPost UK in a statement: “Our emergency planning protocols and procedures remain in place as usual with resources on standby to be deployed if they are required.”

What about the other crises?

Yes, it’s not all good news – the weather doesn’t care if you’re socially distancing.

Dr Richard Teeuw of the University of Portsmouth’s applied geoinformatics and disaster risk reduction centre, told HuffPost UK that high rainfall and storm surges – like those seen last year – always pose a risk in the UK, particularly from autumn onwards.

“The problem for the UK is there’s been a pattern in recent years – lots of weather fronts coming through and dropping rain week after week. And eventually you’re going to get flooding across large areas affecting hundreds of thousands of people, potentially.

“If they happen at the same time we also have Covid-19 in a second wave, that would be particularly problematic.”

<strong>An RAF Chinook helicopter flies in sandbags to help repair the dam at Toddbrook reservoir near the village of Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire last year.</strong>
An RAF Chinook helicopter flies in sandbags to help repair the dam at Toddbrook reservoir near the village of Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire last year.

Last year the entire town of Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire was evacuated following the partial collapse of walls at Toddbrook Reservoir, which sits above the village.

“We have a very good system of shelters and rest centres, which every local authority is obliged to provide, but the problem with Covid-19 is you don’t want to get people close together in shelters for a few days and nights while we’re dealing with the impacts of the flooding – so that is a potential problem,” said Dr Teeuw.

In a statement to HuffPost UK, a spokesperson for Derbyshire Police – which led the Whaley Bridge evacuation – suggested the immediate danger of a flooding event would take precedence over social distancing measures.

They said: “Whilst the current pandemic would present new challenges – such as ensuring plans are adapted to allow for social distancing in an evacuation, for example – our primary goal as a police service is the preservation of life and all necessary precautions would be undertaken to ensure this is upheld.”

How would the NHS cope with another crisis?

During the coronavirus pandemic, the NHS has faced an unprecedented challenge and while many workers have tragically lost their lives, the picture – so far – isn’t as gloomy as feared.

This week it was announced the temporary London Nightingale hospital in east London – set up when there was genuine concern the NHS would be overrun – is to be mothballed as demand for intensive care beds in London falls.

Dr Mark Parrish, regional medical director at crisis consultancy firm International SOS, told HuffPost UK: “The hospital system hasn’t had as many admissions as it thought it would. Those Nightingale hospitals have really not been tested, which is great.”

But it’s early days and one of the biggest potential crises the NHS faces is a severe flu season or a second wave of coronavirus as the lockdown eases.

“The NHS is one system, so you can control it pretty well,” says Dr Parrish.

“You can reassign resources and we’ve done that very well. There’s still lots of capacity in the NHS so if something else came along while we’re dealing with Covid-19 I think we’re actually pretty well set up to deal with it.”

While previous flu pandemics have seen second waves of infection more deadly than the initial outbreak, it’s still too early to tell if this will be the case with coronavirus. It’s also too early to learn lessons from other countries that have already lifted lockdown restrictions.

Can we end on a positive note?

Of course. The coronavirus lockdown has seen a huge increase in the number of locally organised and community groups, essentially mobilising vast numbers of people and creating a new civic workforce aimed solely at helping others.

“We’ve seen communities come together like never before in my lifetime to support vulnerable individuals, groups have sprung up on social media and locally all across the UK,” says Parkinson.

“Without those people responding, this would have had a very different outcome. And now that community response has started, it’s easier to activate in the future.

“We’ve even proved that we can home the homeless – if we want to.”