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Dorset’s flood data app helps to bail out Cumbria victims



A web app designed by Dorset County Council has been used hundreds of miles away in Cumbria to improve recovery efforts and long term flood risk management in response to continued major flooding there. 

SWIM has been developed to improve communication of up-to-date flood data for better decision making and to provide a more informed, coordinated response by allowing users to record information online about the properties and people affected.

The open source app was developed by Dorset County Council’s geographical information systems (GIS) and flood risk management teams in partnership with the Environment Agency and Geowessex, a group of West Country local authorities which pools GIS skills and shares the results. It was developed in response to local flooding in 2012.

“Our experience of flooding is that it becomes a nightmare to know who has been evacuated, where people have gone, home insurance, etc,” said Guy Parker, Flood Resilience Advisor, Wessex Area, The Environment Agency. “The first thing is to have a standard form so you’re collecting data in the same way – that’s critical,” he told Local Digital.

Online form

To use SWIM, members of the public, flood wardens and flood risk management authorities enter details about current flooding and properties affected and the source of flood water on an online form. They can also upload photos of the damage, view data on a map and edit and comment on flood data reports in one place.

Parker said that gathering data in this way can help to gauge the need to communicate flood warnings and quantity of sandbags, for example, during future incidents.

Another option lets users record flooding that has affected property in the last five years. Data gathered via this option will inform future recovery strategies and long term flood risk management, and can be used by homeowners to work out which grants they are entitled to for reducing the impact of future flooding on their property.

The form then identifies who should take the lead, depending on the source of the flood water. For example, if the reason for flooding is a burst water pipe, the form goes automatically to the local water board. Data that SWIM gathers may also be shared with the Environment Agency, the local authority, lead local flood authority and emergency services.

Records are automatically loaded onto a map and into summary reports, helping to inform decision makers with a better overall picture of flood events and prioritise assistance. Users can search for records on the map, by date, contact or administration boundary.

GIS basis

“It’s based on GIS, so it works out who the form should go to,” said Parker, who initiated a conversation about sharing SWIM with Cumbria’s flood resilience leader. Within 48 hours, the Environment Agency-Dorset team had adapted SWIM for Cumbria and it was in use.

Since flooding began in Cumbria in December, some 450 forms have been received by the Environment Agency, although at the time of writing, it is unknown how many had been received from other organisations.

“It’s about trying to join things up and make sure we don’t act in isolation. There’s nothing more frustrating for someone whose been flooded than filling out forms more than once,” said Parker.

While Dorset County Council is yet to use SWIM locally during an incident, it is preparing to roll out the app to the following neighbouring organisations next year: Environment Agency Wessex Area, Christchurch Borough Council, East Dorset District Council, North Dorset District Council, Purbeck District Council, West Dorset District Council, Weymouth and Portland Borough Council, Bournemouth Borough Council and Poole Borough Council.

Use for anywhere

“There’s no reason as of now that it can’t be used anywhere in the country,” said Parker. “We’ve loaded all parish boundaries for the whole country, rather than do it lots of times over.”

Parker said SWIM may also eventually feed data into Resilience Direct, the national resource accessible by all category 1 responders, such as flood authorities, local authorities and emergency response teams.

The SWIM team also hopes to develop a mobile app in future which, said Parker, will be particularly useful to residents living or working in areas with poor mobile phone signal, such as in valleys.


Image credit: Storm Desmond, by NOAA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. 

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