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Preparing for a rainy day

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Preparing for a rainy day

Until recently, the town where I was born rarely hit the headlines. The grizzly serial killings carried out by Fred and Rosemary West gave it a certain notoriety. Its beautiful cathedral was used as the setting for Hogwarts, the wizardry school, in the "Harry Potter" films.

And most British children are familiar with the nursery rhyme:

"Doctor Foster, went to Gloucester,

In a shower of rain.

He stepped in a puddle,

Right up to his middle.

And never went there again!"

The rhyme, it is believed, refers to King Edward I of England who, so the story goes, fell off his horse into a puddle and refused, henceforth, to ever visit the town again.

And the rainfall that troubled King Edward seven centuries ago, struck again in July when the city, and surrounding countryside, were affected by the worst flooding for at least 50 years.

Now it is impossible to open a newspaper or turn on the television without seeing pictures of Gloucestershire and reading stories of destruction and near-disaster.

Those floods followed hot on the heels of severe disruption in June, when parts of northern England were submerged-insured claims from that period of flooding are expected to top £1.5 billion (€2.24 billion).

My father still lives in Gloucestershire, and being a considerate daughter, I called him last week to check that he had not been too badly affected by the recent flood event. Luckily, he lives on top of a hill. And he was also fortunate enough not to be affected by the closure of water and electricity substations threatened by the rising water.

But he was feeling the effects of the weather disaster—his regular Monday morning round of golf was cancelled. And a trip to the supermarket exposed him to real victims of the floods. Exiles from another local supermarket were buying water in bulk—after their own store had run out.

My father is not an alarmist sort of fellow, but as a precaution he decided to buy several additional bottles of water himself—though, ever the bargain hunter, he was at pains to point out that they were on special offer (€ight bottles for the price of six).

Personal risk management aside, severe natural events like the recent flooding bring the question of risk higher up the agenda.

The floods, of course, provide another test for the business continuity plans of companies with operations or suppliers in affected areas. But they also highlight the need for risk managers and insurers to ensure their voices are heard at the highest political level.

The Association of British Insurers has long been calling on the government to improve the management of risk in flood-prone areas.

The association, which estimates that more than two million homes in the United Kingdom are at risk from flooding, has called upon the government to increase spending on flood risk defences to £750 million (€1.2 billion) a year by 2011.

The United Kingdom, however, also faces a housing shortage. And here the government has a dilemma—where to build. Last week, when the floods were at their worst, newly appointed Housing Minister Yvette Cooper, unveiled plans for three million new homes.

Surely this is a time for risk managers to become involved in the debate and when their companies or organizations build or buy new properties make sure that flood risk is properly assessed.

Of course, bad weather can bring opportunities also. Expect sales of umbrellas to rocket—and maybe my Dad will get his round of golf in next week.