A major national exercise to test the resilience of the systems in England and Wales to react to a major coastal flood emergency is taking place today.

Exercise Triton will test how the national civil contingencies systems reacts to an extreme coastal flooding event that would affect huge stretches of the English and Welsh coastlines.

The imaginary scenario posits a North sea tidal surge which breaches defences from the Humber estuary southwards. The scenario assumes huge storms have hit the East coast of the US in the preceding fortnight.

The low pressure system has then been tracked across the Atlantic before hitting the UK and Western Europe. Decision-makers will have to simulate the choices and decisions they would face as the storms arrived. In this scenario the Thames Barrier will not be breached and London will not be flooded.

The exercise is ‘tabletop’ only – there will be no live activity on the ground.

‘The scenario is an unlikely one but it’s important that we test our preparedness,’ said UK Environment Minister Elliot Morley. ‘Whilst climate change might make extreme events more likely in the future, it is important for us to carry out exercises such as Triton now as such rare events could of course happen at any time, as happened in 1953.

‘50 years after floods devastated parts of the East Coast, with the loss of 300 lives in England, our ability to predict flooding and our coastal defences are hugely improved. In addition, this year the Government is spending around £500m (US$913.9M) to protect against floods’ he added.

Triton forms part of the wider cross-Governmental emergency exercise programme which is designed to test resilience and preparedness across a range of disruptive challenges and crises.

‘The Environment Agency (EA) maintains and operates 36,000km of flood defences in England and Wales. These flood defences are only part of the picture. We also have the expertise and procedures in place to ensure that we can react as effectively as possible to a major flooding incident should the need arise,’ explained Sir John Harman, Chairman of the EA. ‘We constantly test and review our flooding procedures. Exercise Triton will help to make sure that we are ready for the most extreme circumstances.’

The exercise has been scheduled for a year. It has been organised as part of an ongoing programme requested by Elliot Morley following flooding in Easter 1998.