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Disruption of emergency response to vulnerable populations during floods


Emergency responders must reach urgent cases within mandatory timeframes, regardless of weather conditions. However, flooding of transport networks can add critical minutes to travel times between dispatch and arrival. Here, we explicitly model the spatial coverage of all Ambulance Service and Fire and Rescue Service stations in England during flooding of varying severity under compliant response times. We show that even low-magnitude floods can lead to a reduction in national-level compliance with mandatory response times and this reduction can be even more dramatic in some urban agglomerations, making the effectiveness of the emergency response particularly sensitive to the expected impacts of future increases in extreme rainfall and flood risk. Underpinning this sensitivity are policies leading to the centralization of the Ambulance Service and the decentralization of the Fire and Rescue Service. The results provide opportunities to identify hotspots of vulnerability (such as care homes, sheltered accommodation, nurseries and schools) for optimizing the distribution of response stations and developing contingency plans for stranded sites.

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Fig. 1: Accessibility by Fire and Rescue Service stations in England within 5 min, 8 min and 10 min during a local 1-in-100-years surface-water flood event.
Fig. 2: Ambulance Service spatial accessibility coverage for at-risk populations in England during flooding.
Fig. 3: Scatter plots of Ambulance Service baseline coverage versus coverage for coastal/fluvial floods of various magnitudes.
Fig. 4: Care homes in England and the Ambulance 7-min and 15-min service area.
Fig. 5: Timing, response time and delay mode for each incident attended by the London Fire and Rescue Service during the period 22 to 24 June 2016.
Fig. 6: Modelled 6-min service area for the London Fire and Rescue Service on 23 June 2016.

Data availability

Source Data are provided with this paper. The transport network of roads in England were obtained from the UK Ordnance Survey MasterMap Integrated Transport Network ( Locations of emergency service stations were collated from various sources including the UK Ordnance Survey, Ambulance trusts, Fire and Rescue Services. Although station locations were quality-checked to ensure their accuracy, there might be inconsistencies because the data came from different sources. Data were used under licence for the current study. Certain datasets are available from the lead and corresponding authors upon reasonable request and with permission of the parties that provided the data. Locations of vulnerable facilities were extracted from the UK Ordnance Survey datasets ( under license. Fluvial, coastal and surface water flood risk maps were provided by the UK Environment Agency ( Vulnerable population groups were derived from the 2011 England and Wales Census, available from the Office for National Statistics. Major city and town boundaries are defined by the Office for National Statistics in 201522.


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The work was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council of the UK (grant numbers NE/R009600/1, NE/N013050/1 and NE/S017186/1); by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (grant number 2017YFE0100700); by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant number 41871164); and by the National Science Foundation of the United States (grant number EAR-1520683). We thank M. Oppenheimer from Princeton University for his early contribution to the methodological development of this work.

Author information




D.Y. coordinated this work and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. D.Y., J.Y. and R.L.W. designed the initial method. J.C., J.C.J.H.A., S.N.L. and N.L. contributed to the further development of the methods. D.Y., J.Y. and J.C. performed the data processing and analysis. D.Y., J.Y., R.L.W., S.N.L., J.C., J.C.J.H.A. and N.L. interpreted the results and wrote the final manuscript. All authors contributed to the analysis and interpretation of results and drafting of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Dapeng Yu or Jie Yin.

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Yu, D., Yin, J., Wilby, R.L. et al. Disruption of emergency response to vulnerable populations during floods. Nat Sustain 3, 728–736 (2020).

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