Press release

10,000 people take part in Britain’s biggest ever civil emergency exercise

Exercise Watermark will involve government departments, local resilience forums, emergency responders, water and energy companies, hospitals and schools.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

10,000 people will take part in Exercise Watermark this week, Britain’s biggest ever civil emergency exercise which will test the country’s response to catastrophic floods. £820,000 is also being awarded to emergency services and voluntary groups to help communities prepare for emergencies.

Exercise Watermark will involve ten government departments, 34 local resilience forums, emergency responders, water and energy companies, hospitals and schools.

Some of the planned local exercises include the evacuation of coastal communities in Lincolnshire, live floodwater rescues by the RAF from rooftops and submerged vehicles, and a variety of flood awareness raising activities. The Government’s crisis response committee, COBR, will also meet as part of the exercise.

Defra has also announced grants worth £820,000 to emergency services, charities and other groups to pay for flood rescue equipment and training. The grants are part of a £2million fund to improve flood response in England and Wales. All the equipment bought with the funding will be added to the National Asset Register of flood rescue resources that can be called upon in the event of a major flood.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon said:

“More extreme weather and rising sea levels mean we have to be prepared to deal with the impact of a major flood. Exercise Watermark will be Britain’s biggest ever emergency exercise and provide a unique opportunity for us to test our responses.

“In the event of a large-scale flood, it is important that we can call upon manpower and equipment from a wide range of emergency services and voluntary groups. The grants allocated today will help to pay for vital flood rescue training and assets such as rescue boats that will be readily available wherever they are needed.”

Environment Agency Chairman, Lord Chris Smith, said:

“Exercise Watermark will test the plans that Government, the Environment Agency, local authorities and communities have put in place since the devastating floods of 2007. It will help protect lives and homes against future floods.

“One in six properties in England and Wales is at risk from flooding. I urge everyone in that position to sign up to receive free Environment Agency flood warnings.”

Meanwhile advice has been published today to help communities prepare for local emergencies. The Community Resilience Programme published on the Directgov website includes a series of online resources to enable individuals and community groups to take part in emergency preparedness activities, in a way that complements the work of emergency responders.

Richard Benyon added:

“Communities can make a real difference to the success of the response to an emergency, such as by sharing their local knowledge with emergency services or assisting the vulnerable. Those who have spent time preparing for emergencies are better able to cope and recover more quickly, so I would urge people to think about how they could get involved and use the tools available on the Directgov website.”

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said:

 ”This country has a great tradition of people pitching in to help each other out when things go wrong. We want to support a Big Society where people look out for each other. The new Community Resilience Programme will help people get together and use their local skills and knowledge to deal with emergencies.  Working with emergency responders, voluntary organisations and others who recognise the risks they face can make preparations that have a real impact when the worst happens.”

Exercise Watermark is one of the recommendations made by Sir Michael Pitt in his review of the summer 2007 floods. It will run over four days and test the response to different scenarios:

  • Today (Monday): flash flooding across London, West Yorkshire and Devon and Cornwall
  • Tuesday: flooding from overflowing rivers in London, Surrey and the Thames Valley, as well as in West Mercia and Dyfed-Powys, mid Wales
  • Wednesday: a reservoir emergency in Derbyshire
  • Thursday: flooding from a North Sea tidal surge, affecting the east coast of England from Humberside down to Kent

Community exercises include evacuating schools and installing flood defence barriers designed to protect properties. Businesses across England and Wales will also be using Exercise Watermark as an opportunity to test their business continuity arrangements. In the summer 2007 floods, almost 7,000 businesses were flooded and more recently in September 2009, hundreds of businesses were severely affected by flooding in Cumbria.

The provision of vital services, such as water, electricity and gas are often affected during times of major flooding. Five water companies and nearly all electricity providers will be using Exercise Watermark to consider the resilience of their sites and review their existing flood plan to ensure that critical infrastructure is prepared for future flooding.


  1. Exercise Watermark is a cross-government emergency flooding exercise led by Defra, along with the Welsh Assembly Government, and delivered by the Environment Agency with the support of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat:

  2. Government departments taking part in Exercise Watermark are Defra, the Welsh Assembly Government, Cabinet Office, Department of Health, Department for Communities and Local Government, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Department for Transport, Home Office, Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice.

  3. The setting up of a national flood exercise was one of the key recommendations of Sir Michael Pitt’s independent review of the 2007 floods.

  4. The Community Resilience Programme responds to a recommendation in the Pitt Review that Government should examine how to enhance community resilience. New web-materials published today include a guide for communities that want to take part in community resilience activities and an emergency plan toolkit, providing a step by step guide to planning for an emergency:

  5. Details of the voluntary and emergency services organizations granted funding for flood response are outlined in the tables below

Voluntary Organisations:

Organisation Amount offered Detail

RAPID UK £14,212.25 Equipment for2 x Powered Rescue Boats

St John’s Ambulance £28,252 A boat and equipment for1 x Powered Rescue Team

RSPCA £45,500.00 Equipment and training for5 x Non-Powered Rescue Teams


Fire and Rescue Services

East Sussex FRS £4,680 Equipment for2 x Non Powered Rescue Boats

South Yorks FRS £20,000 Vehicle and equipment for1 x Powered Rescue Boats

West Midlands FRS £16,000 Equipment for2 x Powered Rescue Teams

London FRS £49,671 Engines and equipment forUp to 8 Powered Rescue Teams

Northumberland FRS £36,104 Equipment and training for3 Powered Rescue Teams

Wales Joint FRS 2 £170,107.94 Equipment and training for13 x Powered Rescue Teams

Essex County FRS £47,152 Equipment and training for1 x Powered Rescue Teams

Merseyside FRS £63,204.00 Equipment and training for2 x Powered Rescue Teams

Suffolk FRS £42,863.00 Equipment and Training1 x Powered Rescue Teams

West Sussex FRS £26,700 Training & Equipment for 1 x Powered Rescue Teams.

Derbyshire FRS £1,025 Additional equipment for1 x Powered Rescue Teams

Lincolnshire Joint services £250,000.00 Equipment and training for10 x Powered Rescue Teams

Published 7 March 2011