Using sandbags

1. Be prepared

There are a number of things you can do to ready yourself, your family and business for flooding before it happens.

  • Have adequate insurance cover and take photos of your valuables
  • Make sure you have all the information you need: keep an eye on the weather forecasts and sign up for flood warnings.
  • Keep useful phone numbers in a handy place, these can include:
  • Make a flood plan for your home or business
  • Make sure your emergency flood kit ‘grab bag’ is ready to go. For information about what to include in your grab bag, visit National Flood Forum: Emergency Flood Kit
  • Ensure you know how to turn off your gas, electricity and water supply.
  • If you’ve got flood protection products that don’t function automatically, make sure they’re ready to be put in place.
  • Make sure you know where to find sandbags and how to use them.

2. How to stay safe


  • Six inches of fast flowing water can knock you over and two feet of water can float your car.
  • Flooding can cause manhole covers to come off, leaving hidden dangers.
  • Don't: walk or drive through flood water, let children play in flood water, or walk on flood defences or riverbanks.
  • When water levels are high be aware that bridges may be dangerous to walk or drive over.
  • Culverts are dangerous when flooded.
  • Look out for other hazards such as fallen power lines and trees.
  • Wash your hands if you touch floodwater.

If you're about to be flooded

  • If you have a flood plan, put it into action.
  • Alert neighbours, especially if they are elderly or less mobile.
  • Block doors and air vents with plastic sheets and sandbags.
  • Fit any flood protection you might have.
  • Move electrical and valuable items to a higher level.
  • Bring pets inside.
  • Turn off gas, electricity and water supplies - store some drinking water.
  • Stay informed: listen to the local radio or contact the Environment Agency's Floodline.

If your property floods

  • Turn off gas, electricity and water at the mains.
  • Do not touch sources of electricity when standing in flood water.
  • Stay in your home if you can - move upstairs unless it is unsafe to do so.
  • If you decide to leave, try to stay with friends or family.
  • In extreme situations, district councils set up rest centres, rescue teams will be in touch with those affected. Make arrangements for your pets as rest centres usually only allow them for a short time.
  • Put safety first and heed advice from the police and the emergency services.

More information, is available in the National Flood Forum's 'Ready for Flooding' guide.

3. Who to contact

Although it is your responsibility to protect your property against flooding, public services in Buckinghamshire will try to help as much as possible.

Who to contact in the event of flooding.

Property owners are responsible for protecting their property against flood risk. Sometimes, weather conditions are such that natural drainage must be left to act. However, our strategic flood management team has a responsibility for investigating flood incidents that meet certain thresholds.

For further information, email floodmanagement@buckinghamshire.gov.uk.


4. Using sandbags

Sandbags are useful for directing or restricting the flow of water. You can buy sandbags from most DIY stores, though they do have some downsides. The Environment Agency lists the following as potential issues with sandbags:

  • they are heavy, and so can be difficult to handle
  • when they come into contact with floodwater they retain sewage
  • the bag material used is biodegradable and will disintegrate if left in contact with water for long periods of time

View more information about how to use sandbags when preparing for a flood.

5. After a flood


Stay safe

  • Find out if it is safe to return to your property.
  • There may be hidden dangers in the flood water like sharp objects, raised manhole covers and pollution.
  • Don't turn on your gas or electricity until systems have been checked by suppliers.
  • If your electricity supply is not already switched off at the mains, get a qualified person to do this. 
  • Throw away food that has been in contact with flood water.

Contact your insurer

  • Ring your insurance company as soon as possible.
  • In almost all cases the insurance company will send a loss adjuster. They will confirm what is covered by your policy. Ask if they will help pay for repairs that will reduce flood damage and reduce costs if it happens again.
  • Don't throw anything away until your insurers have inspected them.
  • If you do not have insurance, your local council should be able to provide information on grants or charities that may be able to help you.
  • The Association of British Insurers has a guide on what to do.

Clearing up 

  • Public Health England have guidelines about cleaning after a flood.
  • Flood water can contain sewage, chemicals and animal waste. 
  • If you have gas or oil central heating and it has been checked by an engineer, turn it on. Keep the thermostat between 20-22 degrees for steady drying.
  • You can get water out of your property using a pump and generator. Position the generator outside in the open air as generators produce carbon monoxide fumes which can kill.
  • You can clean and disinfect your property using ordinary household products.
  • Do not use high-pressure hoses as they blast contaminated matter into the air.
  • If using dehumidifiers, close external doors and windows.
  • Skips and extra rubbish collections may be provided for items that your insurance company has agreed you can throw away.
  • Get advice on repair work only from registered tradesmen.

Get support

  • Being flooded is stressful and traumatic; Public Health England has more information about the mental health impact.
  • Contact the National Flood Forum for advice and support from those who have suffered flooding.

6. Flood Action Groups

Flood Action Groups are composed of local residents and are a representative voice for their community on flood-related issues working with local authorities and agencies to find ways to help reduce flood risk.

They have already proved very effective in other towns and villages across England and Wales in finding ways to reduce flood risk and have become an essential voice representing local people.

By working with organisations such as local authorities, the Environment Agency and water companies, the Groups have been successful in making a difference to flood risk and the impact of flooding on local communities. 

They can do things like:

  • Address concerns over a number of issues, for example highways infrastructure they feel is not working properly.
  • Have their finger on the pulse about plans for the community, for example potential works.
  • Be aware of what’s happening with regard to routine maintenance to help reduce flooding.
  • Be involved in discussions on the future of flood risk in their town or village.
  • Organise ‘flood watchers’ around the town.
  • Create wider awareness of the town’s flood risk.
  • Help reduce the impact on the community should a flood event occur.

Download a case study about the Flood Action Group that has been set up in Buckingham below.

How to set up your own Flood Action Group

There is no set format for Flood Action Groups, though typically they consist of a small core group of around ten people who meet on a regular basis.

They set up regular meeting with relevant agencies such as the Environment Agency, the local councils and water companies, to discuss issues they have identified locally and to come up with solutions together.

The National Flood Forum, a charity, has been involved with setting up multiple such groups around England and Wales, and provides detailed guidance on how to set up a Flood Action Group.

Communities are encouraged to contact the National Flood Forum for advice on starting up a Flood Action Group, and also to become affiliated to NFF.

As a council, we are also happy to provide advice and participate in multi-agency meetings. In Buckinghamshire, we are aware of the existence of flood groups in the following communities: The Willows Estate in Aylesbury, Buckingham, Chesham and the Hughenden Valley

Creating a community flood plan

Find out more about how to write and enact a community flood plan.


8. Working with your community

Community-level engagement is vital for many reasons.

Local communities experience flooding first-hand. Because of this they often have a good understanding of where the most affected areas are.

While individuals have a responsibility to protect themselves, it is more efficient for them to group together.

Given the limited manpower and financial resources available to local authorities, communities can play an essential role in:

  • helping to target action where it is most needed
  • setting up early warning systems and monitoring
  • implementing some solutions such as watercourse maintenance

Setting up a community flood plan

Information is available on the gov.uk website if you are interested in helping to flood-proof your community.

Protect yourself from future flooding
Community flood plan template

Individual residents and businesses can also create flood plans.

Step 1: Make some contacts

Contact your local authority or parish council to get support for your proposed community flood warden scheme and learn about what community plans (if any) are in place already. Information may also be available from the Environment Agency.

Step 2: Advertise for Flood Wardens

Organise and advertise a meeting asking for volunteer flood wardens. The initial meeting should discuss what you want to achieve and how you are going to do it. It should also involve electing a Chairperson/Secretary who will take minutes and distribute them to the members.

Step 3: Finalise ideas

Formalise your aims and objectives by developing a Community Flood Plan. You can get help from your:

  • local Environment Agency flood incident management team
  • parish council
  • local authority

The flood plan should contain all the information that you will need before, during, and after a flooding event. A plan includes sections such as: actions for responding organisations; flood warden roles; local volunteer registers; flood risk areas; communication arrangements; useful contacts and others.

Step 4: Promotion

Once your community flood plan is ready, promote it and put into action the planned pre-flood activities. You could produce a local leaflet to highlight who you are what you do, and any planned flood awareness/ activity days you have planned.

Step 5: Community engagement

You may also want to give advice and information to neighbours and the wider community. Encourage local residents to find out if they can get free flood warnings from the Environment Agency. If they can, sign up to Floodline Warnings Direct. Residents can also:

  • produce their own flood kit - for example, a kit containing some bottled water, torch, batteries, warm clothes, and so on
  • provide advice on how to minimise the effects of flooding
  • identify vulnerable residents who may need help
  • check watercourses for blockages for example

Step 6: Assist the community in a flood

During a flood event, a community flood warden will assist the community. This may include, advising local residents what to do, helping the most vulnerable, or assisting at reception centres.

You should never enter floodwater and put yourself at risk!

Step 7: After a flood liaise with the community

Flood wardens can liaise between the local residents and the Environment Agency/ local authority.

They can also let people know what to do during clear up, and record the local flood extent and depth. This helps in the prediction of further floods.

Step 8: Review

Review your community flood plan annually and continue to raise awareness in flood risk areas.