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Lessons from the Carlisle floods in 2015 may need to be reinforced for a generation or more.

The flooding in Carlisle in December 2015 after Storm Desmond affected many businesses in the town. The Tesco superstore was no exception. Goods floated down the shopping isles and closed the store. As soon as the water had receded sufficiently, the company constructed a temporary store in the car park while the main store could be fully refurbished. The new build took only a few days and once stocked provided the local customers with a prompt return to normality. Videos of the customer response and the temporary build can be found here and here. The experience should be invaluable in learning how to respond positively to other such disasters. This can only enhance resilience to future incidents.

The learning of lessons can, however, be sometimes short lived and hence resilience diminished. As interesting piece of research in Nature Communications (No 10, Article 1105, March 2019) entitled “˜How long do floods throughout the millennium remain in the collective memory’ indicates that memories of natural disasters do not last more than about a generation (roughly 25 years). The study of the Vltava river in central Europe showed that major floods resulted in settlements along the river progressively moving to higher ground – but only for about a generation. Thereafter, survivors began to move back downhill only to experience the next extreme flood. In other words, memory is relatively short lived in spite of detailed records being kept and handed down. The authors of the study concluded that the best way to remind populations is through storytelling from eye-witness accounts but this needs to be recorded and reinforced. “˜Historical memory is not sufficient to protect human settlements from the consequences of rare catastrophic floods.’

A separate study in Japan based on tsunami events found that ‘tsunami stones’ (some over 600 years old) dot the coast marking where it is safe during tsunamis. The stones carry inscriptions warning future generations not to build closer to shore. The authors found that the stones were increasingly ignored as time passed, allowing entire cities to emerge next to them only to be destroyed by the next tsunami. They concluded that it took about three generations for people to forget.

The relative short-termism of traumas means that those who have not experienced the hardships or heard about them first-hand may be destined to relive the experiences. Let’s hope that this is not the case in Carlisle.  


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