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Flooding Information

If you need to be evacuated because of severe flooding or damage, contact the Police or other Emergency Services by dialling 999.

More detailed advice for during a flood is below.

Before a flood | During a floodAfter a flood

Before a flood

No one can stop flooding altogether - but you can be prepared if you live or work in a flood risk area or if your property is prone to flooding.

Property owners are responsible for protecting their own property against flooding – it is not the responsibility of Orkney Islands Council.

The Council’s response in a major severe weather incident is focused on direct support to the emergency services and the most vulnerable members of the community identified by health and care services and partner agencies.

The Scottish Flood Forum offer excellent advice on flood preparedness including insurance, property level protection and what to do during a flood and recovery following flooding. The Council's Engineering team work closely with The Scottish Flood Forum and can help further explain the information on this page.

SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) also has information that will help you before, during and after a flood. Please visit their website, available from Related Sites at the bottom of this page, and follow the links for flooding.

Please note, the information on this page is intended to offer only basic advice and does not constitute legal, expert or professional advice. Orkney Islands Council cannot accept any liability for actions arising from its use and cannot be held responsible for any third parties referred to in this information.

Steps you can take now

Plan ahead!

Key things to consider if you live or work in a flood risk area include:

      • Make sure you are insured - check with home contents and building insurers and seek their advice.
      • Know where to check latest news, weather reports and any flood warnings.
      • Make up a family flood plan and a flood kit, including a battery / wind up radio, torches, blankets, waterproof clothing, plastic gloves, first aid kit, camera, and any other personal documents or valuable possessions.
      • Prepare children’s essentials and safely store a good supply of family medication.
      • Be neighbourly - check that any vulnerable neighbours, friends and family are well prepared too.
      • Think about sentimental items which might be best stored now in a safe high place or upstairs.
      • Check out the advice on this page, consider if any measures are appropriate for your property and you, and stock up on the necessary supplies.

Visit for more tips and advice on being ready for all kinds of emergencies.

Sign up for SEPA flood alerts and warnings

People in Orkney can sign up to Floodline, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA’s) flood warning service, to receive Flood Alerts and Flood Warnings direct to their mobile phone.

A Flood Alert gives you notification when flooding is possible in Orkney. Flood Warnings are issued up to 48 hours in advance of a predicted coastal flooding, giving you extra time to prepare and take action.

In addition, SEPA has localised Coastal Flood Warnings for Orkney issued when flooding is expected in areas exposed or prone to coastal flooding. The areas are Kirkwall, Burray and Ayre of Cara, Stromness, Longhope and Hoy, St Mary’s and Graemeshall, St Margaret’s Hope, Scapa bay, Stronsay, Sanday and Westray, and the Churchill Barriers.

Sign up to receive receive Coastal Flood Warnings for your area, via SEPA’s website - simply follow the link to the 'Floodline Service' - or phone Floodline on 0345 988 1188. You can also sign up to more than one Flood Warning area (for example, Kirkwall and the Churchill Barriers), but will need to phone Floodline to do this.

Maps showing the areas covered by Flood Warnings are available from the ‘Related Sites’ section at the foot of this page.

Know how to turn off essential services

Turn off electricity and water supplies at the mains – find out now if you don’t know where they are. Cookers, washing machines, dishwasher etc. connected by rigid pipes to gas and water supplies should be disconnected. This will prevent damage to the pipes if they move or float during the flood. 

Scottish Water, who are responsible for sewers, can be contacted through their Customer Service on 0845 601 8855 or if you require Emergency Information 0845 600 8855. They can also be contacted by e-mail at Scottish Water Customer Services. For further information visit Scottish Water website, within the Related Sites section.

During a Flood

During a flood, there are still things you can do to try keep yourself and you family safe and minimise the damage to your property to make the process of clearing up and sorting everything out after the floodwaters go a bit easier.

      • Keep listening to your local radio for updates.
      • If you need to be evacuated because of severe flooding or damage, contact the Police or other Emergency Services by dialling 999.
      • If flooding traps you, stay by a window and try to attract attention.
      • Consider your neighbours, particularly older or vulnerable people.
      • Assume that floodwater contains sewage and adopt good hygiene practice, avoid unnecessary contact with floodwater water.
      • Ensure that you wear plastic/rubber gloves when handling items affected by floodwater.
      • When driving, obey road closures or advisory notices that are put out for your safety and the safety of others
      • If driving in a flooded area, drive slowly to avoid making waves which may put rescue workers in danger and cause more damage to property.
      • Don’t allow children to play in floodwater areas. Wash children’s hands frequently.
      • Avoid flowing water, only 6 inches deep can sweep adults off their feet.
      • Turn off electricity/water/gas supplies at the mains.
      • Don’t use electrical circuits or equipment exposed to floodwater until checked by a qualified electrician.
      • Don’t use food that has been in contact with floodwater.
      • Don’t use contaminated water to drink, wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash or prepare food.
      • Be aware that flooding may not have reached its peak, or may be predicted to return.
      • Respond to the instructions from Police Officers and other Emergency Services - they have your safety in mind.
      • Manhole covers may have come off and there may be other hazards you can’t see.
      • Never try to swim through fast flowing water - you may get swept away or be struck by an object in the water.
      • Co-operate with emergency services and local authorities - you may be evacuated to a rest centre.
      • Do as much as you can in daylight. Doing anything in the dark will be a lot harder, especially if the electricity fails.
      • If you do have to be evacuated from your property because of flooding, take any prescribed medication for you and your family and make sure your premises are secure and don’t leave windows open in the hope it will help to dry out the property.
      • Unplug all electrical items and store upstairs or high up.

Simple Measures

Here are some simple measures you can take to help reduce the damage of floodwater to your home and its contents. These steps require some pre-planning but will help you prepare for a flood. It is worth making sure you have a stock of useful materials such as plywood, plastic sheeting, sandbags (unfilled), sand, nails, a hammer, shovel, bricks, blocks of wood and a saw.

Minimising Floodwater Entry and Damage

You can reduce the amount of water entering your property by using sandbags, plywood or metal sheeting placed on the outside of doors, window frames and airbricks. Even if you cannot create a complete seal, this will reduce the amount of floodwater entering. If you have silicone sealant to hand this will help to make doors and windows more resistant to floodwater. Open the door or window and place the sealant around the frame, then close and lock the door until the flood has passed. Do not permanently seal any airbricks, wall vents, or air intakes/vents for appliances such as boilers. These will need to be re-opened as soon as possible after the flood and permanently blocking them may be hazardous.

Floodwater can enter through drains, toilets and other outlets such as washing machines. The simplest way to prevent this is by putting plugs into sinks and baths and weighing them down with a sandbag or other heavy object. Outlets from washing machines and dishwashers should be disconnected. Place a sandbag in the toilet bowl and block the washing machine drain with a suitable plug (e.g. cloth or towel) to prevent backflow. Floodwater can contaminate foodstuffs and chemicals such as paints, garden pesticides and household cleaning products. Similarly they may spill or leak into the floodwater causing additional cleaning-up problems. Store any materials like this in the upper part of your home, garage or garden shed.

Furniture and Household Appliances

Move as much furniture and electrical items as you can upstairs. If you have time, roll up carpets and rugs and put them upstairs (or in a safe place). Empty furniture that cannot be moved and carry the contents upstairs. See if you can raise the item above floor level using bricks or blocks – this may be particularly helpful for larger appliances such as fridge-freezers. Move furniture away from walls as this helps with drying the property later. Leave internal doors in the open position and if time allows, remove them and store them upstairs. Remove cabinet drawers. If items of furniture cannot be moved, weigh them down with a heavy object or stack and tie them together. If the flood is severe this will stop furniture floating around and causing damage such as broken windows. If there is no time to remove curtains, hang them up over the curtain rods so that they are kept above the floodwater.

Personal Items

You cannot replace sentimental items. If a flood is on the way, you may forget to move them to a safe place. So think about keeping them upstairs or somewhere high up in your property on a permanent basis. Personal documents, insurance and bank details and essential contact telephone numbers should be collected and kept in polythene bags. Think about storing them NOW in a place safe from floodwater.
Remember that sentimental items can include favourite toys or family photographs, not just valuable items like jewellery.

Outside the Home

If possible move anything kept outside and not fixed to the ground to a safer location, eg dustbins, garden chemicals, car oils which you keep in the garage or shed. Floodwater may get into the garage and damage your car. Move it to higher ground if safe to do so. Weigh down any manhole covers on the property with sandbags or a heavy object. If they lift up during a flood, the drain may be left open which will create a hazard. Close off the flow valves on propane tanks, oil drums or other fuel containers that supply the home through pipes and fittings. Work with your neighbours to make your flood protection measures more effective. This is particularly important if your home is part of a terrace or is semidetached as water can come through adjoining walls.


Sandbags are one of the most well known devices for keeping floodwater out of your property.

However, sandbags can be heavy and, when used alone, remain somewhat permeable. Reliance upon sandbags is alone is therefore discouraged it is recommended this be regarded as an emergency or ‘last resort’ measure.

Orkney Islands Council does not have a duty to make sandbags available, however, when sufficient notice of coastal flooding is provided and adequate resource is available to deploy, a limited supply are sometimes made available for collection and use at prominent locations in settlements predicted to be affected by flooding. A supply being made available at times of flooding should not be relied upon and, if sandbags are a householders preferred defence, then it is recommended that a supply is purchased privately and filled ready for use.

Unfilled sandbags and a supply of sand can be purchased from some DIY stores and Builders merchants, but remember that if there is a flood in your area demand may exceed supply as people rush to buy them.

An alternative to traditional sandbags which which can be easier and cleaner to store and deploy are synthetic sandbags. These are generally lighter and in some cases may be reused but care should be taken when purchasing to ensure they are deployed and activated according to instructions. Particular care should be taken when purchasing as not all synthetic sandbag types are suitable for use with sea water.

If you do plan to use sandbags to defend your property but have not purchased sandbags and fill in advance, you can use alternatives such as pillow cases or refuse sacks and fill them with garden soil. Remember that they can get heavy quickly, so do not overfill, or fill them too far away from where you want to position them.

Further advice on the use of sandbags as part of the defence of a property or asset can be found elsewhere on this page.

Be Aware

Sand from sandbags discarded after or burst during the flood can block drains and cause further flooding.

How to use sandbags

How to Fill and Position Sandbags

Unless you have access to a sandbag filling machine, this is a two person job: one to hold the bag open and one to fill. Sand is abrasive – both people should wear protective gloves. Do not fill bags more than half full. It is not necessary to tie the end of the bag. Remove any debris from the area where the bags are to be placed. Place the half filled bags lengthways and parallel to the direction of the water flow. Tuck the opened end under the filled half of the bag and position it pointing into the water flow. Place bags in layers like a brick wall, make sure that in the next layer each bag overlaps the one below by half. Stamp bags firmly into place to eliminate gaps and create a tight seal.

Flood Diagram 1 - Positioning Sandbags

Pyramid Placement Method

If you need to create sandbag protection that is more than three layers high you will need to build in a pyramid style. For the structure to be stable, you should build the ‘sandbag wall’ three times as wide as you need it to be high. It will also be more effective if you alternate the layers lengthways and crosswise. Stamp each bag in place and tuck the loose end firmly under the filled portion of the bag.

Flood Diagram 2 - Pyramid Placement

Additional Waterproofing

Lay plastic sheeting across the side of the ‘sandbag wall’ that will face the floodwater. Weigh down with additional sandbags.

Flood Diagram 3 - Additional Waterproofing


Sandbags are popular but they have disadvantages:

      • During an emergency, sufficient quantities may be difficult to obtain.
      • They are time-consuming and require two people to fill.
      • They can be difficult to handle, particularly for the elderly or infirm.
      • When they come into contact with floodwater they tend to retain contaminants such as sewage.
      • Sacking material is biodegradable, and will disintegrate if left in place for long periods of time.

Flood boards can avoid some of these drawbacks.

How to Make and Use Flood Boards

Flood Diagram 4 - Hinged Panel Across Entrance

The most basic method is to construct a strong wooden or metal barrier that is secured flat against the wall or frame surrounding a door or window.

The pressure of floodwater itself will help seal the barrier. This can be enhanced by adding suitable material to make a seal between the wall and the board, for example a blanket or silicone type sealing compound. The efficiency of makeshift flood boards will depend on the strength of the walls and the durability of the fixings used to secure the wooden or metal panels.

Flood Diagram 5 - Sliding Panel Across EntranceFlood Diagram 6 - Gate Boarding

Purpose-made flood boards for doors, windows and air bricks will be more successful than sandbags for minimising floodwater entering a property. They are available commercially, but can be easily made by someone with DIY knowledge. In either case the product or materials will need to be purchased and installed in advance of a flood. Most commonly, this type of flood board will comprise a frame and board or panel. Retaining fixtures may need to be a permanent feature of the property, but the frame and gate can be removed and stored when not in use. If a flood is imminent, most can be installed in a matter of minutes.

Wrapping a Property

This is an advanced method of reducing the effects of floodwater by enclosing the bottom 600-900mm of a property in plastic sheeting. The process requires some DIY ability, plenty of suitable materials and enough time to construct the wrapping prior to the property being affected by flooding. It is a method you need to consider and prepare for well ahead of any potential flooding alert.

Flood Diagram 7 - Property Wrapped in PlasticFlood Diagram 8 - Side View


Do remember that in cases of very severe flooding (where the floodwater is more than one metre deep) keeping water out of your property can do more harm than good. Unless your building is specifically designed to withstand such stresses, the hydrostatic pressures involved with deep water can cause long-term structural damage and undermine the foundations of a property. Therefore you should not aim to prevent water from entering your property through any windows, doors, airbricks etc. more than one metre above the level of the ground surrounding the property. Also consider the type of soil on which your property is built. If it is porous and a water table lies immediately below the ground, it is very likely that in times of flooding water will rise up directly into your property through the ground floor. In these circumstances it is better to spend your time removing possessions to a safe place, rather than wrapping your home.

Home Improvements

If you are planning extensive improvements, either as DIY projects or using builders, think about some of the measures or steps you can include that will improve the resistance of your home to flood damage. In doing so, it may be helpful to find out the worst depth of flooding that your area or property has experienced in the last 100 years. This will give you a guide as to what sort of modifications may be appropriate for your property.

Walls, windows and floorings

Consider having extended concrete footings and a waterproof membrane laid in the foundations. Walls will be more water resistant if they have closed-cell cavity insulation at ground floor level and raised damp proof course. Apply waterproof sealant on exterior walls and use water-resistant paint for internal ground floor decoration.

Check walls for cracks and seal them. Gypsum-based plaster materials have no resilience to flooding. If you are replastering your home opt for more resistant, waterproof material. Paint skirting boards both sides before fitting to improve the seal. Tile and seal the ground floor of your property. Solid flooring is much more resistant to flood damage than floor boards. Choose rugs rather than fitted carpets on the ground floor. They can be rolled and stored, as opposed to fitted carpets that are difficult to move and will be completely ruined by floodwater. If you are replacing windows, choose frames made from man-made materials that will not be damaged by floodwater.


Laminated chipboard or MDF kitchens are nearly always destroyed by floodwater. They cannot be dried out and are impossible to disinfect. Although they may be more of an investment, solid wood or plastic kitchens are far more resilient to flooding.

Alternatively, opt for free standing kitchen furniture that can be moved or raised on bricks if necessary. Fit easily removable doors.

Drains, Sewers and Air Bricks

Buy air bricks with removable covers. Often forgotten, floodwater will get into your property through air bricks if they are not sealed. Always remove or open the cover after flooding to assist in drying out the property. Floodwater can back up in drains and enter your property through sinks, washing machines and toilets. It may contain sewage. To avoid this, install anti-backflow valves to drains and sewers.

Other Measures

If you are rewiring the ground floor of your house consult with your electrician and Building Standards at the Council about raising all wiring, switches, socket outlets, service panels and meters to a height of at least 900mm above ground floor level. Boilers, hot water cylinders, air-conditioning units and any other heating and ventilation main components should be situated on the first floor, or in the loft.

Following a Flood

Following a flood, there are some practical steps that should be taken to progress the recovery stage.

      • Don’t dispose of damaged goods until your insurers have had a chance to inspect them.
      • Don’t trust bogus traders. Always get a written quotation; your insurer will require one. Make sure that it is on letter headed paper with landline contact numbers and an address you know exists. Never pay in advance and only pay when the work is done to your satisfaction. Always get a receipt.
      • Don’t use electrical circuits or equipment exposed to floodwater until checked by a qualified electrician.
      • After flooding, do not reconnect gas, electricity or water services until systems are checked by an accredited engineer. Dry out appliances affected by floodwater and get a qualified electrician, CORGI registered gas engineer or plumber to inspect before use.
      • Remove any coverings on airbricks once the flood has passed, as ventilation is essential to dry wall cavities.

Any food businesses are required to ensure that prior to opening their business that the premises are thoroughly disinfected and that any food stuffs that are contaminated or likely to have been contaminated during the flood is properly disposed of. For further advice or assistance please contact the Environmental Health Division of Orkney Islands Council on 01856 873535.

Protecting Against Infection

The floodwater affecting your home or other property may be contaminated with sewage, animal waste and other contaminants. However, infection problems arising from floods in the UK are actually rare. Although harmful micro-organisms in flood water are very diluted and present a low risk, there are a few precautions to be aware of when dealing with flooding which should prevent unnecessary additional health problems. If you follow the basic advice below you should not experience any additional health problems.

      • Floodwater and sewage often leaves a muddy deposit however, experience from previous flooding and sewage contamination has shown that any risk to health is small (You do not need any booster immunisations or antibiotics);
      • Always wash your hands with soap and clean water after going to the toilet, before eating or preparing food, after being in contact with flood water, sewage or items that have been contaminated by these, or participating in flood clean up activities;
      • Don’t allow children to play in flood water areas and wash children’s hands frequently (always before meals). Wash floodwater-contaminated toys with hot water or disinfect before allowing them to be used;
      • Keep any open cuts or sores clean and prevent them from being exposed to flood water, wear waterproof plasters;
      • Harmful bacteria may be present in sewage and animal slurry, and this can pass into flood water, although there is likely to be substantial dilution. If anyone does develop a stomach upset following direct flooding or contact with sewage ensure they seek medical advice;
      • If the flood water contained oil, diesel etc this should in the main be removed with the floodwater and silt. Any remaining oil / diesel contamination, in areas that are accessible, can be removed by using a detergent solution and washing the surface down. In inaccessible areas such as under floor boards, it may present an odour problem but it is not necessarily a health hazard;
      • Further advice should be sought from the Environmental Health Division of Orkney Islands Council if the odour persists or if you are particularly concerned about it for other reasons;
      • Whilst in the property, floorboards, walls etc will continue to dry out, any loose material or dust resulting from this should be vacuumed up on a regular basis;
      • Very young children should avoid playing direct on timber floorboards or any damaged tiled floors if possible and be aware of the risk of injury from sharp edges on tiles or raised nails in the floorboards until these have been repaired;
      • Help for vulnerable and elderly people returning to their houses may be available from Orkney Islands Council;
      • Contact your doctor if you become ill after accidentally ingesting (swallowing) mud or contaminated water and tell them your house was flooded.

Gardens and Play Areas

      • Do not let young children play on affected grassed or paved areas until they have been cleaned down and restored to their normal condition;
      • Sunlight and soil help destroy harmful bacteria and any excess risk to health should disappear completely within a week or so. (The best way of protecting health is to always wash your hands before eating or preparing food);
      • Frozen food that has been at room temperature for a few hours should be discarded. Put contaminated flood damaged food in black plastic refuse sacks, seal and dispose of it in accordance with local advice. Check with insurers before disposal;
      • Don’t be tempted to try and salvage damaged food, including tins as they may be contaminated with sewage and chemicals left from the flood water.

If Your Drinking Water Becomes Contaminated

    • People whose drinking water comes through a mains supply should follow the advice of Scottish Water regarding the safety of their water supply. Water companies have a duty to take all necessary steps to protect public health. If a water treatment works becomes flooded alternative supplies are normally available but consumers may be advised to boil water before drinking or temporarily refrain from using water for domestic purposes;
    • If you notice a change in water quality, such as the water becomes discoloured or there is a change in taste or smell, or if you are unsure, ring Scottish Water on 08000778778. If in doubt, boil all water intended for drinking or use bottled water;
    • If you have been advised to boil your water, then boil all water for drinking, brushing teeth, washing food, and making ice;
    • Boiling water kills pathogenic bacteria, viruses and parasites that may be present in water. Bring water to the boil and then allow it to cool before drinking. It can be stored in a clean jug covered by a saucer in a cool place (preferably in the fridge). Ice should be made from water prepared for drinking;
    • Water from the hot tap is not suitable for drinking, Ensure the water taps are cleaned and disinfected before using them for the first time;
    • If there is a bottle-fed baby in the house, make sure their water is boiled and do not use bottled water unless it is recommended by a doctor or health visitor, as some bottled water is unsuitable for babies as it contains too many salts for their immature kidneys to manage;
    • If your water is from a private supply such as a well or spring, check that it has not been affected by floodwater. If a private well or spring has been covered by flood water, if the water changes colour or taste, or you believe the supply has been affected by the flood then boil (or otherwise treat) the water. Continue to boil the water until the supply has been tested and shown to be safe. For tests or further advice contact the Environmental Health Division of Orkney Islands Council on 01856873535.

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