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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.

Sign up for Flood Alerts and Warnings

People in Orkney can sign up to Floodline, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency's (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.

SEPA and the Council have also introduced localised Coastal Flood Warnings for Orkney.

These will be issued when flooding is expected in areas exposed 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, Stronsay, Sanday and Westray.

People who regularly use the Churchill Barriers can also sign up for a Coastal Flood Warning.

If you would like to receive Coastal Flood Warnings for your area, you can sign up via SEPA’s website (follow the link to the 'Floodline Service' under the Related Sites section at the bottom of this page) 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.

Flood Warnings will be issued up to 48 hours in advance of a predicted coastal flooding, giving you extra time to prepare and take action.

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

Kirkwall Harbour flood prevention scheme

The Kirkwall Harbour flood prevention scheme is designed to protect low lying parts of central Kirkwall against flooding from the sea.

The stone wall along the harbour front is augmented with flood gates when forecasts predict there a flooding risk, creating a 1.1m high uninterrupted barrier around half-a-mile in length between Ayre Mills and St Catherine’s Place roundabout.

When the flood gates are in place, there will be an impact on access to Kirkwall Pier and the wider harbour area. It will also affect drivers, who will be unable to move vehicles in and out of the Waterfront West-Shapinsay Slip car park.

Together with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) we will endeavour to give people plenty of advance warning that the flood gates are likely to be deployed.

If you live and work in Kirkwall, we would encourage you to sign up for SEPA’s new Coastal Flood Warning service for Kirkwall. This aims to provide advanced warning when coastal flooding is likely to occur (see section above on how to sign up for flood warnings for Kirkwall and other areas of Orkney).

In addition, the Council will provide updates on the OIC_Roads Twitter feed when the flood defences are – or are likely to be – deployed. The OIC_Roads Twitter feed also provides updates when the Churchill Barriers are closed, or when closure of the barriers is under consideration.

The OIC_Roads Twitter feed is available here. You do not need to be a Twitter user. Simply follow the link to find updates.

Before a Flood

No one can stop flooding altogether, but you can be prepared if you live or work in a flood risk area. Be prepared in advance if you know that your property is in a location which could be threatened by flooding. Property owners are responsible for protecting their own property against flooding – it is not the responsibility of Orkney Islands Council.

Orkney Islands Council can provide information and advice on practical steps that you can take to prepare your property against flooding and help reduce the damage caused by flooding. Please read the information below.

SEPA 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.

The Scottish Flood Forum also offer excellent advice on flood preparedness including insurance, property level protection along with further advice on what to do during a flood and recovery following flooding.

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 Related Sites section.

Orkney Islands Council's role in a flooding event

Orkney Islands 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..

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

This information 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. Orkney Islands Council cannot be held responsible for any third parties referred to in this information.

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.

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. Unplug all electrical items and store upstairs or high up.

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. 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. Orkney Islands Council does not provide a sandbag service to the public. If you have not purchased sandbags and sand 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.

Be Aware

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

How to Fill and Position Sandbags

Flood Diagram 1 - Positioning 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.

Pyramid Placement Method

Flood Diagram 2 - Pyramid Placement

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.


Sandbags are popular but they have disadvantages:

Flood boards can avoid some of these drawbacks.

Additional Waterproofing

Flood Diagram 3 - Additional Waterproofing

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

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.

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

It is a method you need to consider and prepare for well ahead of any potential flooding alert.


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 raise 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.

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 which will make the process of clearing up and sorting everything out after the floodwaters go a bit easier.

Following a Flood

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

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.

Gardens and Play Areas

If Your Drinking Water Becomes Contaminated

Related Sites

School Place, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1NY

Telephone: 01856 873535

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