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Environment and History

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Environment and History

The Rise of Blame and Recreancy in the United Kingdom: A Cultural, Political and Scientific Autopsy of the North Sea Flood of 1953

Alexander Hall

Environment and History 17 (2011): 379-408. doi: 10.3197/096734011X13077054787145

The North Sea Flood of January 1953 was the largest natural disaster in UK twentieth-century history, accounting directly for 307 deaths on land alone. The event highlighted huge inadequacies in sea defences and disaster policy within the UK and the resultant Waverley Report formed the basis of modern UK disaster policy. Despite the lack of central government involvement in rescue efforts and the apparent non-existence of co-ordinated rescue plans, little blame or accountability was assigned. Due to the relative infancy of the mass media and the post-war time frame the disaster is often overlooked by modern commentators from both academia and wider society.

Through analysis of personal accounts, regional and national press and parliamentary papers it is shown how the devastation on the East coast in January 1953 acted as a trigger event for subsequent large scale policy and social change. By comparing the events of 1953 with subsequent UK flood events it is shown how public expectations of disaster response in the UK have grown.

KEYWORDS: Blame; risk; UK flood events; disaster policy; social change; accountability; post-war; community of resilience; mass media

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