Tag Archives: gas

Floods and gas explosions in Norfolk

A wonderfully alarmist title, that!  In September, I was on holiday in Norfolk (as well as staying with friends and foraging earlier – I had a real blast).  I was in a rented holiday cottage near Bacton Gas Terminal, and it was quite an eye-opener.

I saw at least half a dozen different sorts of sea defences – some designed to stop waves dead on, some designed to make them lose their power, and a couple of different types of gates too. One of the shore-side sets looked like it might have been designed to stop, or at least delay, a terrorist attack on the Terminal from small boats, but when I asked around, I was assured not. I’ll reserve judgement until I see similar defences in less security-conscious environments, however, because I certainly saw a lot of security patrols round and about, who were examining passers-by very carefully indeed. They’ve been on the go since at least 2007, so no big secret there, by the way.

The Gas Terminal is an amazing thing. It extends to each side of the local main road, but the fences and the security are things of beauty. I like panoramas of bright city lights at night (except for the effects of light pollution on astronomical studies) and the Terminal certainly qualifies as a substitute for a city in that respect.

It has its problems – there was a fire in 2011, for which Shell was fined a total of £1.5 million for neglecting basic maintenance, reported in the Daily Telegraph at the time. And at the same time, one of the oil companies that use the site was warned about inadequate moorings of one of it’s floating oil platforms. .

What really surprised me, though, was the list of precautions at the holiday cottage, which I’ve listed below. We were right opposite two fairly pleasant caravan sites, and they were only two fields away from the Terminal.

Emergency Instructions to be followed on hearing the Bacton Gas Terminal Complex Red Alert Alarm


  • stay calm
  • DO NOT EVACUATE UNLESS ADVISED You may place yourself in greater danger (this will normally be done by the Police).
  • make sure neighbours are aware and go indoors.
  • close external doors and windows and turn off ventilation systems to keep out any gas.


  • extinguish all naked flames if possible.
  • stay in a room facing away from the terminal complex, preferably downstairs.
  • pull curtains closed and stay as far away from the windows as possible.


  • children at school will be properly cared for by their teachers, who will know what to do.
  • tune in to BBC Radio Norfolk FM 95.1, 95.6 or 104.4 or Heart Radio on FM 102.4
  • do not use mobile phones- except in an emergency – until the ALL CLEAR is given. This will ensure lines are free for the emergency services.

Seeing that list, I was really glad I was in a sturdy cottage, not a flimsy caravan. We had no trouble, of course, but it’s a surprisingly long list.  And to be honest, the phrasing of the advice not to evacuate could really really be improved, because as it reads right now,  the job of putting you in danger is to be done by the police.  Not what they intend!

The sea defences were really interesting too. Below is an ingenious gating system for the thigh-high sea wall thats on top of the promenade built along the actual sea wall, near Bacton Gas Terminal. It gives wheelchair access, dogs are allowed on it all year round, no one has to worry about actual gates to be closed properly, I imagine its a fun learning experience for the local 7 year olds on their scooters too.

Ramps at Bacton become a permanent flood gate
Ramps at Bacton become a permanent flood gate

There’s a handy little pdf from North Norfolk Council that illustrates and describes them all, or most of them. I didn’t see the reefs, but of course they’re not often on view.

Here are another couple of pictures of mine too. Below is the road to the sea at Sea Palling, complete with obscured face for anonymity’s sake. It’s close enough to the sea that you can just make out, at the summit of the hill, the words “Sea Pa … epende”. That’s the Sea Palling independent lifeboat station. And that’s a really big hill, specifically to act as a sea defence, completed in 1959 after the floods of 1953, when hundreds lost their lives in Eastern England, including 7 at Sea Palling.

Sea defence hill at Sea Palling, with floodgate on top
Sea defence hill at Sea Palling, with floodgate on top

But that hill, more than 20 feeet high – that hill has floodgates on top. You can’t see them too well in this photo, but their seating can just about be seen on the far right of the next photo, of the independent lifeboat station, facing the sea.  Those floodgates definitely show the scale of the potential problems.

Sea Palling Independent Lifeboat Station
Sea Palling Independent Lifeboat Station

It’s obvious, from what I saw, that the dangers are very real, and that any individual prepping has to take account of the large-scale emergencies that this area is subject to. Which means:

  • windup radios, or at least battery radios, are essential, to listen to those radio stations, whether that’s about weather or evacuation routes.
  • transport. If you live round here, or stay near here, I would say that personal transport is an absolute necessity.
  • water! When the power goes out, as it does because of flooding, water often follows.
  • emergency snacks too, that can be thrown into a rucksack and thrown into the car, or put on your bike if you’re on a bike.
  • a bug out plan. Evacuation plan, if you prefer, but between floods and gas escapes, you need to know how to get out of the area – which roads might be flooded? What does natural gas do, does it follow the contours of the land when it escapes, or does it drift into the sky? That will affect your evacuation route.
  • as a bit of a postscript, you should know what to do if you have a domestic gas leak.  This link to British Gas will tell you.  For the record, it’s 0800 111 999.

Still a great experience, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Volcanic Eruptions

What? I can hear … I thought this blog was about UK preparedness? Well, it is: this is a Cabinet Office report on what civil emergencies we could face here in the UK, and some items on the list might make you do a double-take. The highest priority is a pandemic, followed by coastal flooding and catastrophic terrorist attacks. And the fourth on the list is “Severe effusive (gas-rich) volcanic eruptions abroad”, which might be a bit of a surprise. It certainly was to me. Its on page 12 of the pdf that’s linked to above.

We had the ash eruption from Iceland way in 2010, and that was inconvenient for fliers. But scientific experts are saying that gas eruptions are somewhat more likely now, and more dangerous in themselves as well, from the sound of it. And possible preparations for the two types of explosions don’t entirely overlap.

Because of where we sit on the globe geographically, Iceland contains most of the volcanoes which are the main issue for us in relation to ash – but a big enough one even in the Far East still may have the ability to affect us later in the year, and in the year after, because of gases. The report quotes mortality in England during 1783-84, when Grimsvotn Volcano exploded in Iceland: mortality that summer was up 10-20% in England, as well as the rest of Western Europe. Thats really high, and worth a few precautions.


No one in the UK lives within a blast or lava flow area, so at least we’ve got that on our side! So prepping is mostly about ash, with awareness of gas. I won’t cover the standard prepper-type things, like food, water, emergency radio, though there are a few specific reasons related to vulcanism to stock them.

To state it plainly: these aren’t needed except in extreme eruptions, when I should think there will be broadcasts by the mainstream media. But I like to have as much advance knowledge about this sort of thing as possible: thats why I’m a prepper, after all. The only thing I’ve bought in extra, however, is four packs of clingfilm: clingfilm is the item of choice to keep our electrics and electronics safe from ash. Its a simple prep, easy to store, doesn’t decay, doesn’t cost much, why not get it in just for peace of mind? Then, if something does happen, the stuff in the shops will be available to people who don’t already know about prepping …

So, ash might fall on the UK from volcanoes which are comparatively nearby – Iceland, Italy – and it will probably do little more than interrupt aviation once again, as in 2010. That can’t be absolutely guaranteed, of course – maybe several volcanoes might go off at once, for instance? Just in case, therefore, the last half of this blog post is a summary of the precautions advised by the IVHHN, the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network. And I’m making sure my clingfilm is available to me!

But what about gas, which is what the Civil Emergencies Register refers to? There are two effects of the gas in volcanic eruptions: one is strictly localised, and has happened several times in Iceland recently, when villages downwind of an erupting volcano are evacuated, because of the toxic gases present in sufficient quantities to be dangerous to survival. That’s important for the Icelanders, but not going to affect us here in the UK.

The other effect of gas is continent-wide, and sometimes global: this is when toxic gases such as sulphur dioxide, chlorine and fluorine are released in such quantities that crop yields are very badly affected – not a nuclear winter caused by dust in the atmosphere, but a volcanic winter/volcanic acid rain caused by toxic gases (and maybe by dust as well, who knows?).

This is explored by the US Geological Survey.  The pithy little summary I’m quoting in this article is about one-third of the way down the page:

“The volcanic gases that pose the greatest potential hazard to people, animals, agriculture, and property are sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen fluride. Locally, sulfur dioxide gas can lead to acid rain and air pollution downwind from a volcano. Globally, large explosive eruptions that inject a tremendous volume of sulfur aerosols into the stratosphere can lead to lower surface temperatures and promote depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer.”

I don’t see what we as individuals – or even our governments – can do about this global risk, apart from stocking up food, and the means to purify water and so on. It’s the scale of the potential event that makes me think that. The 1783-84 event described above probably wouldn’t cause the same level of deaths today, but it would cause some deaths. Bigger events still wouldn’t be planet-killers, and they wouldn’t kill off every human, but they would cause disruption and fatalities on a planetary scale. It’s much safer for you and your loved ones if you have some stocks in to see you through the first months of the troubles that would follow this sort of disaster.

Below, in any case, is the list of precautions for the much less serious issue of ash fall.

Stocking Up

Dust masks and eye protection.

Cling film, to keep ash out of electronics.

Chlorine tablets for use with tap water.

Classic preps: light, fuel, warmth, medication, first aid, cleaning supplies, money, a week’s drinking water and non-perishable food.

Communications: if you cover your equipment with clingfilm, of course, you won’t be able to use it … so you need at least one backup to get information. That might be a cheap radio that you regard as disposable, and you might experiment with sealing it inside a bag made of heavy plastic, see if that safeguards it. You still need two, though: one to store away long term, one for use during the emergency.

Preparing for ashfall

Close all doors and windows. Place damp towels at drafty places, tape drafty windows.

If you collect rainwater, disconnect the collection devices, cover any tanks.

Wrap all electronics in clingfilm, don’t uncover till totally ash free. Televisions, computers, cameras – volcanic ash is crystalline in structure, will scratch and abrade when removed by wiping or brushing.

Ensure livestock have clean food and water, and are protected.

Some bodies advise disconnecting drainpipes from gutters, so that the drains aren’t clogged … thats a big undertaking. I don’t think I’d do it if it wasn’t advised at the time, quite frankly, messing with the integrity of your guttering un-necessarily sounds like asking for trouble.

When ashfall starts

Don’t panic – get indoors as soon as you can, and stay indoors.

If you get warning, and you’re away from home, go home.

If outdoors, cover nose and mouth with fabric, get inside.

If you’re away from home but indoors when it starts, stay where you are till it stops.

Don’t make non-emergency calls, the phones will be overrun.

Don’t wear contact lenses.

Keep all windows and doors closed whenever possible. Keep everyone, and all animals, inside. Be safe.



If you’ve protected your electrics and electronics with clingfilm, make sure you can access a radio or other device enough to hear broadcast safety news.

Ash will have to be cleared from patios, paths, etc, but it seems that the main advice for a minimal ash fall will be to let it compost itself into the soil: volcanoes create very fertile soil after a while. But the mineral composition of each ash fall is distinctive, so follow the advice given out at the time.

Try to keep the ash out of your house: take off outside shoes at the door, and put them in plastic bags.

Water Supplies

If there’s ash in your water, let it settle and then filter the water that seems clear, through anything you have to hand – a pair of tights, anything.

Water contaminated by ash will usually become unpalatable before it becomes a health risk – the risk of toxicity is low, but chlorination is apparently inhibited in surface-collected water. And that means that microbes that usually get killed off by the water treatment in this country aren’t killed off. If in doubt, use chlorine tablets after filtering.

If there’s a lot of ash in the water supply, don’t use your dishwasher or washing machine, they’ll be damaged.

There may be water shortages, because of water demand for cleanup.


Animals can be endangered by eating grass and plants covered in ash containing hydrofluoric acid. Make sure your animals don’t have access to plants they normally eat until its safe.

If you have pets that you let go outside, brush them thoroughly before you allow them back in the house.


And here are some of the websites I’ve used in compiling this.

The International Volcanic Health Hazard Network

This is a prime source. It has several pamphlets and posters about preparation and hazards available.

The International Airways Volcano Watch

The London branch is run by the Met Office. Its a United Nations organisation, under the umbrella of the International Civil Aviation Authority, from what I can tell, and as far as I’m concerned, any organisation with that pedigree is drowning in red tape; even though the information is accurate, it may be slow to be updated.

The British Geological Survey, earth hazards section.

The Global Volcanism Program at the Smithsonian

The Icelandic Met Office

In English! And its an amazing site. Dig deep enough, and you’ll find some active webcams from the Meteorological Service.