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.

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