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Resilient Essential Services
Scottish Government's Strategic Framework 2020-2023

Guide 5: Building Resilience to Natural Hazards

Guide 5: Building Resilience to Natural Hazards




This guide seeks to:

  • Establish a common cross-sector approach to building resilience to Natural Hazards. The guide includes information on the key risks for Scotland and the impact that these may have on infrastructure, and provides information on the resources and support available to organisations.


This guide is aimed at:

  • Government - CI Resilience Policy leads in Scottish Government
  • Critical Infrastructure (CI) Operators - Strategic Management, Resilience and Business Continuity Management (BCM) leads
  • Responder Communities – Resilience Partnerships (RPs)



Infrastructure can be damaged or disrupted by a variety of natural hazards e.g. severe weather, flooding etc. and it is necessary that the operators of Scotland’s national and local infrastructure have adequately planned and prepared for such disruptions. A risk-based approach to such planning and preparation will help organisations understand their vulnerabilities to natural hazards and take appropriate measures.



Building the resilience of infrastructure to natural hazards should:

  • Be integrated into existing risk management and planning processes and decisions.
  • Be informed by a cycle of review and action, monitoring the effectiveness of decisions and ensuring continuous improvement.
  • Take account of any expert advice from recognised organisations both in planning for and dealing with the impacts resulting from the natural hazard.
  • Be developed in partnership with stakeholders/interested parties.
  • Be integrated at an appropriate scale – some infrastructure may require national scale planning and collaboration; others may be specific to a particular area or site.


Case Study

Severe Winter Weather

December 2015 through January 2016 saw spells of severe weather which resulted in challenging conditions for communities and emergency responders. December was exceptionally wet with frequent spells of heavy rain across much of Scotland. Many places in the west and north recorded 2 to 3 times the average rainfall, with a few places as much as 4 times. Inevitably there was extensive and major flooding in some parts of Scotland.

Storm “Desmond” brought strong winds on 4th/5th but it was the heavy rain which caused more problems in Scotland during Saturday 5th with flooding on many major road and rail routes in central and southern Scotland. Hundreds of properties were evacuated in Hawick due to concerns over the River Teviot.

The unsettled weather through to Christmas before Storm “Frank” brought more heavy rain and strong winds to many parts of the UK on 29th December. Scotland bore the brunt of the impacts of “Frank”, with hundreds of homes evacuated due to flooding in the Borders towns of Dumfries, Hawick and Peebles. The villages of Newton Stewart and Carsphairn were cut off, with fire crews rescuing people from properties by boat. In South Ayrshire 12 passengers had to be airlifted from a bus stuck in flood water. More than 100 people were evacuated from their homes in Ballater in Aberdeenshire. Elsewhere, thousands of homes experienced power cuts and fallen trees caused problems on the roads.

While there was only one named storm during January – Storm Gertrude on the 29th – the legacy of Storms Desmond and Frank meant there were ongoing sensitivities to rain in many parts, particularly in northeast Scotland, the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway as the unsettled weather continued. Impacts throughout the month included:

  • Many communities in northeast Scotland continued to be affected by flooding The evacuation of a sheltered housing complex in Aboyne with flooding also threatening an electricity substation in the town.
  • numerous road closures reported due to flooding particularly in the north east and in the south (D&G, Borders),
  • Rail lines blocked due to flood damage, including between Perth and Inverness and between Aberdeen and Dundee
  • Large scale power outages

A brief cold interlude brought snow and some disruption to Lothian and Borders on the 13th/14th with the A68 closed in Midlothian, the Borders and Northumberland due to three separate snow related incidents. Problems were also reported on the A7 and A1.

When storm “Gertrude” arrived on the 29th the winds associated with it closed the Tay and Forth Road Bridges during the morning, caused localised landslides, fallen trees, some structural damage, overturned HGVs on the M9, A96 and M74 and closed schools. It left around 8,500 properties without power across Scotland. In Shetland, gusts of wind over 100mph resulted in the closure of schools, some power outages, a van was blown off a road and a couple of caravans were overturned.

These severe weather events highlighted the interconnectivity between the critical infrastructure that underpins the essential services upon which daily life in modern Scotland relies. The major consequences faced by critical infrastructure Operators and Responders as a result of severe weather, demonstrates the importance of building resilience to mitigate future impact.




There have been many examples in recent years of natural hazards affecting the infrastructure of Scotland.

The prolonged snow and ice of the winter of 2010/2011 resulted in stranded motorists on blocked roads and issues with salt supplies and domestic fuel deliveries. Snow and ice also caused massive disruption to power supplies and mobile communications across southwest Scotland and Argyll and Bute in March 2013.

Severe gales have caused widespread damage, power outages and transport disruption (e.g. bridge closures) on a number of occasions in recent years, notably December 2012, January 2013 and December 2013.

There have been numerous flooding incidents impacting on transport links and property while, in December 2013, a coastal surge event put the oil refinery at Grangemouth at risk of flooding.

In December 2014, extensive lightning strikes caused major power and telecommunications outages in northwest Scotland.

Two volcanic eruptions in Iceland in April 2010 and May 2011 resulted in massive disruption to aviation services including key lifeline services to the Scottish islands and landslides have caused several periods of disruption to key road links such as the A83.

In recent years there have been great improvements in the partnership working between the various expert agencies and responders.

For example, the Met Office and SEPA, as the expert agencies in weather and flooding respectively, work together in the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service bringing together world class weather forecasting science and expert knowledge of Scotland’s rivers and coastline to provide accurate flood forecasts. Through a variety of products and a network of advisors, advice is disseminated up to five days in advance to key responders giving them time to prepare an appropriate response to help protect lives and property in Scotland.



This section highlights the natural hazard risks which are included in the UK National Risk Register and provides guidance on information available to infrastructure operators which aims to help militate against these risks. The risks are:



Scottish Context

Severe Weather

Storms and Gales
Low temperatures and heavy snow


Inland Flooding
Coastal Flooding




Explosive volcanic eruptions (Ash)
Effusive volcanic eruptions (Gases)

Severe Space Weather

Severe space weather

Geological Hazards


Severe Wildfires

Severe wildfires


Further information can be found in Cabinet Office documents:

National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies

Keeping the Country Running: Natural Hazards and Infrastructure


Severe Weather

Severe weather can cause significant disruption to infrastructure. Infrastructure operators should plan and prepare for the consequences of severe weather and ensure that they are aware of forecasts of severe weather.

The Met Office is the official source of meteorological information in the UK. Legislation supporting the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 states that Category 1 responders must have regard to the Met Office’s duty to warn the public and provide information and advice, if an emergency is likely to occur or has taken place.

There are three severe weather risks in the UK National Risk Register – H17 (Severe storms and gales), H18 (Low Temperatures and Heavy Snow) and H48 (Heatwave). The table below gives the risks and the description of the risk in the UK National Risk Register along with examples of the potential impacts on infrastructure (not exhaustive):



Reasonable Worst Case

Potential Impacts


storms and gales

Storm force winds affecting most of a region for at least 6 hours. Mean speeds in excess of 70mph with gusts in excess of 85mph.

  • Loss of power
  • Loss of telecoms
  • Blocked road and train routes and flight disruption

Low temperatures and heavy snow

Snow falling and lying over most of the area for at least one week and after an initial fall of snow there is further snow fall on and off for at least 7 days. Most lowland areas experience some falls in excess of 10cm, a depth of snow in excess of

30cm and a period of at least 7 consecutive days with daily mean temperature below -3ºC.

  • Loss of primary transport routes
  • Lack of staff availability
  • Impaired site access
  • Loss of power supplies
  • Loss of water supplies
  • Closure of local businesses
  • Increased demand for emergency power and water supplies
  • Increased demand for health and emergency services


Daily Maximum temperatures in excess of 28°C and minimum temperatures in excess of 15°C over most of the region for around 2 weeks at least, with 5 consecutive days where maximum temperatures exceed 32°C.

  • Increased demand for health and emergency services
  • Impacts on electricity generation and cooling systems
  • Possible poor air quality
  • Possible impact on transport infrastructure
  • Increased risk of wildfires


Of these, the “Severe Storms and Gales” and “Low Temperatures and Heavy Snow” are most applicable to Scotland. The “Heatwave” risk in Scotland is very low although unusually high temperatures can result in some minor impacts.

More detail on Wind and its impacts can be found at:


More detail in the impacts of Snow and Ice can be found at:


Heavy rainfall can also cause significant disruption but since the main impact from this is flooding, this is dealt with separately.



Critical Infrastructure Operators / Responder Communities (Regional Resilience Partnerships (RRPs), Local Resilience Partnerships (LRPs) and Regional CIR Groups)

Infrastructure operators and responders should plan and prepare for the consequences of severe weather and ensure that they are aware of forecasts of severe weather.


National Centre for Resilience

The National Centre for Resilience (NCR) is Scotland’s first resilience “centre of excellence”, focusing on natural hazards. It is a multi-agency collaboration, involving many partners across the resilience, scientific and academic communities, and supported by a core team based at Maxwell House, Crichton Campus, Dumfries, part of the University of Glasgow estate.

The purpose of the NCR is to help build Scotland’s resilience capabilities, particularly in relation to natural hazards, community resilience and critical infrastructure resilience, and to further enhance Scotland’s leading resilience reputation. The Centre also performs a resilience research function to create new knowledge, identify gaps in resilience research and exploit existing knowledge to support best practice.

The NCR has six strategic priorities:

  • To improve Scotland’s resilience to natural hazards such as severe weather, flooding and landslides
  • To build Community Resilience across Scotland
  • To contribute to the development of Scotland’s resilience research capability on natural hazards and community resilience
  • To improve the protection and resilience of Scotland’s water assets and critical infrastructure
  • To scope the development of innovative approaches to natural hazards training
  • To exploit world class multi-agency resilience arrangements at the local level to build national resilience.

Contact: Direct Line: +44 (0)1387 702034



The Met Office provides a number of services to Category 1 and 2 responders to help them plan and prepare for severe weather – these include:


National Severe Weather Warning Service (NSWWS)

The Met Office warns the public and emergency responders of severe or hazardous weather which has the potential to cause danger to life or widespread disruption through our National Severe Weather Warning Service (NSWWS). Warnings are issued for rain, snow, wind, fog and ice. “Dual” warnings may warn for any two of these five elements. Warnings will be given a colour (Yellow, Amber or Red) depending on a combination of both the likelihood of the event happening and the impact the conditions may have.

Warnings are available via a variety of media but Category 1 and Category 2 responders can register to receive AMBER and RED warnings directly. Since September 2014 Yellow warnings highlighting the very low or low likelihood of medium or high impacts have also been pushed to registered responders. More details of the NSWWS and how they should be interpreted can be found on the Met Office’s website:

Note: Infrastructure operators may take bespoke weather forecast services from the Met Office or other forecast providers to help them plan their operations and on which to base operational decisions. Warnings issued under the NSWWS should never be used in place of such bespoke services.


Civil Contingencies Advisors

In addition to the above information services there are three Civil Contingencies Advisors in Scotland. The Advisors’ primary function is to serve as a regional/national point of contact for the Met Office within the resilience community. This involves engaging with, and integrating into, national and local emergency planning groups so that emergency planners are fully aware of Met Office capabilities and can derive maximum benefit from these when dealing with any incident where the weather may play a role.

Amongst the principal tasks of the role are i) real-time response to weather-related emergencies; ii) input to those emergency plans which are, in any way, weather sensitive; and iii) involvement in exercises designed to test those plans.

During incidents the Advisors are able to support responders by telephone and in person, subject to availability. They are also able to respond to requests from Command and Control Centres or Science and Technical Advice Cells (STACs) and attend in person if required and if resources permit.


The Hazard Manager website for Emergency Responders

Hazard Manager is a Met Office interactive web portal which provides a range of services to help authorities prepare for and respond to emergency incidents that are caused or influenced by the weather. All weather warnings are interactively presented in Hazard Manager, along with weather forecasts and observations. Daily guidance from partners such as the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service and the Natural Hazards Partnership is also available.

Hazard Manager is designed to supplement the role of the Civil Contingencies Advisors in providing consistent weather-related information for the UK Emergency Response community. Due to the specialised nature of the information available, the website is not designed to function as a self-briefing tool but should be used in conjunction with advice from your regional Civil Contingencies Advisor.

Any Category 1 or 2 responder can request access, please see:



Flooding can have a significant effect on infrastructure, often resulting in road closures, impacts on the rail network and potential inundation issues for utilities, especially drainage and sewerage systems.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has a strategic role in flood risk management including publishing Scotland’s Flood Risk Management Strategies. Working with local authorities, Scottish Water and others, it is developing and using the best available information and data to ensure Scotland’s efforts to tackle flooding are targeted at the most vulnerable areas. Their service delivery role includes providing flood forecasting and warning services, advice on flood risk to planning authorities and providing the public and communities with appropriate information and advice to be better prepared for floods.

SEPA is the official source of river and coastal flood warning information in Scotland and:

More general detail in the impacts of inland flooding can be found in the Natural Hazards Partnership’s (NHP) Science Note available at


In addition to Floodline, SEPA also provides other services designed to help Category 1 and 2 responders plan and prepare for flooding, namely:


Flood Advisory Service

SEPA’s four regionally-based Flood Advisors are at the heart of this service, delivering to partners and the public. Their purpose is to work with the public, strategic and professional partners to improve the understanding of flood risk, with the aim of improving their preparedness and response to flooding. Their key activities include:

  • Facilitating communication and advice to our partners;
  • Helping Category 1 & 2 responders to sign up for flood risk & warning information;
  • Providing earlier information and sharing opinion on potential flood impact;
  • Increasing confidence in forecast information;
  • Providing benefit to organisations that do not have a strong relationship with SEPA.

During incidents they are able to support responders, through teleconferences and in tandem with Resilience Officers participating in formal RRP arrangements, subject to availability.


Scottish Flood Forecasting Service (SFFS)

A joint initiative between SEPA and the Met Office, the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service combines hydrological and meteorological information so that both organisations can share their expertise to improve the accuracy of flood forecasts for the whole of Scotland.

The service offers a five day outlook on the likelihood and impact of flooding, targeted for emergency services, local authorities and other organisations with flooding management duties.

The joint service allows flexibility during flooding incidents where staff have the ability to co-locate during major flooding events to share facilities and services between SEPA and Met Office teams.

A Flood Guidance Statement is sent each day to registered Category 1 and 2 responders. This provides them with an assessment of the risk of flooding for the next five days from rivers, coastal and tidal areas.

The Flood Guidance Statement is uploaded each day to the Met Office’s Hazard Manager website in the Flood Guidance (Scotland) section. Category 1 or 2 responders can register to receive the daily Flood Guidance Statement by emailing

SEPA also publishes an online flood risk map to help you check whether an area is at risk from river or coastal flooding:

Our Flood Risk hydrology staff also provide expert flood risk advice to external partners, organisations, companies and members of the public, and act as statutory consultees to local authority planning departments. More information on our Flood Risk duties and what we can provide is available at:



A drought is a period of water shortage for people, the environment, agriculture or industry. A hot, dry summer is an example of a short, intense drought; and dry winters can have a big impact on water resources. Droughts are different to other hazards in that they tend to develop slowly, over a large area, with the exact beginning and end often difficult to identify. Several factors play a part including:

  • lack of rainfall
  • an environment, soil or bedrock, which is poor at retaining water or lacks underground storage
  • hot weather, which increases evaporation of water

Drought impacts on a very wide range of sectors including agriculture, industry, water supply, fisheries, health, environment, wildfire, buildings. The impact of droughts is poorly documented in the scientific literature and it is often associated with potential risks, in particular on sectors such as health and water supply.

The Natural Hazards Partnership’s (NHP) Science Note on Drought, available at gives more information on drought and its potential impacts on the UK.

As part of its service to government the Natural Hazards Partnership (NHP) produces a daily strategic assessment of risks to the UK from natural hazards including drought. The NHP Daily Hazard Assessment is available to Category 1 and Category 2 responders via the “Hazard Advice” section of the Hazard Manager web portal.

The Natural Hydrological Monitoring Programme publishes every month a hydrological summary reporting current status of rivers, aquifers and reservoirs compared to the historical average. See



Volcanic eruptions abroad can have significant consequences in the UK, including disruptions to aviation and, depending on the volume of gases emitted, significant public health and environmental impacts. This subsequently leads to a number of secondary impacts, including disruption to critical supply chains and economic impacts. There are a number of volcanoes across Europe (such as Santorini in the Aegean Sea and Vesuvius in Italy) which could have consequences for the UK; but volcanoes in Iceland are of most concern because of the active volcanic nature of this region (it has 30 separate volcanic systems).

If periods of intense volcanic activity of this type coincide with unfavourable weather conditions they can result in significant ash incursions over the UK which can result in disruption to aviation as the fine ash in the plume can, in sufficient concentrations, damage aircraft engines. High-pressure weather systems, which tend to result in more stable weather conditions, can result in prolonged periods of unfavourable weather conditions and therefore prolonged ash incursions over the UK.

Once in the atmosphere, ash, gases and aerosols are rapidly dispersed by wind, potentially resulting in higher than usual concentrations of various gases and particles at flight altitude. The ash, gases and aerosols are gradually brought down to ground level by atmospheric pressure and precipitation (for instance, rain or snow) and this may result in higher than usual concentrations of these gases at ground level and deposits of chemicals on the ground.

The volcanic risks in the UK National Risk Register are given below along with examples of the potential impacts on infrastructure (not exhaustive).



Reasonable Worst Case

Potential Impacts

Explosive volcanic eruption (ash)

Volcanic ash incursions for up to 25 days. The entire UK mainland and potentially other parts of Europe could be affected for up to 10 of these days. A single period of closure within the 3 month eruptive episode may last up to 12 consecutive days, depending on meteorological conditions.

  • Sporadic and temporary closures of significant parts of UK airspace

Severe effusive volcanic eruption (gases)

Severe volcanic eruption, generating large amounts of gas and ash over a five month period affecting UK and northern Europe.

  • Increased demand for healthcare systems
  • Closure of UK airspace
  • Reduced yield from harvests


As part of its service to government the Natural Hazards Partnership (NHP) produces a daily strategic assessment of risks to the UK from natural hazards including volcanic activity. This risk assessment is produced by the Met Office using information from Icelandic Meteorological Service which monitors volcanic activity in Iceland, the most likely source of any volcanic related impacts to the UK. The NHP Daily Hazard Assessment is available to Category 1 and Category 2 responders via the “Hazard Advice” section of the Hazard Manager web portal.

However, under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization, the Met Office has responsibilities, as one of the nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres (VAAC) around the world, to provide forecast guidance up to 24 hours ahead to support decision- making. This guidance is provided to the Civil Aviation Authority as the lead agency, NATS, airports and airline operators in order to support their decisions on whether aircraft can fly safely.

The Met Office London VAAC uses a range of technologies and expertise to predict the movement of volcanic ash. The Met Office dispersion model forecasts are routinely validated, verified against all available observations, such as from satellite, Radar, Lidar and aircraft, and advice is then adjusted accordingly.

Guidance charts showing the predictions are available, during volcanic eruptions, on the Met Office website at


Space Weather

Weather on Earth, such as wind, snow and rain, has different terrestrial impacts and different meteorological causes. Similarly, space weather, including geomagnetic storms, radiation storms and solar radio noise, has different terrestrial impacts and is the result of different types of solar phenomenon, including coronal mass ejections (CMEs), solar energetic particle events, solar flares and solar radio bursts affecting the Earth. Current understanding is that a severe space weather event could have impacts on a range of technologies and infrastructure, including power networks, satellite services, transport and digital control components.

The space weather risk in the UK National Risk Register is given below along with examples of the potential impacts on infrastructure (not exhaustive).



Reasonable Worst Case

Potential Impacts

Severe Space Weather

Resulting from solar eruptions causing rapidly varying geomagnetic fields on earth.

  • Disruption to satellite services for several days
  • Loss of power supplies
  • Loss of satellite communications and computer based control systems
  • Disruption to monetary systems
  • Interruptions to Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Disruption to broadcast services
  • Disruption to aviation sector


The Carrington Event in 1859 is described as the perfect storm because the largest CMEs, radiation storms and solar flares ever recorded happened during this period. Government has worked together with space weather scientists and engineers as well as industry and asset owners from the communications, transport and energy sectors to assess the risk of a severe space weather event of a similar scale to the Carrington Event.

However, space weather science is a relatively young field and its impacts on modern society are only recently coming to the fore as our dependence on technologies vulnerable to solar phenomena increases. Therefore significant work is continuing to better understand and plan – in a proportionate way – for the expected impacts of a severe space weather event. In particular, the government and partners in the energy sector are working closely together to clarify the potential impacts of a severe event on electricity assets and networks.

More information on space weather and its potential impacts on the UK can be found at

The Met Office has developed a space weather prediction capability which became operational in April 2014. The Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre delivers warnings and alerts to key infrastructure operators. . The Met Office has daily operational coordination teleconferences with the US NOAA Space Weather Prediction Centre, the global centre for space weather forecasts.

During periods of increased concern, the Met Office will produce specific daily briefings which will be made available to the response community

The British Geological Survey (BGS) examine solar activity daily and forecast if this is likely to have any geomagnetic effect on Earth. If this 'space weather' indicates that a large magnetic storm is possible in the next few days BGS may send out a space weather alert.

You can sign-up to receive a Geomagnetic Disturbance Alert email from BGS – see


Geological Hazards

In general, the UK is a geologically stable region. Large scale incidents, such as earthquakes, no longer significantly affect our country and therefore very few geological hazards feature within the National Risk Register. However, at the local level, risk is determined by the geological characteristics of the specific location under consideration. As a consequence, the impact of geological hazards still carries a significant cost for UK society. For example, the British Geological Survey has estimated that cost of damage to property caused by the swelling and shrinking of clay was in excess of £3 billion for the last decade.

It is therefore important that geological risks are considered as part of a site specific risk assessment. Landslide is one of the most common geological hazards to affect Scotland.

More information on the Landslides can be found at:

  • The National Centre for Resilience (NCR), Natural Hazard Overview (see Guide 6 Annex B)
  • A British Geological Survey (BGS) Geohazard Note, “Landslides” which can be found at:

For more information on geological hazards see:



Wildfires are any unintentional, self-sustaining outdoor fire which consumes significant quantities of natural vegetation as its primary fuel source. Several factors affect wildfire behaviour. Many of these, such as the vegetation type and topography, remain relatively static over time. It is the seasonal cycle of the vegetation and changes in the weather conditions and the subsequent changes in the state of the vegetation which lead to changes in wildfire behaviour.

For more detailed information see the Natural Hazards Partnership’s (NHP) Science

Note available at

There is work ongoing to provide organisations such as Fire & Rescue Services with assessments of risk of wildfire but at this time this is not an operational or publicly available service.

In Scotland, the Muirburn Code provides statutory restrictions that must be followed when fire is used as a land management tool. It has been recently updated to reflect legislative changes introduced by the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act

2011. Adherence to the code, which sets out best practice for land managers carrying out muirburn, is a requirement of cross compliance. The Code can be found online at:

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