The Thames Barrier is an icon of engineering design, which plays a critical role in protecting London from tidal flooding.

In December 2013, thousands of homes in coastal areas across the UK were affected by flooding caused by gales and high tides. Sea levels rose to their highest since the floods of 1953, which left 307 people dead and 40,000 homeless.

Coastal areas were not the only communities threatened by event. The low-lying metropolis of London, home to over 8 million people, is susceptible to flooding from tidal surges and heavy rainfall in the Thames catchment. But in this instance, preparation had paid off, in the form of the Thames Barrier, built in 1982 to protect London against a 1-in-1000-year flooding event. It spans 520 metres across the river and consists of ten steel flood gates – each as high as a five storey building. There have been 203 flood defence closures in its forty years, saving billions in damages and preventing the flooding of as much as 125 square miles of the city.

In the floods of 2013, as many as 800,000 homes and businesses were protected by flood prevention schemes over a period of 24 hours. “Flood risk management assets, including the Thames and Hull Barriers, have protected thousands of homes and businesses from sea levels higher in some places than those that occurred during the devastating floods of 1953.” said Dr Paul Leinster, the UK Environment Agency’s chief executive at the time.

The successful protection of London from a potentially devastating flood received little media attention. A disaster prevented is less newsworthy than one which actually happened. The Understanding Risk Averted Disaster Award marks a significant effort to bring stories of disasters avoided to light, so that their lessons might be learned and other communities kept safe. The Averted Disaster Award identifies and receives applications from individuals, project teams and organizations of all sizes, regions and industries whose successful DRM interventions have not been recognized.

If your organization or project meets this description, you’re invited to submit your applications here. The winning applicants will receive up to five cash grants and tickets to attend Understanding Risk 2022, the world’s largest forum for views and innovations in DRM globally. The intervention highlighted in the winning application will be featured in a documentary to be premiered at the event.