IMAGINE that you have been keeping an eye on the levels of a river after weeks of sustained, heavy rain.
Imagine the drains outside your house have started backing up, pushing a tide of foul water up toward your front door.
Imagine that the streets in your town are suddenly a flurry of activity, with fire engines pumping water, emergency services personnel in high-visibility jackets going from house to house and helicopters flying overhead.
How would you feel?
The words of Russell Jones, of North Wales Police operational planning, speaking to volunteer flood wardens at the council offices in Mold last week, will chime with many of us.
He said: “To me, flooding was always something that happened to somebody else, somewhere else. How wrong was I?”
The Mold floods of November 2000 are well within living memory, and we are coming up to the anniversary of the devastating St Asaph floods of November 2012.
One person died and hundreds were forced to leave their homes in the Denbighshire town just a few miles over the Flintshire border.
Mr Jones continued: “Now, after the St Asaph floods, I can tell you about flooding, and I know what can happen.”
When faced by a natural phenomena that can put possessions, homes and even lives at risk, residents can be forgiven any feelings of fear, confusion or impotence.
And it was confusion in particular that sparked the creation of a new voluntary role – the flood warden.
The initiative began in Bangor-on-Dee, near Wrexham, after the floods of 2000 encroached on the village and triggered an emergency response.
Malcolm Jones, community councillor from Bangor-on-Dee, explained.
He said: “The village itself hasn’t flooded since 1964, thanks to flood defences that redirect the water flow. Now, if the river comes up, it floods out into the meadows.
“What happened in 2000 was the river came up so far there was concern the flood defences weren’t up to the task. Questions were raised as to whether the village should be evacuated.”
Ultimately the flood defences held, but the residents were not happy with the way the emergency services were co-ordinated.
Cllr Jones said: “Essentially, none of the residents knew what was happening. We had helicopters coming over with loudspeakers telling people to leave their homes, but the communication was poor.
“It was an awful situation. There was a lot of mistrust.”
Flood wardens are supposed to bridge that gap, and Cllr Jones was one of the first to take up the role, which has since been replicated all over Wales.
Kevin Brain, response manager for North Wales Fire Service, said: “It is not a flood warden’s job to enter the water. They should not do anything that endangers their own lives or the lives of others.
“Instead, they are our eyes and ears on the ground. They fill in the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. They, as members of the community, will know better than anyone who is the most vulnerable.”
During a flooding emergency, responders are called in from all over the country, just as Flintshire and Wrexham responders were called to St Asaph.
Natural Resources Wales officers will be the first to raise the alert, keeping agencies up to date on the likelihood of a severe flood by checking river gauges and other early warning signs.
If a severe flood occurs, police will cordon off affected roads, direct traffic and help co-ordinate evacuations, where needed.
The fire service may pump water away from flood zones using immensely powerful engines and three kilometre long hoses.
Specially trained staff can wade through foul water and carry out operations, but it is crucial they know if someone in the area is especially at risk, and if there are safe buildings they can access for a variety of purposes, including temporary shelter.
Norman Jones, flood warden and community councillor for Sealand, said: “It’s all about passing on first hand information. I have lived here all my life.
“The vast majority of flood wardens in the area have been living here for decades. Our job is to feed the emergency services information they can use to keep people safe.”
Sealand has remained flood-free even longer than Bangor-on-Dee, despite being built on reclaimed land and lying six feet below sea level.
Cllr Jones said: “The sea defences have been here 300 years and I’d bet my bottom dollar they will still be here in 300 years, but we still thought it prudent to put something in place in case a breach does occur.”
Thanks largely to the wardens, if the worst does happen the emergency services will know exactly who to check on, whether they are elderly, disabled or living in a particularly isolated part of the region.
This is vital, said Cllr Jones.