Why sandless sandbags could hold the key to flood protection

The sight of people hauling sandbags along streets and brushing water out of their houses has become a familiar scene in the United Kingdom, as floods have gripped large parts of the country.

British Prime Minister David Cameron promised those with homes underwater that money “is no object” but also warned they will be in it “for the long haul”.  A senior scientist from the Met Office, the leading weather service in the UK, linked the floods in the country and extreme weather in Europe and North America to climate change.

Those who have had their property damaged by the high waters have complained about the lack of aid provided, provoking national newspaper the Sun to launch a campaign to provide sandbags to those who are in need.

While effective at keeping flood water out, sandbags come with a range of problems, including rotting, weight and storage challenges.

With increasing concern over the impact of climate change and the large number of sandbags being used at the moment, modern technology is attempting to change the way we help to prevent floods. This includes upgrading the sandbag to be more environmentally and user-friendly.

One of the biggest disadvantages of the sandbag is its weight, which makes it difficult to move around quickly when a flash flood hits. At just 200g before activated, modern versions such as FloodSax provide a more flexible alternative. A semi-porous inner line within the bags contains gelling polymer which absorbs water to become taut in three minutes. Once the water is inside them it stays there and diverts the flood waters.

These type of modern sandbags come with a host of advantages over the traditional hessian and polypropylene bags, which may prove useful in future emergencies. They are the same size as an unfilled sandbag, making them easy to store and even vacuum packable.

They are also easy to dispose and do not rot like traditional sandbags. The polymer within modern bags can also be mixed in small quantities with soil to assist with moisture retention in summer months

If you’re not a fan of sandbags and are looking for protection from flood waters without buying a boat (or building an ark), design and architecture company Morphopedia have produced a house that floats. When surrounded by water, their prototype house does not float off but instead rises on the water while remaining tethered to vertical guides.


Image courtesy of Jeff Jones.