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Journal of Public Management & Social Policy

Abstract

The North Sea flood of 1953 was the most catastrophic severe weather event to hit the region in the twentieth century, causing widespread fatalities and devastation across north-west Europe. In the UK, the catastrophe highlighted deficiencies in coastal defenses, warning systems, and government disaster management. These shortcomings, combined with the large scale of the floods and the high death toll led to a government inquiry into the floods. The recommendations of this inquiry formed the basis of modern UK flood management and disaster policy. This paper examines the investigation into the North Sea flood of 1953 and highlights an early case of a government inquiry, resulting in tangible policy changes, which had scientific expertise at its core. This was an important step for the prominence of scientific experts in British society and the government’s increased reliance on scientists in informing policy over the coming decades. This paper shows how an extreme weather event can be understood and dealt with differently by the government, scientific experts, and the public; highlighting changing attitudes toward extreme weather, risk, and the state’s role in disaster recovery.

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