Flood risk management policy in the UK is shifting away from simplistic flood defence towards ‘living with floods’ and ‘making space for water’, thereby accepting that significant flood damage and disruption will continue into the future. This highlights the need for efficient emergency response to flood events, as the first step towards recovery, yet we know very little about the resources and costs that this involves. This paper evaluates the severe flooding in the UK in autumn 2000, and shows that these costs are widely distributed, both geographically and institutionally. Geographically, they broadly match the incidence of property flooding, but they are much larger than we had hitherto appreciated, at approximately 15 per cent of total economic flood losses. The implication is that we should take this topic more seriously in the future than in the past, not see emergency response to floods and other disasters as a low-cost or even a cost-free option, and ensure that this effort is as effective as possible in facilitating post-event recovery.