I have written a Report, Storm Arwen: Learning Lessons, setting out a Ten Point Plan for how to improve the responses to future storm events.
The report is attached below, but the Ten Point Plan is as follows:
1. Regional resilience: the energy companies work on a “Just in Time” basis with insufficient readiness for big weather events. Put simply, Northern Powergrid (NPG) must have a bigger and better storage of generators and poles. They presently have minimal numbers. There should be local storage facilities in every county. They were patently not ready for this storm, and slow to react, not least because they did not have the poles and energy replacement that they needed to address the storms impact.
2. Communications: this remains poor as we saw once again during Storm Malik and it was still a struggle in Storms Dudley and Eunice. NPG simply do not have the people answering the phones and providing responses. This encompasses more people, a transferable phone system to allow for staff not being able to get to the core hub, and better organisation. Their website was poor. Finally, the actual communication to constituents was woeful – hundreds were being told that they would be connected in 24 hours or the next day and of course they were not. A better communication strategy of reconnection must be improved.
3. Local resilience: We need local hubs funded by energy companies in designated village halls and community centres, which can provide local support when we have a significant power cut. These hubs need emergency power capacity, and the existence of the hubs needs to be then publicised. We have done this in Northumberland with our flood groups and the flood forums that work very well together.
4. 105 number: the government and regulators need to investigate if the 105 number needs to be activated as an emergency number like 999 in specific circumstances, as clearly 105 did not work when certain people lost mobile network coverage.
5. ‘Digital voice’ landlines are a real problem: this must be looked at as there must be residual resilience on phone lines, which is presently not happening if plans continue to phase out
6. Data sharing: the Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) don’t work very well. They also don’t have sufficient data to address constituents who are not on the vulnerable social services list. The obvious 4 example is GP data on post operative recovery patients and those with electric stairlifts. A better local plan for data sharing is needed.
7. Energy company data cleansing: this storm has shown that NPG, and their sub-contractors, don’t know the name and address of at least 5% and maybe 10% of their customers, as they could not pay around this amount, hence some of the delays in compensation. They need to spend money on their data updating and cleansing.
8. Interim energy provision: I personally arranged over fifty generators for constituents as neither NPG nor the Local Resiliency Forum saw it as their responsibility to provide interim energy whilst we waited 12 days to get the power back on. This is simply unacceptable. There must be a policy and a plan for interim energy provision. My view is that NPG and other companies need to have a supply of such interim generators for vulnerable customers in such difficult times. There was a massive dearth of generators locally.
9. Communication of Local Resilience Forum plan: This does not take place as well as it should; and what does exist is not fully communicated to parish councils, MPs or community leaders. This needs to change.
10. Other companies’ energy resilience: it is clear that the Northumbria Water, the Forestry Commission and other organisations suffered from prolonged energy outages and were similarly unprepared. All these companies – public and private – are looking at their resilience but government and the regulators [e.g. Ofwat re water providers] and the LRF need to be more aware of the need to sort these matters. There is also a need to address the impact of power outages on farming – in several areas, notably the Allen Valleys water provision for stock was dependent on energy.