Last week, the North-east suffered one of the worst and most widespread instances of storm damage in generations with Storm Arwen.
While we were without power ourselves for over 24 hours, that pales into insignificance when compared with the impact on those who went up to a week without being connected to the grid. The fortitude and community spiritedness shown once again by North-east folk in helping to look after each other has been an inspiration and makes me proud to call the North-east ‘home’.
The extent of the damage was beyond anyone’s experience or expectations and SSEN engineers did an exceptional job in what were for a time quite overwhelming circumstances. They particularly deserve our heartfelt appreciation for the shift that they put in to get communities connected again.
The ‘Local Resilience Partnership’ too, made up of Aberdeenshire Council, the emergency services and other key responders, has put in a power of work in terms of co-ordinating the response. Similarly, the contribution of the military in terms of ensuring that vulnerable people were safe towards the end of the week cannot be understated.
While there were clearly significant issues with getting accurate information over when people would be reconnected, MSPs and MPs were kept appraised of the progress throughout so that we in turn could help our constituents. I’m pleased to say that there will be further such discussions as the response to the incident is reviewed over the weeks ahead.
One of the things which Storm Arwen has brought home is how vulnerable our key infrastructure can be to extreme weather. When the power went down, so too did much of the broadband and mobile phone networks. This seriously hindered for a time the ability of public services to respond and to get information about where help was needed, as well as when it came to getting key information to those who needed it most.
Telecoms and power are of course matters which are reserved to the UK Government. Accordingly, in Westminster last week, I took the opportunity to ask the Secretary of State for Energy to consider, as part of any review of the impact of the storm across the UK, looking at the obligations placed upon power and telecommunications providers to ensure they provide a more secure and robust service in all circumstances, no matter how adverse those circumstances might be.
I’m pleased that the Secretary of State agreed with that point and seemed willing to look at how together, we can build in greater infrastructure resilience as a result of lessons learned from Storm Arwen.
One other aspect which I think is worthy of looking at afresh is when it comes to requesting Military Aid to Civilian Authority or ‘MACA’ as it is known. While MACA can be (and indeed was) requested directly from the MoD by the Local Resilience Partnership, the rules governing MACA at present effectively mean that short of a major disaster, it can only be provided once local resources are close to exhaustion.
My own view is that given the scale of the damage, it would have been beneficial to at least have had the option of being able to draw down military support earlier in the week, well before the current threshold for securing MACA was passed. Again, that is something that I will be asking reviews of the incident to consider as part of any deliberations.