Reflecting on Storm Arwen
Storm Arwen – dubbed the worst UK storm in decades – brought destructive wind, rain and snow to our shores, leaving more than a quarter of a million people in the dark. Established tree branches were snapped like twigs and, sadly, many long established trees were completely uprooted as a result of the devastating winds.
Along with my Angus North & Mearns colleague, Mairi Gougeon MSP, I am keen that all relevant bodies reflect carefully on Storm Arwen and the collective response to it.
The storm was extremely unusual in its nature and impact – but, given the backdrop of climate change, we can expect such events to occur with increased frequency. It is therefore imperative that we consider whether we could have been better prepared to withstand it, and better equipped to recover from it. From the preparation perspective, at least in infrastructure terms, the answer is perhaps not.
Mairi and I have asked for a meeting with the Chief Executive of Angus Council to discuss what lessons have been learned. That is not to imply criticism of the local authority – my initial thoughts are that it responded quite well. But we are all required to consider what needs to be done differently if and when a similar event occurs.
Let me pay tribute to the fantastic work carried out by SSEN engineers to restore power to the many thousands of Angus residents who were left without it, some for a very extended period. They were operating in extremely challenging conditions and deserve our thanks.
However, I do think that the flow of granular information on just who was affected, and when they could expect to have electricity back, was poor. I had many constituents contact my office seeking that sort of detail, and we simply could not secure it from the provider.
On a more basic level – and I speak as someone whose own home suffered a nineteen-hour power cut – there is a very evident flaw in telling those affected to engage by telephoning a number or going online. For many, both phones and Wi-Fi were down.
I do not pretend to have the answer to that last point, but it is incumbent on all of us – public bodies and elected politicians, as well as OFGEM – to conduct a detailed evaluation of the response to Storm Arwen and what changes need to be made for the future.
Finally, as this is my last column of 2021 and the festive season is fast approaching, let me wish everyone a Merry Christmas – and hopefully a happier New Year. My thanks go to those of our friends and families – NHS staff, police, ambulance, fire crews, care home workers and other public sector workers – who will be on duty while we are enjoying the festivities.