Workers at Argyll and Bute Council are returning to business as usual after more than a week of special effort to help residents whose electricity supply was cut off by storms.
Council teams first swung into action on the January 3 Bank Holiday Tuesday when high winds brought down trees and power cables across the whole of Argyll.
Roads teams and social care team were first to respond. All care customers received their usual visits and extra checks were made on vulnerable residents who were left without power.
Meanwhile roads teams took to the highways and byways to remove fallen trees and debris which was washed ashore in the storms. Snow ploughs were used to clear seaweed, rocks, flotsam and jetsam from the A83 outside Campbeltown. And teams responded to more than 350 calls about fallen trees, removing almost all by nightfall on Tuesday, clearing the way for engineers for power company engineers to access damaged cables.
Building standards surveyors were also busy dealing with buildings throughout the area which sustained damage during the storms. As a result some roads in the area were temporarily closed to allow officers to instruct the removal of loose and dangerous chimney pots, guttering, flashings, slates and roof tiles. Some roads remain closed until buildings can be made safe.
At the same time the council’s emergency response teams across the entire region were mobilised, working with the police and power companies to make sure the council fulfilled its statutory duty to protect vulnerable people.
Receiving and distributing information about the storms across the whole of Argyll proved challenging, with telephone lines and power lines down. Mobile phone masts were also damaged during the storms and, where mobile reception was available, batteries soon ran out and could not be recharged.
By Wednesday 7 January almost all roads were cleared of fallen trees and debris and electricity supplies had returned to some areas. However hundreds of properties across Argyll remained without power.
Social care teams again provided care as usual but were now looking for people who were finding it harder to cope as the length of time without power increased.
Entire communities were without any form of power or communication, and while the council was using local radio, web updates and twitter to send out information there was no guarantee this information was being received, especially as not everyone had a battery operated radio or charged up smart-phone.
The Isle of Bute was particularly badly hit, with no power on the whole of the island.
A temporary refuge centre set up on Bute by the council, in accordance with the island’s local plan, was inundated with donations of food and blankets from local residents who wanted to help those with no power.
Residents in other remote areas rallied round, demonstrating their resilience and community spirit. The council urged its staff to check on elderly relatives or those in poor health to make sure they were OK.
By Thursday, despite the efforts of Scottish and Southern Energy, some residents were facing their third day with no electricity. Temporary catering units were set up in the worst hit areas, or areas accessible to the greatest number of people. Many hotels and pubs opened their doors to provide warmth and hot food to those with no power supply.
A map developed by council staff, based on postcodes of areas with no power, showed hundreds of incidents across almost the whole of Argyll.
Teams from Argyll and Bute Council assisted teams from the energy companies to identify vulnerable customers who were still without power. While the council was already providing assistance to its usual care customers some residents who had been able to cope for one or two days with no power became increasingly vulnerable as the situation continued.
And the energy companies were making efforts to contact customers on their special needs lists of customers who ordinarily don’t need extra help but who do need electricity to maintain their independence while treating medical conditions at home such as dialysis or nebuliser users.
On Friday council teams joined energy workers, telephoning those who were still without power. Where no contact could be made by phone visits were arranged from council teams or the police, to make sure everyone was safe and well.
Power was finally restored to all properties on Saturday afternoon.
Councillor Dick Walsh, leader of the council, has praised the council’s response. He explained:
“It may have appeared to some that the council wasn’t doing anything but I can assure you our emergency teams responded immediately. It was more difficult than usual to contact our communities as we had no electricity, phones or mobile signal but we have trained teams in all areas and these were able to respond without any direct external instruction.
“Our priority is to look after the most vulnerable people in our communities. While it was uncomfortable and inconvenient for many people we had to direct our resource towards helping those who couldn’t help themselves.
“Where possible we opened refuge centres and provided food and our teams made sure the road network was cleared quickly, allowing engineers access to the cables they needed to repair.
“The response from our communities has been fantastic. It was a good reminder of how everyone can be a good neighbour and check on people who live nearby during periods of bad weather.
“We are learning lessons from this storm but we can be sure weather related incidents will continue in Argyll. I’d urge everyone to look at the advice offered by the Scottish Government so they can help make sure they’re prepared for the next storm which comes our way.”
More information on getting ready for emergencies can be found at http://www.readyscotland.org/