Agenda item

Civil Contingency Planning and Storm Arwen Review

(i)             Report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change


The Committee considered a report of the Report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change which provided an update on the progress with the Storm Arwen improvement plan (for copy see file of minutes).


The Head of Partnerships and Community Engagement and the Civil Contingencies Officer gave a presentation to the committee on the significant work that had been carried out following Storm Arwen that had left 15,000 properties without power.  They gave a summary as to the key actions that had been identified, what progress had been made to date and how the community resilience plans had been developed to create community preparedness to manage a crisis in the future. The Civil Contingencies Officer advised that there were contingency grants available from NPG (National Powergrid) and Durham County Council (DCC) for communities to buy items for an emergency. 


Councillor Boyes expressed concern at how the Council had fallen short during Storm Arwen.  His division had been severely affected and had experienced little to no communications from either NPG or DCC to offer advice and support. The community had set up resources and support from the Welfare Hall but many elderly vulnerable residents had been left without power for nearly two weeks and were too scared to leave their homes for fear they would be burgled. He was interested to know how vulnerable residents were identified to allocate resources.


The Head of Partnerships and Community Engagement responded that improvements had been made to increase the amount of information available to organisations about vulnerable people.  DCC were looking to be involved in a government pilot project called VIPER set up in Cumbria in 2022. Viper was a digital tool that searched multi-partner data sources to allow the rapid identification of vulnerable households during a crisis.  Cumbria County Council had recently secured funding to roll the project out to more local authorities. Reflection was essential on how to get information and how to disseminate it to team leaders to act up.  There was a reliance on the media and the BBC to relay information for communities but if they were without power there was a current initiative to provide wind up radios to community centres who completed a community support training session.  Other ways would be to publicise information on notice boards in community centres and encourage residents to support vulnerable people in the area. 


Councillor Boyes wanted to know if the Fire Service had been consulted with regarding vulnerable people and if they collected data when they visited people’s homes.


Chief Fire Officer S Helps stated that it had been a joint effort in collating information with several services involved including DCC, NPG, Police, Fire Service and Army.  There was a need to strengthen communications with datasets being held jointly as there had been issues with sharing information in the past.  It was unfortunate that there would be occasions when individuals not known to any organisation would be missed.  Every effort was being made to reduce this.  The Local Resilience Forum was a good point of contact for information and the Cumbria VIPER Project would be very beneficial both locally and regionally.


Councillor Mavin mentioned that as a Parish Councillor his Parish Council had completed the community resilience plan exercise that explained what to do in an emergency.  As a Parish Councillor he felt that it would be good if all Parish Councils completed the community resilience plans and worked together.  He felt he could offer advice to other Parish Councils on the process. He requested information on other groups within the area that had completed plans and queried who the main contact was for the emergency grants available from the Council.


The Civil Contingencies Officer agreed to send Councillor Mavin the relevant information on the groups and informed the committee that she was the contact for the grants available from the Council.  She advised that details of the grant from NPG was available on their website. 


Councillor Gunn told the committee that her division was affected by Storm Malik.  She was unsure if the Town and Parish Councils in her area had produced community resilience plans as they were not shown on the list presented by Officers.  She agreed to promote this work in her area and asked how best to go about encouraging groups to be involved.  She questioned whether the Youth Council had been engaged to involve young people as they always wanted to be involved in any community led work and what was being done in the Council.


The Civil Contingencies Officer offered her services to help Town and Parish Councils in Councillor Gunn’s division to complete a community resilience plan.  She explained that she had not specifically liaised with the Youth Council as involving them in this work would be difficult due to liability and insurance issues.  She confirmed that she had been in contact with young people through the Scout and Girl Guide groups offering advice and support.  She supported the suggestion and would investigate engaging with the Young Council in the future as young people were an important part of the community.


The Head of Partnerships and Community Engagement declared going forward that analysis would be carried out to establish if there were significant geographic gaps in community plan coverage. There were some parts of the County that did not have Town and Parish Councils so community groups would be encouraged to complete community resilience plans.  Locations would be analysed to ensure the broad County was covered as it appeared that there was engagement in the West of the County but very little engagement in the East.  He felt the best advocates were those who had completed the community resilience plans to champion the process to encourage those who hadn’t completed one to participate.


Councillor Miller was happy that communication was to be reviewed as he considered that a major failure during Storm Arwen.  His division had suffered during the storm and he had received no communication from the council on where to get help.  Although not a criticism he as a Councillor could not get any information internally so it would have been twice as hard for anyone external to the council to get any information.


The Head of Partnerships and Community Engagement responded to Councillor Miller that he would provide a list of what the emergency packs contained and how much they cost so the Parish Councils could potentially replicate them.


Councillor Charlton suggested that it would not be a mammoth task to involve Officers from each AAP within the Council to be included in disseminating vital information in an emergency to local Councillors to keep them updated.  She had also experienced the lack of information given to her as a Councillor and she had struggled to know where to go for help.   She also wanted to know if there were any perishable items in the emergency packs and what happened to these items when they were near their sell by dates.  She queried whether these items could be given to food banks if not used in time.


The Civil Contingencies Officer stated that the emergency packs contained tinned food and the sell by dates were checked on a regular basis. The Head of Partnerships and Community Engagement was unsure what the process was when items ran out of date as all items purchased so far were still in date.  He agreed to consider the proposal to allocate goods approaching their use by date to food banks.


Councillor McKenna queried if the Council deployed generators as he had found there had been a slow response to generators being delivered to care homes without power.


The Head of Partnerships and Community Engagement advised that telephone lines had been improved to allow people to contact NPG who had increased the number of generators they had.  NPG did target vulnerable people on their data base as a priority and as a rule tried to get power on in these areas as a matter of urgency.


Councillor Sutton-Lloyd felt that it was terrible when there was an emergency that hit the whole of the County but as a local Councillor communication was vital as they were the links with the community.  He also thought that AAP Officers should be used as a communication tool to get information out to local Councillors.  Local Councillors were best placed to find out what was going on in their areas through talking to local groups or talking to people whilst out walking. At present the structure was not joined up and robust communications was key with one main person acting as the point of contact to coordinate responses to the relevant services for action. He suggested that regular updates should be brought to this committee, AAP meetings and full council.


Councillor Andrews remarked that post Storm Arwen the Community Centre in her area had accessed grants to install solar panels following advice from DCC Officers.  This had not only made them more resilient in a crisis but had saved them money on their energy bills that had then been used to finance a disability ramp.


Councillor Potts expressed his experience of difficulties in contacting officers during Storm Arwen. He recognised that Councillors should be provided with training and emergency packs along with a list of contacts to call in a crisis.  He commented that he had been reduced to driving to Barnard Castle to buy food for residents.  He had requested a credit card to make the process easier but received no response.  He had been disappointed with contradictory information circulated by NPG and DCC stating when power would be restored to areas when he knew this to be impossible as he had witnessed power lines down that would take time to repair.


The Head of Partnerships and Community Engagement informed the committee that emergency training had been arranged for all Councillors last year. He stated that these could be re-run if required. He declared that there was a council grant programme for communities to create emergency plans to utilise to buy emergency items to support their community plans.  He responded that Officers providing information on when power would be restored were reliant on data on NPG’s website.  NPG had now improved their system and they generally tried to provide more accurate restoration information.


Councillor Mavin reiterated that the community resilience plans contained all relevant information including key contact numbers and identified one main key person to collate information to ring into emergency services.


Councillor Boyes requested a written response to members relating to the questions discussed within the meeting.  He asked for this to be circulated in good time due to the seriousness of the topic.


Councillor Gunn suggested that briefings and training sessions should be held for members with regular updates.  She recognised that not all members could attend training but acknowledged that communication with members was required on a consistent basis.


The Overview and Scrutiny Officer advised that responses to questions would be covered in the minutes but any remaining questions requiring a response or clarification would be circulated to members.




i)               That the contents of the report be noted.


ii)             That the Committee receive a written response to any outstanding queries from the meeting.


Councillor Crute left the meeting at 10.27am


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