Utilities United in Northern Ireland
03 May 2013 16:20
Severe weather in March put to the test a mutual aid protocol set up among Northern Ireland’s main utility companies. It is believed this approach in Northern Ireland is the first of its kind across the United Kingdom.
It has been over a year since new structures were put in place by the Chief Executives of BT, Northern Ireland Electricity, Northern Ireland Water and Phoenix Natural Gas to identify ways in which the companies could provide mutual support and aid to each other during periods of extreme weather or other unforeseen situations.
Trevor Haslett, Chief Executive of NI Water, explained:
“Although all of our companies require specialist skills to repair our networks, we have been able to identify a number of areas where we can work together for the mutual benefit of our customers in Northern Ireland. In particular we have looked at shared resources such as people, materials, equipment, transportation vehicles or access to buildings.”
Heavy snow and strong winds in March damaged utility networks across Northern Ireland and affected electricity, water and telecoms services to thousands of customers.
Alex Crossan, BT Managing Director Networks, reflected:
“Although we had carried out a simulation, March’s storm was the first time we used the mutual aid protocol for real. Our plans worked well and we were able to share equipment and manpower to speed up repairs to the overhead telecoms network in some of the worst affected areas”.
Experts believe that extreme weather across the UK and Ireland is becoming more commonplace and local Northern Ireland Executive Ministers have commended the utility companies for progressing a more formal process for working together in such instances if appropriate.
Energy Minister Arlene Foster said:
“I very much welcome this initiative as a pragmatic and practical approach to prepare for emergencies, no matter what may cause them. The combined breadth of expertise between these companies will ensure that the impact of disruption to the services they provide is minimised for customers, particularly those considered most vulnerable during an emergency. It is an interesting approach to mutual aid which other organisations may wish to consider.”
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said:
“I commend the proactive efforts of the utilities companies in coming together to share their knowledge and resources to further improve the vital support they deliver to all of us, often in very severe weather conditions.”
The Chief Executive’s group has also set up several sub-groups with senior representatives from each company, covering: Operations, Stakeholder Communications and Customer Communications.