Information

Storm Arwen review

A review into the response to Storm Arwen.


Content:

Introduction

On Friday 26 November 2021, the Met Office issued a rare red warning for Storm Arwen. Over the days that followed, the storm would prove to be one of the most challenging weather events that Scotland has experienced in many years.

The storm caused one death in Aberdeenshire, when a driver was killed by a falling tree. It led to significant damage to infrastructure, widespread loss of power, and disruption to care at home services, transport, schools, water supply, and telecoms. It also caused large scale damage to many of Scotland’s forests.

On 1 December 2021, while the recovery from the storm was still underway, the Deputy First Minister confirmed to the Scottish Parliament that: 

“In the aftermath of the incident, we will review the preparations for and response to Storm Arwen to ensure that we take all the learning from this exceptional storm. We have strong and robust arrangements in place to manage and address weather-related resilience issues at national, regional and local levels, but I want to ensure that our arrangements continue to evolve and strengthen for the future.”

This report seeks to deliver on that commitment. 

In doing so we recognise the need to prepare for increased severe weather as a consequence of climate change, and to ensure arrangements in relation to our energy supply are as robust as possible as we transition towards net zero. 

Statutory duties to manage emergencies

Statutory responsibilities to ensure that effective arrangements are in place to manage emergencies in Scotland are set out in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 and the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (Contingency Planning) (Scotland) Regulations 2005. Other legislation relevant to emergency planning and response in Scotland can be found on Ready.scot.

These define a core set of agencies as responsible for emergency planning and response. 'Category 1' responders, who have the greatest number of duties, are Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Scottish Ambulance Service, health boards, local authorities, Integration Joint Boards (health and social care), the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. 

The list of 'Category 2' responders, who also have a range of legal duties to cooperate and share information, include organisations involved in the energy, telecoms, transport, and water sectors.

Following an emergency, these organisations work together and form a ‘resilience partnership’, which helps them to coordinate, collaborate and share information.

A key principle of resilience partnerships is to have the right people in the right place at the right time. Whilst legislation guides statutory representation, the third sector also has an important play a part in the cycle of emergency management and are often part of the resilience partnership structures.

Summary of events

Storm Arwen was named by the Met Office on 25 November 2021, at the same time as a number of amber and yellow warnings were issued across the UK. The following morning a red warning was issued, to run from the afternoon of 26 November into the early hours of  27 November. This red warning for exceptionally strong winds confirmed a risk to life, property, transport, and energy networks across a section of the East coast from Aberdeenshire in the north, to the Tees Estuary in the south.  Amber and yellow warnings also continued to cover a wider portion of the country. 

In response to these warnings a range of resilience responses began across Scotland. In the regions under the most severe warnings, local resilience partnerships ('LRPs') were activated to coordinate planning and response, including the establishment of welfare centres to provide food and shelter to those in need.  Utilities and transport companies also activated their arrangements, with energy companies deploying over 1200 engineers across Scotland. 

The Scottish Government Resilience Room activated to provide any necessary support and coordination required by responders, and to ensure that all was being done to restore services and ensure the welfare of those affected. 

A defining feature of Storm Arwen was the direction of the winds it generated. In the UK, the wind generally comes from a southerly to north westerly direction, and our infrastructure is designed accordingly. Storm Arwen brought very high winds from a north to north-easterly direction into areas of the country that are usually sheltered.  Such widespread high wind speeds from this direction are very rare, with Met Office records showing few such instances in the past fifty years. 

The arrival of the storm caused extensive damage across Scotland.  In the North East, this was compounded by heavy snow and a sharp drop in temperatures, and that region alone experienced the equivalent of almost two years’ worth of overhead line faults in a 12-hour period. The storm peaked overnight and by the end of 27 November 2021, was moving south towards France. While the immediate threat had passed, very significant challenges remained.

The most widespread impacts of the storm were felt in the North East, Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders.  The peak of the disruption saw almost 200,000 energy customers affected, 10,000 properties having experienced water supply issues, telecoms unavailable in parts of the country, school closures, and the cancellation of train and ferry services. Road travel was disrupted by fallen trees, and Forestry and Land Scotland estimate that 4,000 hectares of Scottish forests were affected by storm damage. Some customers would not be reconnected to power until 6 December. 

Methodology, context and terms of reference

This report has been prepared by officials from the Scottish Government’s Resilience Division, which leads on emergency planning, response and recovery for the Scottish Government.

Following any incident, the responder organisations or resilience partnerships involved will routinely debrief to review their preparation for and response to the event, and ensure lessons are learned and improvements made. 

Some of these debriefing processes, and indeed some elements of the recovery from the storm, are still ongoing, while some issues related to the storm are reserved to the UK Government.  For example, reviews into reserved aspects of the energy network response are already underway by OFGEM and the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, both of which are due to report in Spring 2022.

In preparing this Scottish strategic review, and to ensure key lessons are learned and shared swiftly, we have requested information on the findings of relevant local or sectoral debriefs, recognising that some may be interim reports. Based on this information, and further conversations with key personnel involved 'on the ground' during the response to the storm, we have developed a set of specific recommendations. 

The following section of this report therefore provides an initial strategic overview of devolved issues relevant to the Arwen response and is designed to ensure the continual evolution of resilience practice in Scotland. 

We would like to thank those who participated in this process during what has been a time of considerable pressure across the emergency response community, due to our collective ongoing response to the Omicron COVID-19 variant. 

Recommendations

Recommendation 1 – Review of coordination arrangements during loss of power and telecoms

 

Resilience partnerships adapted quickly to the challenges posed by the loss of power and telecoms in regions of the country.  However there was a consistent view that processes developed during the storm should be factored into local planning in the longer term. 

 We recommend that:

  • Resilience Partnerships review their Command, Control and Co-Ordination arrangements for an emergency which involves the loss of both power and telecoms, and actively involve utilities companies in local planning where required to ensure linkage with national developments
  • Resilience Partnerships consider what strategic planning may be required to support communities during such events, including the designation of assistance centres or pre-positioning of generator capacity
  • The Scottish Government and Resilience Partnerships review processes for sharing briefing and information during circumstances which challenge usual methods of communication

Recommendation 2 – Fuller integration of the voluntary and community sector into emergency planning and response

 

Throughout Storm Arwen, volunteers and community resilience groups played a crucial role in ensuring the welfare of those around them.  Rest centres were established, catering vans were deployed to multiple locations and volunteers delivered hot food and drinks to customers who remained off supply. In addition, community assets were made available to the response, volunteers helped to clear access routes across affected areas and accommodation was offered by local hotels.

However, there was a broad recognition that more could be done to bring the voluntary and community sector more effectively into the heart of local resilience planning and response arrangements.  In many cases, in the absence of mobile or landline telephone links, wide-scale door-knocking was the only way of ensuring the welfare of the public.   Maximising access to a suitable volunteer pool during future events will strengthen this capability. 

 We recommend that:

  • Resilience Partnerships fully integrate the Voluntary Sector into their planning and response structures, and offer representation at resilience meetings at all levels
  • Resilience Partnerships ensure that key Voluntary and Community Sector assets and capabilities in their areas are adequately mapped, and processes for their swift activation, deployment and coordination are developed on a collaborative basis 
  • local authorities consider what more they can do to support and develop community resilience in their areas, and the Scottish Government review and, if necessary, expand the materials and training available to support in the establishment and support of local Community Resilience Groups, via the ready.scot site
  • the Scottish Resilience Partnership and the Scottish Government should work together to further develop the Community Asset Register, to better assist local response arrangements and enhance prioritisation and mutual aid across the country

Recommendation 3 – Review of activation processes and mutual aid arrangements between Resilience Partnerships

 

Some concerns were identified by local responders regarding the processes for activating and sustaining the Resilience Partnerships in response mode. 

We recommend that:

  • Resilience Partnerships review their thresholds for activation and deactivation and ensure that these take into account the nuance of each weather system and its characteristics
  • Resilience Partnerships ensure that activation and mobilisation processes, including links with energy companies, non-statutory organisations such as trunk road operating companies, and with relevant local businesses, are scoped and tested regularly
  • Resilience Partnerships ensure processes and protocols for mutual aid are in place and are effective
  • The Scottish Government and Scottish Resilience Partnership review and where possible streamline the mechanisms for coordinating requests for, and offers of, resources and assets at a national level during complex responses

Recommendation 4 – Assessment and communication of restoration timelines

 

The unusual wind direction during Storm Arwen led to a significant number of trees coming down. The extent of the tree fall led to complex and extensive damage across large areas of the network, while also blocking access routes to assess damage to lines and poles. Poor weather in the days following Storm Arwen also meant that aerial assessment of the damage was not always possible. These factors led to challenges in accurately assessing likely restoration timelines. 

Given this uncertainty, many respondents felt that the initial estimates had been overly optimistic, which had a detrimental impact on the situational awareness of local responders and the general public, and on their ability to plan and respond accordingly.   

 We recommend that:

  • energy network operators and the wider utilities sector review their processes for establishing restoration plans and timelines, and communicating regular updates to responders and the public​​​

Recommendation 5 – Review and test local public communications processes during loss of power and telecoms

 

Public communications was a vital element of the response to Storm Arwen and ensured that as many individuals as possible were aware of the warnings and could take appropriate action. Coordination structures were quickly activated, and local responders and utility companies used a range of channels to keep the public updated, including media statements, social media content, SMS and voice messages, and leaflets. The Scottish Government’s Ready Scotland campaign was also live prior to and throughout the period of the red warning, targeting additional radio and digital advertising on the areas most affected.

  We recommend that:

  • the public communications subgroups of the Resilience Partnerships should review and test their plans to ensure that all opportunities for coordination and communication are maintained when those responding, and those in need of assistance, are without power or telecoms.  This may include greater use of more traditional means of communicating, for example radio broadcast, town hall gatherings, leafleting, or cascade of information through community groups

Recommendation 6 – Improved processes for identifying and assisting those most at risk

 

There are already established processes to ensure the welfare of the public within each Resilience Partnership, and these were used to prioritise assistance to those most in need during Storm Arwen.

However, there were some challenges in agreeing a consolidated list due to a variety of approaches in the ways that information is recorded, and their criteria of “vulnerable”. There was also a recognition that those who are not vulnerable at the outset of a power outage may become so after a period off-power. 

The Scottish Government has recently developed a technical solution, known as the Persons at Risk Distribution (PARD) model, which allows local authority and Public Health Scotland data to be quickly cross referenced and mapped to identify vulnerable individuals, following the declaration of a major incident.  The service is available to local authorities following completion of preparatory steps including data sharing agreements and cleansing of existing data sets. 

We recommend that:

  • The Scottish Government, Scottish Resilience Partnership, COSLA Improvement Service and local authorities work together to complete the final implementation of PARD with any local authorities who wish to participate, and thereafter to ensure its use is integrated into wider response plans
  • Resilience Partnerships ensure they have adequate plans in place to allow for the strategic coordination of large-scale door-to-door welfare checks, and that these plans are tested and exercised

Summary of recommendations

 
  • Resilience Partnerships review their Command, Control and Co-Ordination arrangements for an emergency which involves the loss of both power and telecoms, and actively involve utilities companies in local planning where required to ensure linkage with national developments
  • Resilience Partnerships consider what strategic planning may be required to support communities during such events, including the designation of assistance centres or pre-positioning of generator capacity
  • The Scottish Government and Resilience Partnerships review processes for sharing briefing and information during circumstances which challenge usual methods of communication
  • Resilience Partnerships fully integrate the Voluntary Sector into their planning and response structures, and offer representation at resilience meetings at all levels
  • Resilience Partnerships ensure that key Voluntary and Community Sector assets and capabilities in their areas are adequately mapped, and processes for their swift activation, deployment and coordination are developed on a collaborative basis
  • Local authorities consider what more they can do to support and develop community resilience in their areas, and the Scottish Government review and, if necessary, expand the materials and training available to support in the establishment and support of local Community Resilience Groups, via the ready.scot site
  • The Scottish Resilience Partnership and the Scottish Government should work together to further develop the Community Asset Register, to better assist local response arrangements and enhance prioritisation and mutual aid across the country
  • Resilience Partnerships review their thresholds for activation and deactivation and ensure that these take into account the nuance of each weather system and its characteristics
  • Resilience Partnerships ensure that activation and mobilisation processes, including links with energy companies, non-statutory organisations such as trunk road operating companies, and with relevant local businesses, are scoped and tested regularly
  • Resilience Partnerships ensure processes and protocols for mutual aid are in place and are effective
  • The Scottish Government and Scottish Resilience Partnership review and where possible streamline the mechanisms for coordinating requests for, and offers of, resources and assets at a national level during complex responses
  • Energy network operators and the wider utilities sector review their processes for establishing restoration plans and timelines, and communicating regular updates to responders and the public
  • the public communications subgroups of the Resilience Partnerships should review and test their plans to ensure that all opportunities for coordination and communication are maintained when those responding, and those in need of assistance, are without power or telecoms.  This may include greater use of more traditional means of communicating, for example radio broadcast, town hall gatherings, leafleting, or cascade of information through community groups
  • The Scottish Government, Scottish Resilience Partnership, COSLA Improvement Service and local authorities work together to complete the final implementation of PARD with any local authorities who wish to participate, and thereafter to ensure its use is integrated into wider response plans
  • Resilience Partnerships ensure they have adequate plans in place to allow for the strategic coordination of large-scale door-to-door welfare checks, and that these plans are tested and exercised

 

Conclusion and next steps

By its very nature, resilience and emergency planning practice constantly evolves in light of experience. This report seeks to support the resilience community across Scotland in this process by sharing key themes for learning and improvement, following the experience of Storm Arwen.

The Scottish Government will track progress against the recommendations above and provide a further update in June 2022.  We will also give close consideration to the upcoming reports from BEIS and OFGEM into the resilience of our networks and consider what further steps may be required in response to their findings. 

Finally, we would like to recognise and express our thanks for the significant work that took place during the Storm - by individuals, neighbours, communities, responders, voluntary groups, businesses, military personnel and others who came out in very challenging conditions to provide help to those in need. 

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