Thursday, 20 January 2011

Extreme Weather Contingency Plans

In the past ten years Northern Ireland has seen a mixture of extreme weather conditions, from localised summer flooding to recent examples of record cold winters. If the past five years are anything to go by, we're far more likely to experience our 'summer' months in May and early June, rather than July and August, where cloudy, wetter conditions have made these traditional holiday periods a bit of a wash out.

There have been calls recently, most notably from Cadogan Enright of the South Down Greens for a cold weather contingency plan, to ensure that public services are better equip to deal with the problems associated with heavy snowfall and ice, and that local enterprises, particularly those in retail and hospitality, are protected from the adverse affects. Stating with regards to the recent impact of the snow on the streets of South Down, Mr Enright comments:

"The deplorable response of our Down Council and the Road Service to the fortnight’s snow was only one piece of a general failure of top civil servants and Ministers to create a “Weather Emergency Plan” 

As someone who experienced issues with delayed and missed domestic refuse collection here in Castlereagh in December, I whole heartily agree with this and Mr Enright was protesting almost prophetically just a few weeks before things went tits up at NI Water (I was among the lucky few whose water supply was not affected after Christmas but know plenty unfortunate people who were). But I do think it is important that we extend this 'back -up' to all times of year.

As the recent bout of snow has barely left us, it is only natural that it is high on the agenda. However let us not forget the problems we experience in the summer months too, such as our 'rainy season' when flooding has damaged homes, roadways and our local parks (the Ormeau Park in particular looks like a Cajun bayou after heavy rainfall and some grassy areas are rendered unusable for days, even weeks afterwards). There needs to be well thought out plans in place to ensure that all aspects of extreme weather are catered for, from help and support if you have been affected by storms and high winds, to post flooding clean up, which in residential and shared areas, should be quick and efficient.

I think it goes without saying that an improvement in communication between authorities and the public needs to be part of any plans formed. If you were one of the many people frustrated by the crashing of the of NI Water website, or simply unable to get an response/straight answer to your wheelie bin pick up question from your local council, I probably don't need to tell you the value of informed and helpful telephone staff, who themselves are supported by their superiors in times of heavy communication. And even if you local authority is not directly responsible for the issues you face, we need to ensure that they are able t provide help and advice in order to point you in the right direction.

Of course many plans to prevent flooding and ensure water supply are long term development issues that aren't going to be as easy to organise as short term solutions like grit supply and road maintenance, but it would be re-assuring to know that government departments, councils and public services are prepared for the fallout in the meantime, perhaps forming emergency management group during periods of snow, flooding or drought. Surely it's better to have a plan and not need it, than to need a plan and not have one?

Photo Credit: Atif Farooq Photography, Belfast

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