SHEPD thanks local communities for their support during Storm Frank

By Neil Wilson, Head of Region for north east Scotland

Storm Frank and the floods that came with it have been all over the media in the past week, and I’d like to apologise to any customers whose power was temporarily interrupted as a result of the extreme weather, and thank them for their patience as we worked to restore supplies. I’d also like to say a massive thank you to all of our staff and contractors who have worked tirelessly to help our customers during this very difficult time. In my role as Head of Region for North East Scotland I was out and about across the patch throughout the storm and I was really impressed with not only the work our teams are doing, but also the community spirit shown by our customers as everyone rallied together to look after each other.

We keep a close watch on the weather all year round, which means that 5-6 days ahead of any bad weather arriving we can begin to move our staff and equipment to areas where they’ll be most needed. In this case our linesmen, engineers and tree-cutting staff were all prepared to tackle any damage the gale force winds might cause to our network across Aberdeenshire, and further north too if required. When it arrived, Storm Frank battered parts of Scotland with gales of up to 90mph, and even after these winds died down, there was no let-up in the torrential rain which resulted in some of the worst flooding I can remember. As I’m sure you know, electricity and water don’t mix, and so making sure that everyone was safe, warm and dry was a major challenge for us last week.

In and around the village of Ballater the River Dee broke its banks and you may have seen some of the dramatic footage of this on the national news. Customers had to leave their properties as the waters continued to rise at an alarming rate, the local army barracks were used to house and feed the community and we had our welfare vans on site to make sure that everyone who wanted some free hot food and drink was catered for. From an operational point of view, it was a real team effort to keep the lights on during the storm, and we’ll continue to have a team of staff on the ground for the next few days to offer help and advice to anyone whose electricity supply was affected last week.

Several of our poles were washed away by the high waters, and we set up a dedicated team to make sure our substations were kept safe and dry. One of our worst-affected substations in the Ballater area needed to be rebuilt after the water breached our protection. Over the course of last week we used thousands of sandbags to stem the flow of the floods and protect our equipment. Sandbagging is a tough enough job at the best of times, and so you can imagine how much harder it is in a cold, wet and dark Scottish December. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without the good old fashioned hard graft from everyone involved, and I’d like to thank all of the men and women who helped us.

There’s an old saying “needs must” and the worst of the weather can also bring about the most creative solutions in getting our customers’ power back on. When the River Dee flooded and washed away our poles in the Ballater area, we were faced with the challenge of not only erecting a new pole, but also how to get the new lines to the pole while the river was flowing high and fast. Enter the local RNLI team who helped us out by firing the new lines over the river using their special rescue rockets! It really was a great example of team working and community spirt, and something that I will remember for a long time.

As well as the developing situation in and around Ballater, we also had teams in the Garthdee area of Aberdeen which was also at risk from flooding at the same time, with several of our substations bearing the brunt of the rising waters. Our staff on the ground worked round the clock to protect the substations that supply that part of the city and to keep the lights on for all our customers, and we will continue to keep a close watch on water levels over the coming days.

Speaking to colleagues on the ground and also listening to customer feedback over the past week, one common theme has emerged and that is the speed at which the flood waters rose, and this meant that we had to think and act very quickly to protect our substations and local supplies. We are investing millions of pounds every year to ensure that our network is able to withstand the worst that a British winter can throw at us. However there are some occasions when even after that investment the power can go off. It’s at times like this that community spirit comes into its own, and I’m sure everyone who was affected last week will have their own memories and thoughts on what unfolded. From my own perspective, I think the way in which everyone pulled together was a great example of being ‘our brother’s keeper’, and so once again I’d like to thank everyone including members of the public, the various local community groups and multi-partner agencies for all their hard work at what was a very challenging time.