Battling the elements

Since October we’ve had unprecedented weather conditions in our southern patch with gale force winds and extreme flooding presenting us with a twin challenge. We have storm plans that are well tried and tested but the extensive flooding has been an additional challenge and I wanted to share some of the work we have taken in response to the flooding crisis and the scale of the challenge we have faced.

Our south emergency room has been in operation for most of the time since the middle of December due to the sustained period of high winds.  We set up a second emergency room in Slough to act as a crisis command centre based in our depot closest to the affected areas.

This centre ensured coordination with other agencies, such as councils, police and Environment Agency officials, working hard to deploy flood defences and develop contingency plans in the event of a loss of supply to our grid sites and primary substations that were at risk from the floods.

Communication is essential and we’ve had calls with multi-agency partners in Thames Valley, Hampshire and Surrey twice a day. These calls ensured we worked together to protect at-risk substations.  In Burghfield and Osleney we worked closely with local fire commanders to use high-volume pumps to remove the water and put plans in place should the water levels rise further. We also had contingency plans should our substations get flooded and how we would manage the large scale evacuation of these areas.

It’s a huge logistical operation and at the height of the floods our command centre was manned 24 hours a day.

We also received extra flood defence equipment from fellow Distribution Network Operators, Northern Power Grid and Western Power Distribution, to shore up grid and primary substations identified as being at risk.  The Army and local police forces also gave vital support, helping protect our equipment with sand bags.

The Rt Hon Michael Fallon, Energy Minster and Shadow secretary Rt Hon Caroline Flint both visited our storm command centre to see first hand the measures we were taking and visit the most affected areas.  We also worked closely with the media to help get information and updates to residents that had lost power as well as posting more than 2,500 tweets to keep people up-to-date.

I would like to personally thank all the dedicated staff involved in this incredible effort for their continued hard work.  One team member told me that his wife bought her own Christmas present as he battled to connect those that lost power at Christmas and as if that wasn’t bad enough she also had to buy her own Valentine’s Day gift too.

We’re now preparing for when the water levels fall and people can return to their homes and business.  There is a lot that needs to be done with all flooded sites needing to be identified and safety checked.  We then be focusing our efforts on what action we need to take in the future, identifying networks where customers have been off several times and where long term capital investment is required.

About the author

Mark Mathieson Managing Director, Networks

Mark joined SSE in 1988 as a graduate trainee and is responsible for SSE’s electricity networks, lighting services and telecoms businesses.

Read more articles by Mark Mathieson