Northern Powergrid outline improvements made after Storm Arwen devastation at Rothbury public meeting
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The freak storm saw around 225,000 homes in the UK left without power, and Northern Powergrid came in for heavy criticism for their response to the crisis.
The company’s communication strategy was particularly singled out after its website crashed due to the sheer number of users, while estimates for the restoration of power were often hugely optimistic.
Furthermore, residents in some areas were left without communications when phone lines went down and power supplies to mobile masts were damaged.
Speaking at a public meeting at Rothbury’s Jubilee Hall on Tuesday – which followed a similar meeting in Belford last Friday - Northern Powergrid’s director of policy and markets, Paul Glendinning, said that all issues identified following a report into the storm would be addressed.
He said: “We have had teams working to improve the response to storms like Arwen, Malik and the others and we have some landmark changes.
“The biggest issue was when the storm hit, people went on our website and the website unfortunately crashed. It was running on older technology that has been completely changed, and now works into the cloud.
“We have had 30,000 concurrent users on it, which we didn’t have during Arwen. It is much better and has been stress-tested across the summer. It’s a much better way of seeing what is happening.”
Cllr Steven Bridgett, who represents the Rothbury ward on Northumberland County Council, also revealed that pressure on mobile phone companies had led to a victory that would improve communications in the future.
He said: “I’m just speaking for the Rothbury division – one of the biggest problems was a lack of communication. One of the things we have done is we have eight new masts being built.
“The companies have dug their heels in at every attempt we have made to get a back-up generator and fuel storage included as part of the planning process. However, we have had a victory this week and they have conceded.
“There is no law to say we can insist on that – we have to do it on a case by case basis. However, the director of planning has told me that will now be the default position. We can’t force them to do it but we can negotiate.”
Mr Glendinning also explained what had been changed to ensure customers were not given incorrect estimates for when power would be restored.
He said: “That was one of the biggest criticisms we got. There were issues around our automatic system.
“Ninety-eight times out of a hundred, you get power back the next day. We had to manually stop our computer systems because it was destroying confidence.
“We now have a totally different way of saying when we will be back on. We know in the past we have been over-optimistic. I can guarantee that won’t happen again.”
At the end of the meeting, residents thanked officials from the company and even gave them a round of applause.