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The mammoth task of battling the Beast from the East

County council snow ploughs in action.
County council snow ploughs in action.

Around 2,800 miles of road were treated per day, using more than 3,500 tonnes of salt, as council teams worked 24/7 for eight consecutive days when the Beast from the East struck Northumberland.

The authority’s communications team sent more than 2,000 messages in a week – up 673 per cent compared to a normal week – on its social-media platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and received more than 8,300 – up 1,015 per cent.

These figures were revealed as the council’s civil contingencies manager Ian Clough provided some initial feedback on the authority’s response to the extreme weather to the County Emergency Committee at its meeting on Monday.

He explained that the Beast from the East’s arrival was not declared a major incident – which would have meant the calling-in of outside support, despite it being described as ‘a weather event of historic proportions’ by the Met Office.

Nonetheless, it still required a serious and coordinated approach with the civil contingencies team activating its incident support room and liaising with the likes of the fire and rescue service, local services, adult and social care, Northumbrian Water and Northumbria Police.

Two emergency rest centres were activated at the leisure centres in Alnwick and Berwick, backed up by several other ad-hoc centres, for example, Purdy Lodge on the A1 south of Belford. Emergency supplies and beds/bedding were arranged and the restocking process is already in hand.

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service actually saw a below-average amount of 999 activity, so its main role was using its 4×4 capability to support the NHS by getting patients, staff and medication where they needed to be.

Chief Fire Officer Paul Hedley said: “People were being very practical and pragmatic about it, so credit to the communities of Northumberland.”

Referring to the response more generally, the emergency committee’s chairman, Coun John Riddle, said: “I’m sure everyone appreciated the difficulties it created and the council did a fantastic job.”

Coun Scott Dickinson added: “It seemed to work incredibly well and the council staff were absolutely incredible.”

Coun Liz Simpson said: “The quite negative comments on Facebook – and there weren’t many – were put down by about 25 others. Normally, everything is the council’s fault, but this was really positive.”

Addressing one specific criticism on social media, it was explained to the committee that calling in the Armed Forces to help during the incident was considered, but based on awareness of the capability of the military in Northumberland, it wasn’t felt to be the right approach.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service