Storm Eunice

Image is not from Storm Eunice but is a representation of a fallen tree

Devastating, catastrophic, disastrous, deadly are all dramatic words we see in the news to describe an incoming storm. We see these descriptions so often in relation to UK winter weather, we kind of become immune. Was Storm Eunice going to really be as bad as the media suggested?

What Happened?

Our timings said it was going to hit Wiltshire around 10am on Friday 18 February 2022; all weather forecasts had consistently agreed with this. Yet by 10.20am there were plenty of murmurings wondering what all the fuss was about – nothing out of the ordinary had occurred! 

Move forward to 10.30am then it all began! So, the forecast was pretty accurate after all!

Primarily strong wind caused a few issues, mainly in our area they revolved around falling trees, powerlines, and unstable structures, and we had plenty of them all. This then caused a ripple effect with blocked roads, damaged buildings, and thousands of people without power.

Throughout the whole weekend we had hundreds, if not thousands, of fallen tree reports with teams working day and night clearing the debris. Power cuts were widespread and with the picture constantly changing. The power companies were working hard to restore power to their customers as quickly as possible. Initially, every hour the power outage map seemed to get worse; we almost got to the point of seeing who actually had power rather than who did not! Much of our concern always revolves around who is without power, how vulnerable they are and how quickly we can get them back on. As part of our incident response to the storm we were dealing with many vulnerable residents and at least one large care home without power. 

As you can imagine, added to this we had reports of roofs flying off buildings and the usual chaos of flying signs, litter and unstable objects associated in any storm. 

Some of these things might sound a little trivial (especially when you consider some areas have hurricanes and monsoons). But the difference is we aren’t used to such extreme weather events here in the UK. Power cuts severely effect the vulnerable; trees coming down also hampering our ability to move freely about the county and respond to emergency incidents.  In addition, as a country we are quite used to just ‘getting on with it’ which tends to mean we will try to carry out our normal daily activities despite the weather. This stoic British approach often leads to more injuries and issues which perhaps may be reduced were the population to alter its routine to suit the conditions. 

What we did?

It’s difficult to describe the response in a few words but:

Thanks to the early warning provided by the Met Office we arranged some multi-agency meetings before the event occurred – emergency planners were able to consider the consequences and what mitigation could be put in place to reduce the impact. These meetings were run regularly across several days so that all agencies could share situational awareness and identify how they could support each other to maximise available resources to best effect. The statutory agencies were well supported by the utility companies in a combined effort. These included:

  • Teams clearing trees all day in daylight hours and ‘on call’ operatives available for emergencies out of hours ready to deploy across the county overnight at short notice
  • Road closures and debris clearance throughout
  • Policing arranging cordons in dangerous areas across the county (especially where roofs had blown off)
  • Discussions to identify vulnerable people and those requiring additional assistance resulting from the power outages
  • Deliveries of food and supplies to those most vulnerable

Moving Forward?

As with every major incident we have a debrief at the end to learn lessons and make any necessary changes to our processes and procedures. Debriefs give us a chance to understand where we could do better next time. We understand we can’t stop trees falling and it’s impossible for every household to have a back-up generator, but these incidents help us to identify if our plans work and where we need to focus more. We have identified several key areas to focus extra resource and plan moving forward and hope the next time a storm comes along our response will be even better than before. Every storm will be different from the last one and presents new challenges for us to consider and tackle.