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January 4, 2023

Don’t panic! Do prepare

Profile image for Jessica Duffy

Good Practice Mentor

LOPF staff have recently attended a couple of meetings on ‘Emergency preparedness’. Initially with reference to planned power cuts, we then we looked at wider considerations. This blog provides links to some of the helpful advice and the other organisations already out there. It is not aimed at replacing other advice documents here.

Most major issues will be dealt with by partners like Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS), but there are definitely some things which…

  • you could help your members with,
  • you could do to be prepared for as organisations,
  • we all need to do to be as self-sufficient as possible, so help can be focussed on people who are most vulnerable .

The meetings were called by the VCS Emergencies Partnership and Northern Powergrid

The Emergencies Partnership is a coalition committed to improving communications between Voluntary and Community Sector organisations, and authorities, to ensure the granular knowledge of the sector is used to best support local people. Read about some of the Partnership’s success stories. The website also has a helpful page full of links around winter preparedness (including power cuts, storms and floods). I will share notes from the meeting with anyone would like them. Our partner member locally is Voluntary Action Leeds.

Northern Powergrid runs the power lines and brings the electricity to our homes. (It does not sell us the electricity). They have been in communication with local authorities and other organisations responsible for dealing with emergencies locally.

At this point I want to say DON’T PANIC (but do be prepared!)

Northern Powergrid stress test systems every year, and do not think they will have to implement emergency power cuts this year. However, just as they prepare for the unexpected, it is sensible for us all to do the same. The thing that is likely to trigger a problem is cold, still weather (so no wind power) like we had last week, combined with a shortage of gas so people shift to electricity for their heating. This issue has been exacerbated by the war in the Ukraine.

The way planned power cuts would work is that the grid would be turned off for a three hour period, for a specific ‘block letter’.  They said it would be likely to be around the evening peak, and would be announced in advance via the BBC and social media. Different areas would be turned off each day. A planned power cut affects everyone in a given area, except critical infrastructure like hospitals and prisons. It would affect care homes and other vulnerable people, because that is how the electricity grid works. You need to know your block letter to know who a power cut would cover.

See Northern Powergrid’s  document – Emergency power cuts: frequently asked questions –  for detailed information.

However, thinking aboutplanned emergency power cuts is relatively easy. For everyone except those who have medical devices which rely on the power supply, three hours off is merely an inconvenience if we are prepared. But, if we look back to the 2015 floods in Kirkstall, or Storm Arwen in 2021, people lost power for days!  One of the impacts of climate change is more frequent severe weather events, so it’s wise to undertake some emergency planning before an emergency.

I am not going to rewrite other advice documents.  This blog is to link you to helpful advice and some of the other organisations who are already out there.  But please take note of the following key points:

  • Make sure you know where your analogue phone is.
    (That’s the phone you plug into the BT socket in the wall.) If power goes off in an unplanned way mobiles are likely to be unusable or patchy for all but emergency calls, and the phones many of us have in our offices – that plug into a small network – are dependent on electricity too. You probably have the old one in a dusty box somewhere. Have a look. Put it somewhere accessible.
  • Keep a printout of your members’ contact details
    You will need to be able to access such information without relying on your computers, laptops or a server. The same applies for details of staff, volunteers and any other lists you would need in an emergency. They will all need to be locked away securely, where other staff can find them, andreplaced with up-to-date versions on a regular basis. Don’trely on lists in your mobile in case you end up with a flat battery.
  • Priority service customers
    Check whether your members need help registering as Northern Powergrid priority customers, and help them to do so if necessary. Share the what to do before, during and after a power cut leaflet.
  • Electrical Medical Equipment
    Reassure any members who rely on electrical medical equipment that the NHS should have provided them with backup (such as a backup battery), as your power could go off at any time anyway – for example, if someone cuts a cable. Suggest they check they can still remember what to do if they need to.
  • Business Continuity plan
    Draw up a Business continuity plan for your organisation. If you already have one, make sure you review and revise it annually. I found several examples online from a range of local authorities, and insurance companies, that are free to adapt and use to get you started.

West Yorkshire Prepared
Our local resilience organisation provides advice for households on how to be prepared.

Northern Powergrid –  Be Prepared is a webpage about emergencies and what to do. The ‘Helpful Information’ tab takes you to a lot of printable PDFs which might be of use when advising members who can’t get online

If you need to report a powercut call 105 – Power Cut 105
This is also where you can find out the number for the local power operator, and, importantly for any planned powercuts, your ‘block letter’.

Remember – DON’T PANIC – but do be prepared!

Jessica Duffy
Good Practice Mentor