(Updated below) The For Argyll Newsroom and Techroom departments were both hit – along with tens of thousands of others in Argyll, with a loss of power from 6.30am on Tuesday 3rd January 2012.
At 6.00pm tonight – after an outage of 60 hours and three lost working days, the newsroom came back onstream. Techroom is still without power but installed a generator during the day and is also back up and running – with a generator also on order for the newsroom.
With dect landline phones and wifi, a power wipe out takes you back to the dark ages and leaves you there. Many areas, including those affecting the various departments of For Argyll, have also had no mobile phone signals as masts too were left without power.
A worry for everyone is that not all of the power now restored may hold. A significant number of the households restored today in Argyll by Scottish Hydro are the result ,not of repairs but of generators being brought in to sub-stations. These generators have to be kept fuelled and winds are forecast for the next couple of days which may bring further losses of power and delay the repairs still not completed.
With no overall picture provided of where the outages were, communities have been disabled from helping each other as many would instinctively have done and have wanted to do.
Bute is seeing food queues outside the shops still able, somehow, to operate. Hotels in Rothesay are running soup kitchens. BBC Scotland – whose reporting of the situation overall has been exceptionally poor and discriminatory – tonight reported soup kitchens also in Lochgilphead – although why that should be so remains a puzzle as Lochgilphead only lost power for the first 30 minutes at the start of the outage and has remained consistently onstream since.
This morning Scottish Hydro told us that 19,000 households in Argyll and Bute remained without power as of 9.30am. Pressed hard for details they instanced Easdale Island, Oban (which we understand was not even correct), Taynuilt, Dalmally, Loch Aweside, Furnace, Minard, Crinan, Tarbert, Skipness, Clachan, Campbeltown, Southend, Strachur, Dunoon (although we understand that was for a short time only), Glendaruel, Tighnabruaich, Colintraive, Toward, Rothesay, Port Askaig, Port Ellen – before giving up in despair, saying: ‘Oh, there are hundreds of these places…’
Scottish Hydro’s performance
Scottish Hydro has some very serious and precise questions to answer, on two specific issues - in public and with simple facts.
These relate first and very seriously to information handling; and then to the need to demonstrate the precise factual reality of some of the actions they claimed to be taking.
We are asking Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute’s MSP and Cabinet Secretary for Education, to pursue the issues below at the highest level and to insist upon Scottish Hydro making public the specific facts their disappointed and angry customers demand.
The customers’ view
People are intelligent and realistic.
They know an act of God when they feel one under the eaves of their homes .
They do not expect utility companies to be able to resist such forces without a degree of service failure and without, sometimes, a substantial degree of service failure.
People also know that there are priorities in repair scheduling and that these priorities marry common sense with the delivery targets against which corporations’ performance is measured.
Everyone knows that it makes sense to apply the first efforts to actions which connect at a stroke the greatest number of people. No one would argue against that logic.
The fact that this also fits the utility companies’ need to publish as quickly as possible large numbers of households to whom service has been restores, is a by-produce convenient for the companies. Customers largely do not object to this because it is a by product of a practical commons sense strategy.
However, what people do object to – and rightly so – is not being given the information they unequivocally require in order to manage, in their own best interests, what is no less than a domestic trauma or business crisis – replicated tens of thousand of times across the country.
The majority of people have no source of heating for food, water and space other than powered in some way by electricity.
Many have young children or elderly parents and relatives, a significant proportion of whom are ill and have limited mobility. Very many family carers are only able to manage the care they offer through assistance from electrically powered devices – like ripple mattresses, adjustable beds and reclining chairs, hoists and motorised wheel chairs- both of whose batteries need recharging.
Businesses cannot today function without computers, wifi broadband, mobile phones and other electrical equipment and without adequate heat to maintain their responsibilities to staff.
It is an unarguable imperative that households and businesses in any affected area are given accurate and honest information and assessments to help them to make decisions on managing the situation in which they find themselves.
Outright failure of information handling
The first set of facts required from Scottish Hydro relate to its quite shocking failure in information handling.
Never, at any point in this long and continuing saga – which apparently will not be complete until Sunday 8th January 2012 – has Scottish Hydro’ s information messaging offered any remotely area-specific pictures.
All it made available – even to those who pursued their queries through the emergency call lines – were repetitive bland assurances that the situation was difficult, that everything possible was being done and that the next update would be in a given number of hours.
So people who might have had an ill person in their household transferred to hospital for the duration hung on in the hope that they would not have to cause this distress and disorientation. Most managed as best they could at considerable physical risk to all concerned.
Businesses that might have made appropriate home-working arrangements – were given no reason to do so. Businesses that might have sent a couple of operatives with laptops and mobiles to somewhere with power to carry on urgent contract or delivery work – were left with no known imperative to do so. Businesses that might have revised their scheduling were subject to the limbo imposed by the single most incompetent and irresponsible management of information we have seen in a major public emergency.
People who might have gone to a hotel for heat and food hung on in there hoping for an early result, always waiting for yet another three to five hours before the next non-update – for, to date, three days and nights – and counting.
This information strategy has no acceptable defence and is a matter on which heads should roll. It has multiplied the costs and the damage to affected households and businesses alike.
The threshold for the payment of compensation is anything over 48 hours without power – with representatives of the power companies being careful to say that this involves ‘some’ compensation – even though businesses have lost days of work and, wiht this being the Christmas and Hogmanay period, many households have had full freezers and fridges – all binned.
We noted that Scottish Hydro’s messaging only mentioned being willing to pay for hotel and food accommodation (if it was ‘reasonable’ ) in a message put out after 7,00pm last night and which had been removed by 8.00am this morning – as indeed had all information of any kind been removed.
800 households (Scottish Hydro’s figures) across Argyll tonight are facing the completion of their third successive 24 hour period without power and in many cases without heat, hot water and hot food. Given this situation, there is no reason to have virtually hidden and then swiftly removed the hotel accommodation offer – although hotels in affected areas would have had little better to provide.
This morning, with the later admission to us that 19,000 Argyll households remained without power, not only had the bland ‘situation update’ itself been removed but the offer to connect one with an ‘expert adviser’ led only to an endlessly ringing and never answered phone. Using the emergency line (Press 2) also brought a very lengthy spell of unanswered ringing out.
What they should have done
One assumes that there will have been a management plan with project management for the repair marathon -
- where the faults were and how they were prioritised;
- numbers of engineers available and coming onstrean at what times;
- shift systems to be employed;
- engineering support systems to be deployed – availability and estimated time to site;
- numbers of engineers to be deployed to which faults and in what order;
- estimated nature and time for repair of each fault – before site inspection;
- estimated nature and time for repair of each fault – after site inspection.
What is certain is that someone, somewhere in Scottish Hydro, absolutely knew the detail of the repair priority scheduling; knew when engineers were estimated to be deployed to specifc faults in specific areas; knew the estimated time for repair of each fault; and knew the updated repair times from the engineers when they arrived at and inspected the fault sites.
If any single one of these things was not known to someone in authority at Scottish Hydro, such incomprehensible incompetence is the clearest possible prompt to switch supplier at once.
If such information – as it should and must have been, was indeed known by someone at Scottish Hydro, that information should have been made fully and immediately public and regularly and precisely updated.
This is the 21st century. ‘Customer care’ has to start meaning something closer to what the honest and innnocent imagine it means – and Scottish Hydro’s performance in no way met acceptable standards.
Questions on the credibility of what they did say
On Wednesday morning’s (4th January 2012) early automatic messaging, Scottish Hyrdro said they had 400 engineers working over Argyll, West Highlands, Tayside and Central – on a total of 90 faults.
Seven hours later the number of engineers was still trumpeted as 400 and the number of faultrs had come down to – 83. It us legitimate to ask quite how 400 engineers had been deployed to achieve a fault reduction of 7 in 7 hours.
An update 5 or 6 hours later again cited the 400 engineers and gave the number of outstanding faults then as 78. It is also legitimate to ask how 400 engineeers were deployed to have repaired another 5 faults in 5 or 6 hours.
With no infomation even given on what or where the faults were; or on which faults how many engineers had been deployed in repair in what order, there is no basis for credibility in any of Scottish Hydro’s statements.
In the light of the utter inability of the company to manage information in the public interest, we have no confidence at all in the capability of the company and have therefore no reason to trust what it claimed to be doing in repairs.
We had our own questions as to how, in any properly maintained system, even a storm of these dimensions should create quite such a scale of widespread system failure. We have learned from our own researches that there is knowledgeable dissatisfaction within the service of the calibre of maintenance carried out over the past 20 years.
It is now incumbent upon Scottish Hydro to make public its detailed maintenance schedule over this period – as compared with that of, say, five years previously.
It is also imperative for the company, in the interests of its credibility, to make public detailed information about the engineers employed, and their specifc deployments in this emergency.
This charade of professionalism – by a foreign owned, profit-taking, private sector corporation, has led us, as a team, to see the value of a particular model of delivery of utilities and other services which would distinctively mark out and energise an independent and ambitious Scotland. This will be published tomorrow (6th January 2012).
Update Friday 6th January 2012: Scottish Hydro has informed us that the Isle of Bute is now back onstream.