All households in Kintyre and Arran were reconnected to network supply by close of play on Thursday 28th March, with SSE engineers using wooden poles to bypass the collapsed towers – which totalled ten between Inveraray in Mid Argyll and Carradale in Kintyre.
There is now time to sit back and absorb the scale of the operation SSE mustered and grew to respond to the week long emergency.
This was nothing less than a military exercise, with 20,000 households without power at the worst of it; with 450 engineers, linesmen, switchers and supervisors brought in from all over the UK mainland to do the field work; and with something like 100 support staff working on logistics, co-ordination and resourcing.
All these staff had to be accommodated, fed, moved and kept supplied with all of the equipment, transports and materials they needed.
SSE chartered no fewer than six helicopters to overfly this expansive area for sheer speed of network fault finding when road access was impossible. These aircraft also flew in the heavy replacement poles and offered assistance, where possible, to farmers in getting food to trapped livestock.
The company chartered CalMac’s Islay Ferry, the MV Hebridean Isles, for two successive days, seeing it make two passages south from Kennacraig, round the Mull of Kintyre and up into Campbeltown Loch, delivering generators, vehicles, mobile catering units and staff [and some supermarket food trucks] direct to the harbour. One of the CalMac inshore ferries out of Tarbert was also taken temporarily out of normal service and made supply runs to Arran.
The company says that it has recorded two British mainland firsts in the course of its response to this situation:
- the extent both of the damage and the consequent repairs to the steel transmission towers ‘has been unprecedented on the GB transmission network’.
- no other mobilisation of generator power has been done at this scale before, ‘connecting the equivalent of two small power stations’.
The logistics involved included:
- the supply of 350 wood poles and 50 pole mounted transformers which had to be replaced;
- the serving of 15,000 home-made hot meals and over 30,000 hot drinks.
All of this took place in conditions which, until they improved with site access possible on 26th March, saw engineers contending with blizzards and snow drifts of up to 3m deep.
Throughout the entire operation, not one single member of SSE staff was injured – which says a lot about the safety standards obtaining.
Then, with this necessarily being a multi-agency operation, there was all of the liason and cooordination between the partners in the incident response. These included the emergency services of Police, Fire and Rescue; the NHS; Mountain Rescue teams; Coastguard Rescue teams; the Red Cross; Transport Scotland; and the Scottish Government.
Now, of course, SSE have to rebuild part of the network.
They say that they also ‘will be proactively contacting customers about compensation’ and will be ‘organising roadshows to listen and respond to customer feedback’.
The response from affected communities in Kintyre and on Arran to SSE’s work has been universally warm – and that can reliably be read as a general ‘thank you’ to all of the agencies involved. They will have been ready for the Easter break – except that there are SSE engineers still on standby duty in Kintyre and Arran as a safeguard for the holiday experience for both visitors and residents.
There are lessons to be learned in setting up now both processes and database information:
- to enshrine which agency takes immediate overall charge of coordinating such an incident; and to make sure that that agency is prepared and schooled in what it has to do;
- to enable a more methodical contacting of the variously vulnerable next time – where it was a makeshift operation at the start this time;
- to establish just why locally generated wind power appeared to have no contribution to make; and to remedy that situation. This is likely to be a UK-wide issue with a UKwide solution.