Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Sixth Special Report


Thank you for your letter dated 21 September 1999 in which you requested a report setting out the essential details of events relating to the most recent storm which occurred over the weekend of 17-19 September.

The storm provided a meaningful test of many of the measures we have put in place to improve our response to supply interruptions caused by severe weather. We are pleased to report that the results validate the effectiveness of the actions we have taken since the Boxing Day storm in the critical areas of communications with customers, internal mobilisation and escalation, and restoration of supplies. On the whole, we thought media reaction was reasonably balanced and reflected our improved management of the event.


In summary there were 7,000 customers interruptions at the peak of the disruption and in total around 18,000 customers had their supplies interrupted at some stage over the period. 78% of supplies were restored within 3 hours and 99.70% within 24 hours. Specific details are given in Appendix A.

Communications with Customers

Call handling capacity

Our call handling capacity was increased to 42 from 07.30 hrs on Saturday, 18 September, which included 30 call handlers spread across our 5 main Customer Service Centres. In total 5,520 calls were answered on our 0345 number and 82% of calls were answered by call handlers and the remainder by Message Linkwhich operated satisfactorily and was updated at regular intervals. The "hotline" for elected representatives was also available, however our Customer Service Centres did not receive any calls on these lines.

Information to call handlers

We are satisfied that the modifications we have made to the process of obtaining information from the field and its dissemination across the organisation meant that our call handlers had a better quality of information available to them to pass on to customers. The Incident Room was able to update the call centres with regular bulletins.

Critical Care Register

Critical Care

Our Critical Care Response Units were established as soon as the incident was declared. They were in contact with 17 customers on the Critical Care Register that were affected by the storm (the Critical Care Register is for customers with life supporting electrical equipment and there are currently 855 customers registered).

In addition they were in contact with 5 customers with Life Supporting Electrical Equipment who were also affected but were not on our Critical Care Register. These customers have since been added.

We plan to promote the Critical Care Register at the beginning of November and have been working closely with the Health Boards on this (they have agreed to actively promote the register with their patients).

This will help us ensure that we have a comprehensive register of customers with life supporting equipment available, that we will contact during any future storms.

Vital Services and Key Customers

When HV circuit failures were identified a check was made to identify any vital sites and key customers affected. One vital site was notified of an interruption—DoE Water at Glenavy where supplies were restored within 8 hours.


Comprehensive and regular updates were provided to the media including a precautionary warning issued in advance on Friday. In total some 11 press releases were issued. We issued bulletins within 30 minutes after each significant fault was reported, and an update once that fault was restored. BBC carried updates on their local news programmes every hour with updates on Ceefax, and Radio Downtown carried hourly broadcasts.

Restoration of Supplies

In accordance with our revised Emergency Plan, and on account of Met Office weather warnings for widespread gusts of 45 knots throughout Saturday with isolated gusts up to 55 knots, the Duty Incident Manager initiated a "Level 1 mobilisation" and our new Incident Centre at Craigavon was manned from 07.30 hours on Saturday. The appropriate resources for emergency response had been alerted on Friday and those resources were quickly mobilised on Saturday.

The Incident Centre successfully collated information flows from Control Centres, Customer Service Centres and field staff. Our new Customer Service Centre Managers ensured that the Emergency Plan was implemented in each location.

The effectiveness of the restoration effort can be seen in that 78% of supplies were restored within 3 hours and 99.70% within 24 hours. Of the 18,000 supplies which were interrupted, only a relatively small number of customers—around 55—were without supply for longer than 24 hours.

Network resilience

Wind Speeds

In the event, information from the Met Office confirmed actual wind speeds frequently gusting to over 50 knots across Northern Ireland on Saturday between 09.00 and 18.00 hours. The maximum gust recorded was 55 knots. Winds decreased from 18.00 hours onwards.


In total there were 63 HV faults and 140 LV faults. Of the 63 HV faults, 54 were on the 11 kV rural circuits. 61% of faults were on non-refurbished lines with 70% of all faults attributable to damage from Wind and Trees. The first HV fault occurred at 10.00 hrs in Dungannon followed by successive faults in Craigavon, Newry and Ballymena. Fewer faults developed in Campsie, Enniskillen, Omagh and Bangor.

This indicates a "band" of wind across the Province from SW to NE.

Our analysis of the performance of refurbished circuits vs non-refurbished circuits shows evidence of the effectiveness of the refurbishment programme in improving the resilience of the network to storm conditions. Further details are provided in the Appendix B.

Guaranteed Standards/Goodwill Payments

Some 55 customers in the Craigavon area were without supply for longer than 24 hours and to date 6 claims for payments under GS2 have been made.

I hope this report, which is summarised in statistical form in the Appendix, gives Ofreg increased confidence in the effectiveness of the measures NIE has, and is continuing to put in place. We are confident in our improved ability to manage future emergencies. The commitment which NIE's MD —Harry McCracken—is giving to all our customers in our new Customer Charter is that "NIE staff will be working night and day doing everything humanly possible to keep any interruption whatever the cause to an absolute minimum".

We will be pleased to respond to any queries you may have on this report.

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Prepared 18 November 1999