Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400
WEDNESDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2007
Mr Collington: My answer is very
similar to Severn Trent. We have all of the measures in place
that Tony described. We have event management procedures in the
company that deal with a range of emergencies and how events are
escalated through the company from local level right up to the
chief executive. We have mock emergencies that we plan for each
year and we engage with the Metropolitan Police and other agencies
in planning for major civil contingencies. There is a major event
planned for February where we are going to model a scenario of
a Thames flood in parts of London. We have all those processes
It has been suggested to us that the Climate Change Bill should
include in it a measure to ensure that all utilities take account
of climate change adaptation needs. I get the impression from
what both of you have said that you are already there so I would
not think that you would need a piece of legislation to help you
do what you are already doing.
Mr Aylard: Absolutely not, but
we have no objection to it.
Chairman: Very diplomatic. Mr
Q402 Mr Drew:
If we could turn to some specificsobviously I know a bit
about what happened in Gloucestershire as you can imagine and
to be honest with you I have not yet read in detail the county's
independent report but I have looked at their summaryhow
do you respond (I did talk to you about this when we met and I
was very grateful for you taking me round the Mythe plant) with
the benefit of hindsight to the criticism which was advanced on
a number of occasions that you were unprepared for the scale of
the problem and you took quite a time to gear up? Subsequently
I then did receive complimentary remarks made about individual
people on the gold command and other lower levels of the command
Mr Wray: Very straightforwardly
we have cooperated through all of this and with the Gloucestershire
Scrutiny Committee to a complete degree. It is a very balanced
report and they point to the same things that we have seen for
ourselves. I think, the sheer scale of this undertaking, and Duncan
Jordan earlier on made the comment which I would agree with: if
anybody had run the scenario it was unimaginable. However, notwithstanding
that, we learned a huge amount about the scale. The second important
thing was the whole mobilisation at scale and the gold command
structure which I believe worked phenomenally well in a civil
emergency of this nature. The benefit of having that structure
and the command and control structureand having all the
agencieswas invaluable. We had not previously been involved
at a gold level as a Category 2 responder and that is a key issue.
Category 2 responders and certainly utilities we believe, now
should be, if not Category 1, called to gold command from the
outset. Over and above that I think we agree with the lessons
and I would simplify them into three major lessons. One, the rather
obvious one, the adequacy of flood defences. We have, as I mentioned
before, a completely new assessment of risk to deal with and we
learned that there are ways of responding and dealing with that
very rapidly: flood defences, not only our own but in the broader
flood plain. Secondly, the resilience of networks. Thames mentioned
re-zoning of networks; we also did that, we were able to re-zone
and protect an awful lot of the area but we had a single point
of failure in the network. All utility networks have that; that
is an endemic issue that we have and that comes back to the issue
of what is the level of risk that we are prepared to take and
how do we invest smartly to build that resilience? Thirdly was
the adequacy of contingency plans. We certainly learned lessons
about rehearsing at that scale but also the mutual aid that we
had across the industry and the all sector working. I think we
have learned some incredibly invaluable lessons that I think should
be embedded with the way that we work now. For instance, we learned
that despite the fact that we have customer records the people
who know customers best on the ground when you are dealing with
a large emergency actually are the voluntary sectorsthey
know where Mrs Smith who is not capable of carrying ten litres
livesand that network is absolutely invaluable.
Q403 Mr Drew:
I want to ask a more general question now so obviously Thames
can be part of this. Since Gloucestershire and obviously Sheffield
and Hull, to what extent have you now already started to put additional
measures in to protect critical infrastructure?
Mr Smith: Around Mythe, as you
know from your local knowledge, we have a barrier around Mythe.
We have looked at all of our sites, all of our critical assets
and we are working right now on those that we have designated
as being at most risk of flooding looking forward rather than
looking backwards at past historical records. We have already
started that and the temporary engineering work will be in place
this side of Christmas.
Q404 Mr Drew:
Give us an idea of how many places we are talking about.
Mr Smith: We are talking about
four or five places.
Q405 Mr Drew:
Even though the Environment Agency said there was something of
the order of 40 per cent of critical assets were in flood plain
Mr Smith: What we have looked
at is a combination of flood risk and resilience of our network
so we are particularly focussed on those areas where the likelihood
of flooding is greatest and the impact on our supply to our customers
Q406 Mr Drew:
So what you are saying is that you are going to have to go back
and re-evaluate but you are doing the most urgent first.
Mr Smith: Yes, very much so. As
we go forward into our next price review over the next five years
that is where we will be bringing in the full engineering design,
the thinking and the discussions with our regulators about the
cost burdens that the Chairman has already mentioned.
Q407 Mr Drew:
Mr Aylard: Very similar. I mentioned
earlier that we are doing a full scale review of the resilience
of our assets based on the latest information from the Environment
Agency. We have also done a very detailedas you would expectlessons
learned exercise internally to see what went right and what went
wrong on 20 July. Things were complicated for us because in the
middle of this our customer centre in Swindon flooded, all the
lights went out, all the computers went down so we had to deal
with a full scale customer problem as well as the issues with
water and waste water.
Mr Wray: To make one additional
point, it is to the broader issue of planning and all of the agencies
that have to be involved with that. In the Gloucester event, after
the first flooding when we had the alarm for the second flood,
we constructed, with phenomenal support, a one kilometre perimeter
barrier around that site. It was a huge feat of engineering delivered
in just short of 24 hours which gave us an extra four feet of
flood protection around that entire site. To do that in normal
circumstances would have taken, I believe, a number of years to
achieve with the planning consent, with the investigations that
have to be carried out before it goes through. That is not a criticism
in any way of planning constraints but I think there is a debate
to be had about a sense of urgency around protection of critical
infrastructure that I think will require an all agency response
in the future.
Q408 Mr Drew:
Can I carry on in the same vein in terms of coordination and information.
Let us look at what happened in Gloucestershire which is what
I know best and is most pertinent. Was there enough information
given to you by the statutory agencies all the way down from Floodline
information coming from the Environment Agency? If there were
weaknesses what were they and how could you improve on that?
Mr Wray: We have very good systems
and contacts with the Environment Agency. We have electronic warnings
systems which are manned and we have ways of getting those out
to all of our managers. They were in place and working fully and
we were getting a constant stream of information down there. What
changed for ourselves, the Environment Agency and practically
everybody that I have met in the areaand we can see this
from the datawas the speed of the rise and the absolute
level that the ground water and river levels came to were at a
rate and a speed that nobody had previously seen. We were in a
position of having regular updates and in the very, very late
hours the nature of those indications indicating that it was going
to overtop our works was probably late in the day. So the communication
was there; it actually worked incredibly well. I think the lesson
to be learned is: is there a way of us having better modelling
techniques that are more able to indicate rather than the generality
of flooding, the more specific location? I think that is where
the effort needs to go. The communication lines were open and
worked very well.
Just a point on that, we had some supplementary evidence sent
to us by an engineer, a hydrologist, and he said, "Less modelling,
more qualified people who understand what is going on on the ground".
Are we short of people who can, if you like, bridge the gap between
the modelling work but who understand hydrology on the ground
to help with the kind of predictive work that you have just been
Mr Wray: I think there is absolutely
a place for local knowledge and for visibility. Certainly internally
we do not rely simply on the warnings that we have got. We have
a huge distributed workforce in the network; we have a lot of
eyes and ears out there assessing what is going on. I think somebody
said earlier on that the broader use of information, certainly
local information, would be very helpful.
Q410 Mr Drew:
If I could move on then to what happened post the immediate impact
of the flood, if nothing else the word "bowser" in Gloucestershire
is one that everybody understands with some trepidation, as you
can imagine. Again with the benefit of hindsight how well do you
think that supply of water was handled? I think the thing that
probably shocked most of us was that there was not a plan B for
getting piped water in. You may want to say something about what
you have done subsequently, but it was a tremendous episode in
the sense that ways were found of getting both drinking water
in the form of bottled water but also bowsers to support that.
However, should it have happened and can it be prevented?
Mr Wray: If I can deal with the
operation first of all, it was always our intention from day one
to make sure that our customers had sufficient water. We did recognise
early on that despite what the SEMD plan says about ten litres
a day, from the very outset we were not sure that that was going
to be enough to meet needs and in fact a better figure, as it
turned out when we looked at the statistics after the event, was
that customers were needing about 20 litres of water which we
did supply. We were clear that we needed bowsers in the street
but also bowsers mean that you are carrying large amounts of water,
you need the utility of water and therefore we mobilised the bottled
water stream. In normal incidents that has never been a problem
for us; we have been able to mobilise bowsers and bottled water
on a small scale. We were absolutely inundated with the sheer
scale of this and it took us about 36 hours to get up and running.
I have to say, getting up and running was with the huge help of
certainly the army logistical corps with military help and some
key supply chain suppliers that we have. What happened there and
the key lesson for us is how to run a unique supply chain in that
event. The key components for us were that we were good at sourcing;
we were good at buying the bottled water; we were good through
our colleagues in the rest of the industry in getting hold of
bowsers. The logistical help at scale from the military logistical
corps was then key in handling the scale of that. The fine points
of distribution we learned were really working hand in hand with
the local authorities and the voluntary agencies who knew the
points of supply. It was of a scale we had never dealt with before
and we had to learn very, very quickly which we did and we have
a better handle on how to do that in the future.
Q411 Dr Strang:
You referred to the ten litres per person of water you were required
to provide, how much of that was supposed to be for cooking and
drinking et cetera?
Mr Wray: Believe it or not ten
litres is supposed to be for everything.
Q412 Dr Strang:
I realise that, but is there a rough break down?
Mr Wray: Not that I am aware of.
We got to a frequency of keeping our bowsers full; we got to a
frequency of making sure there were about three million litres
of bottled water a day. What we could see for static use was that
consumers were getting to a level and not being out of stock,
having stores of about 20 litres a day.
Q413 Dr Strang:
You are saying that ten litres was unrealistic.
Mr Wray: I believe ten litres
Mr Smith: Certainly for that period
of time what we found was that people were taking about ten litres
a day of bottled water which we assumed was for drinking and cooking.
The bowser water was for flushing the loos, washing and so on.
That is how it split out in practice.
Q414 Dr Strang:
So if you had a scale of emergency that forced you down to ten
litres a day that would involve very real hardship?
Mr Wray: We believe it would.
From what we could see we believe it would.
Q415 Dr Strang:
To what extent were you using antiseptic wipes or alternatives
Mr Kane: There were two things
that we picked up on in terms of public health issues. One of
the real concerns was that as this went on for a long time that
flushing the toilet in the house with buckets of water could well
lead to blockages close to the house in the local pipeline system.
We looked at a couple of things. One of the things that Duncan
Jordan mentioned was the provision of wag bags that were shipped
in. They could be distributed to the house and used in the house
as effectively a chemical toilet with a solid waste disposal route.
The good fortune was that we never got to deploy those. We also
looked at the alternative of bringing in ranks of portaloos and
distributing those around the street. In the end we decided not
to do that; gold command decided not to do that. We did provide
antiseptic and antiseptic wipes at the same centres that we put
the bottled water at so they were distributed along with bottled
Chairman: Gentlemen, thank you very much
indeed for your contribution to our inquiry. If, as a result of
anything you have said, there are further thoughts that you want
to impart to us then we would be very happy to have those in writing.
Thank you again for your written evidence.