What a start to the year. With the warmer weather now here it’s hard to believe that just a few months ago our region was hit by some of the worst cold weather in its history. The ‘Beast from the East’ brought heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures, followed by a rapid thaw. These extreme weather conditions led to a spike in bursts and leaks across water networks the UK over, and on many customers’ private pipework.
Despite taking the brunt of the cold weather in the East, our operational issues and customer impact was comparatively low, and any disruption remained small scale and localised.
This was due in no small part to the high level of planning and investment that provides resilience across our network, and the efforts of our employees in preparing and managing such an event.
A report published today by our regulator, Ofwat paints a picture of the range of issues that emerged across the country, and the various ways in which water companies tried to get to grips with them. We’ll be reviewing the report in detail for any lessons we can learn from our peers, but the headlines suggest we largely got it right. For instance, through the effort we put into keeping in touch with our customers across all the channels available to us; promoting our ‘Keep Pipes Cosy’ advice; and working hard with media and community groups to get the right messages and support to the right people at the right time.
We think the challenge was extreme, but thanks to our planning and investment over recent years services were recovered quickly, and just 163 homes in our area went without water for more than 12 hours.
So what is it about Anglian Water that means despite being hit first by the Siberia-style weather, just a tiny number of our customers were affected for more than a few hours at most?
- Firstly, we’re really on our game when it comes to leakage. We’re the best in the industry, which means we’re better placed than most to deal with challenges like this cold weather. And when we discover issues, our first priority is always to get customers back on: restore, repair, recharge, in that order. Our Intensive Leakage Team can be seen hard at work here.
- We’re always looking for new ways to fix problems like this – just take a look at our leak-finding drone for one example. We also really know our network, and smart monitoring of it helped us pinpoint problems quickly.
- We don’t work alone. Our approach to collaboration means we were quickly able to call on the expertise of all our partners, which meant we had more than 100 gangs and 400 people out on the ground, finding and fixing problems. During challenging situations like this, we also link up with other emergency response organisations in our region, like Local Resilience Forums, and this worked well for us.
- And finally, as reported by Ofwat, we have a clear and established plan for dealing with issues like this. We scale up our response, we communicate with customers, and we respond dynamically to challenges on our network as they emerge.
At the time of the cold weather, the Water Minister, Therese Coffey, made reference to us in the House of Commons, praising our response. We’re pleased that, four months on, a more detailed look at the situation has reached the same conclusion.
Of course, there will be lessons to learn – and lessons to share – and we won’t miss the chance to do that as we prepare for whatever next winter might throw at us and the rest of the industry. With more than six million customers to serve, it’s vital that we never stop finding new ways to keep ahead of the increasingly volatile challenges the climate throws at us.
Over 99.6 per cent of our customers experienced no impact at all, and where problems did occur they were quickly rectified. This long term preparation and rapid response also ensured our leakage and interruption to supply performance remained unaffected, despite the challenges.