Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Northern Ireland Water: We're better prepared for winter freeze

Finaghy was one of the areas badly affected by the deluge in June
East Belfast surfboard superhero rescues flood victims. Image submitted by Conor Dunn
Lisburn Road flooding tonight...

Northern Ireland Water chiefs have pledged they are prepared if a deep freeze followed by a rapid thaw hits the area this winter.

The company’s call centre — which failed miserably during the big freeze two years ago — can now make ‘outbound’ calls to raise an alert sooner.

And it has increased the number of people on its ‘vulnerable customer’ register by four-fold.

The disclosures came as the Stormont committee which monitors the Department of Regional Development (DRD) debated NI Water’s planned response in the event of plummeting temperatures and frozen pipes.

Chief executive Trevor Haslett said the huge freeze and rapid thaw event over Christmas and New Year two years ago was “the perfect storm”.

“It was the coldest winter for 100 years, but it was combined with a rapid thaw and the holiday period — a combination that made a perfect storm. That combination may not occur again, but we are prepared in any case,” he said.

“There were significant call volumes. Our normal level is 1,000 calls a day. The number of calls peaked on 28 December (2010) at 403,000 calls. Notably, those calls came from about 32,000 customers.”

Asked by the committee’s deputy chair, Sinn Fein’s Sean Lynch if he could guarantee no repeat of the 2010/2011 crisis, Mr Haslett replied: “No one can give guarantees in life. However, I can guarantee that, two years on, we are much better prepared.”

“We want to increase awareness of essential services provided, such as, for example, our customer care register: the number of vulnerable customers is now up to just over 2,800. Two years ago, there were fewer than 600 customers on it.

“Our winter readiness campaign is aimed at addressing where 80% of the additional demand and losses came from, namely customers on the commercial side, farms, vacant properties, and so on.

“We also want to reduce flooding from frozen pipes that burst and to educate the public about their role and responsibilities. That is the important 80% that we are targeting from two years ago.”

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