Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Authorities still walk on thin ice

We cannot say that we were not warned in time. The bad weather alerts, including forecasts of significant snowfall, were evident for several days before the snow actually fell.

Yet it created the same doomsday atmosphere as ever and even now it is clear that public services have not dealt adequately with the problems.

Many roads remain blocked, some schools are shut and even patient treatment is being affected by power failures.

Quite simply our response is just a bit rubbish when confronted with bad weather.

That is not to denigrate those who go out to clear the roads or work in severe conditions to restore power. They deserve our praise.

Rather it is the overall planning by utilities and others. Every time there is a downpour the same places get flooded. Every time there is snow power lines snap, roads become impassable and the whole region virtually grinds to a halt.

We are not talking solely about remote rural areas where it is to be expected that minor back roads will be blocked or that isolated homes will be cut off.

But last Friday's snowfall left – and is still leaving – significant areas on the fringes of our major urban areas with barely passable roads, carriageways with stranded cars and frequent power cuts.

Often it is left to local people to help each other, whether it is farmers digging out neighbours or friends calling on elderly people to ensure that they are well.

It has to be accepted that our infrastructure is laughably bad due to decades of under-investment, although we still pay dearly for our power and the council services which cannot even keep footpaths ice-free.

We need some sort of central emergency committee, like the UK's COBRA, which would swing into action directing and co-ordinating utilities and central and local government services and which could, as suggested yesterday, call on the Territorial Army for assistance in extreme cases.

At the very least we need a proper debate on how to improve our response to bad weather, which likely to be more frequent in future.

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