Water UK: “I think they felt that the scheme was narrower than it actually was”

With a failure of communication being one of the main features of the Northern Ireland water crisis it’s worth highlighting this BBC report from last night.

[Water UK Chief Executive Pamela] Taylor said the idea behind the [mutual aid] scheme was that operators could call for assistance in the event of an emergency.

She said it was up to individual operators to identify the type of help needed such as tankers, bowsers or call centre staff.

She confirmed that NI Water contacted Water UK on Friday, a week after the crisis began for clarification on the assistance available.

“I think they felt that the scheme was narrower than it actually was,” she said.

So when I was contacted on Friday I was able to clarify with them the breadth of the scheme and recognise that NI Water did indeed want help regarding call centre staff. [added emphasis]

“Then within three hours of their needing that support though mutual aid they were able to get it.”

Interestingly, in the same report, NI Water spokesman Liam Mulholland denies that the mutual aid scheme covered call handling staff

Liam Mulholland from NI Water defended the company’s position and denied NI Water had not made the most of the help available from Water UK.

“As part of our major incident plan we reviewed that part of the document which said the mutual understanding is there,” he said.

“It clearly states that it is to do with engineering, plant and machinery and so on.

“The term resource is more around the machinery and plant situation, that was our view at that time.

“At that point the situation with Water UK was, there was no agreement there in terms of call handling staff. [added emphasis]

“Subsequently on 31 December when our chief executive spoke with Water UK they put out a call to their members to see if anyone could help us.”

So NI Water are arguing that the Chief Executive of Water UK doesn’t understand its own mutual aid scheme?  Really?!

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  • Any comms or operational director worth their salt would have had meetings and worked out exactly what was on offer, and had that integrated into an emergency response plan (yeah right). Pathetic. Simply pathetic.

  • al

    Did any of our politicians do any research before the “emergency” meeting the other day? Surely if basic questions like what have niwater done so far and what other options are available to assist were brought up someone should have turned around and said have they talked to Water UK?

    Of course not they all sat there and pointed fingers and name called.

    Also why did Water UK not lift the phone and ask NI Water if they needed assistance? (“Communication is an essential part of our work.” lol)

    Finally and of course the obvious question is why did no one in NI Water ring Water UK and actually discuss what they could do for them rather than assuming they couldn’t help?

  • danidiot

    “Finally and of course the obvious question is why did no one in NI Water ring Water UK and actually discuss what they could do for them rather than assuming they couldn’t help?”

    …during their Xmas holiday. Are you kidding?

  • joeCanuck

    It would be reasonable right now to take anything anyone says with a large pinch of salt. They all all too busy covering their arses and fingerpointing at everyone else.

  • Drumlins Rock

    I would suspect that the previous directors of NIW might have been more aware of the assistance available, there expertise could have made a real difference.

  • UK Water Press Release [note date]
    Water supply and winter bursts
    31/12/10

    All water companies and operators in the UK have set up, and are members of, the Mutual Aid scheme. ..

    The Mutual Aid scheme allows water operators to state what assistance or help they need – whether it’s bottled water supplies, tankers, other equipment or specialist staff – and it’s for companies to respond by saying how they can assist.

    The Mutual Aid scheme is kept up to date by all water operators exchanging best practice and sharing actual experiences.

    Any operators can invoke mutual aid at any time whether it’s for a relatively low key event or for a major event or emergency.

    There is indeed no mention of call-handling. References to emergency communications appear to deal only with highly secure forms of communication and they may not have got beyond the level of fax systems.

    Are there no emergency call-handling arrangements across departments here, perhaps also including local councils?

  • al

    You would have thought so Nevin but that would take forethought.

    NI Water did ask for call handling help eventually so why did they choice to ignore Water UK before? Or did they just wait until they were desperate before making contact?

  • Pete Baker

    Nevin

    Still throwing trees onto the track?

    You’re now arguing that the Chief Executive of Water UK is lying when, as the BBC report noted

    She said it was up to individual operators to identify the type of help needed such as tankers, bowsers or call centre staff.

    She confirmed that NI Water contacted Water UK on Friday, a week after the crisis began for clarification on the assistance available.

    “I think they felt that the scheme was narrower than it actually was,” she said.

    “So when I was contacted on Friday I was able to clarify with them the breadth of the scheme and recognise that NI Water did indeed want help regarding call centre staff.”

    Here’s the relevant line from your press release – without specific examples and with added emphasis.

    The Mutual Aid scheme allows water operators to state what assistance or help they need [] and it’s for companies to respond by saying how they can assist.

    Now, you can argue that NI Water misunderstood the nature of the “resources” they could request assistance with…

  • “the BBC report noted”

    Quite. I prefer to reference primary sources wherever possible.

    Mutual Aid

    How do you get it?
    – Recognise what you need,
    – Check the Mutual Aid Manual,
    – Contact the listed contact point in the
    company whose equipment you want
    to borrow under mutual aid
    arrangements
    – agree arrangements for delivery etc
    – terms and conditions

    I can’t find a copy of this manual online.

    The Water UK Emergency Planning Group [pdf file] is tasked to ‘ensure a practical Mutual Aid scheme is in place’.

    As for call-handling, surely that could be done more effectively by staff from other departments or agencies in Belfast or elsewhere in Northern Ireland.

    “You’re now arguing that the Chief Executive of Water UK is lying”

    Nope.

  • Be Prepared For Disruption

    Did the Consumer Council/Antoinette McKeown forget to send Laurence MacKenzie and Conor Murphy an email on December 16?