Royal Academy of Engineering, 2016.

A report informed by a workshop discussing the impact of Storm Desmond 2015.

Key Points:

  • Storm Desmond brought unprecedented flooding to North Lancashire and Cumbria and parts of central Lancaster.
  • At 22.45 05/12/15 electricity supplies to 61,000 properties were cut, by 04.30 07/12/15 electricity was progressively restored but then cut again, by 11/12/15 the situation returned to normal.
  • Vulnerability of other systems:
    • Power loss affected many other services that people take for granted e.g. mobile phone services, internet, landline, payment systems, ATMs.
  • Households, business and transport:
    • Households were affected through loss of lighting and electrical appliances.
    • Many houses lost heating, both gas and electric.
    • Loss of food.
    • Elevators and water supply affected in high rise buildings.
    • Loss of electricity affected all forms of business activity, e.g. unable to process payments.
    • Trains could run normally, but stations were shut for safety reasons.
    • Bus routes affected due to flooding, and no traffic lights worked, and service stations couldn’t pump fuel.
  • Impact on the community:
    • Many didn’t know what was happening other than looking out of their windows.
    • Communication was seriously affected; many households had transitioned to digital communication formats which were unsustainable in a power outage with no contingency battery supply.
    • Vulnerable groups, care homes and those reliant on electrically powered medical appliances were more seriously affected.
  • Lessons:
    • Raises the question of who’s responsibility is it to ensure resilience to such circumstances: individual, municipal, service provider, etc?
    • Society is moving towards greater dependency on the internet and there is a great need to remind ourselves that the internet is powered by electricity.
    • Businesses need to work out how they could be affected by the loss of electricity and how they could increase their resilience.
    • The move towards renewable electricity and a bi-directional network is a step in the right direction, but potentially exposes society to unforeseen risks which may not have been fully analysed.