2,000 man hours, 9,000 phonecalls, and 30 standpipes

Westmeath County Council staff worked over 2,000 extra hours over two weeks to repond to the latest weather crisis, according to a report presented to councillors this week.

As the prolonged period of freezing conditions played havoc with water supplies and road conditions across the county, large numbers of outdoor, administrative, and technical staff made themselves available out of hours.

During the week ending January 6, 48 council staff worked 1,391 extra hours, while the following week 46 staff put in 993 extra hours to ensure the council’s incident management plan ran smoothly.

An incident room and out-of-hours emergency phone numbers were established on December 29 to deal specifically with queries from the public, with 21 staff manning phones at weekends.

Between December 27 and January 16, a total of 8,988 calls were taken by staff, 6,602 of which were during office hours and 2,386 out of hours.

Crisis management meetings were held twice daily at 9am and 4pm to review issues including reservoir levels, leaks, welfare issues, and communications with the public.

Thirty standpipes and a total of 11 water tankers provided water in locations throughout the county, with the assistance of the Civil Defence and Army.

Paying tribute to the “exemplary efforts of staff”, county manager Dan McLoughlin said the council was willing to learn from the experience and be more prepared in the event of a similar weather crisis.

“Appreciation must go to the staff who have been involved in the very substantial workload, I think with some success. We are honest enough to admit there is always room for improvement,” he said.

Possible areas of improvement identified by the council include a review of the emergency on-call system, greater use of local radio and council website and the establishment of an Aertel page, the production of a booklet for all households with information on emergency procedures and freezing conditions, and cooperation with the HSE on the locations of elderly and disabled people so assistance can be provided to them.

“The gritting season is not over, and there are a number of lessons to learn regarding water, primarily in relation to consumption levels. People reacted in a human way by leaving taps running - while somewhat understandable it is not advisable and part of the awareness and education process is to distribute booklets before next winter,” added Mr McLoughlin.

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