Snowfall will trigger new crisis team to prepare for ‘big freeze’

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BARELY an inch of snow in Hull over the coming weeks will trigger meetings of a newly-formed winter emergency team as the city prepares for the prospect of another “big freeze”.

After enduring the severe disruption caused by two consecutive extremely harsh winters – the last being the coldest on record – the city council is leaving nothing to chance and has created a “winter co-ordination team” made up of senior officers to quickly respond to any crisis.

The team, comprising the chiefs of key service areas, will be brought together for at least a daily briefing by snowfall of 25mm (0.98 inches), and for more detailed work at any time by falls of 100mm (3.93) inches, or moderate falls associated with drifting.

The team will meet at an undisclosed city centre location known as “Civic One”.

As well as helping to co-ordinate the council’s response to events as they happen, the team will also be responsible for providing up-to-date information to the public through the authority’s website and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

These were used for the first time last year with some success, attracting 1,700 followers and 35,000 “hits”.

The team will also hold conference calls with partner organisations including the emergency services, transport operators and the health service.

The council says it is as ready as it can be, while acknowledging the inevitable impact on services and daily life.

Coun Martin Mancey, portfolio holder for transport, environment and emergency planning, said: “We learnt a number of lessons from last year’s harsh conditions. While nobody can predict the severity of what we face in the coming months, we believe that we are better prepared than previously.

“Effective communications too are vital to everyone’s health and wellbeing in winter. By expanding our social media operation we are improving how we communicate, and are providing easily accessible channels for residents to feedback information about any problems they may be having in their area.”

In the first two weeks of snow last year, when Arctic blizzards brought much of the region to a standstill, the council’s call centre received almost 27,000 weather-related calls.

A report to a council scrutiny commission next week says last year’s prolonged snow and extreme temperatures had made it “extremely difficult but not impossible” to deliver services to vulnerable residents.

Hazardous footpaths had also made it hard for residents to obtain basic provisions.

In parts of the East Riding, temperatures plummeted to minus 14 degrees, and driving snow and icy roads caused the temporary closure of the Humber Bridge, while train and bus services were suspended and flights cancelled at Humberside Airport.

The use of snow ploughs in Hull was restricted by parked cars, narrow streets and speed humps, as they need to build up speed to begin ploughing.

The team, which will meet most days at 7.30am and be reconvened throughout the day as necessary, will also decide in some cases which calls for service should be responded to.

The report refers to a call last year when four council workers spent a “full hard day” clearing more than 100 tonnes of compacted ice from a school entrance with the aid of a digger and two tipper trucks.

The report said: “Whether this was an effective use of resources is a judgement call based on the information available at that time.”

The council has increased the number of grit bins in the city to almost 300, which residents are being encouraged to use to treat roads and pavements.

The authority has amassed 5,500 tonnes of salt in storage, more than in both previous winters, and says it has access to more.

The report concludes: “Whilst much can be planned in advance to deal with severe winter weather, there has to remain a large element of reactive work.”