Ready for any emergency

L-r, Helen Crowe, Jim Kersley and Michael Cook at St Abbs. Helping to put resillience plans into place for local communities.
L-r, Helen Crowe, Jim Kersley and Michael Cook at St Abbs. Helping to put resillience plans into place for local communities.

LESSONS learnt from coping with two winters of extreme weather in the borders have been wrapped up in a new community emergency plan that is putting the Scottish Borders ahead of the rest of the country.

So many smaller communities were cut off last winter and the one before because of the amount of snow falling in the region that the usual community spirit became a lifeline for those unable to get out and about, and Scottish Borders Council has built on that spirit to create individual community resilience plans that are structured, have a line of contact, and the Red Cross has come on board with, providing volunteers with essentials such as shovels, high visibility vests, safety helmets, torches etc. and first aid training.

On Monday of this week, St Abbs became the first community in Scotland to be officially presented with their plan, and equipment, after the community council worked with SBC and village residents on what was most suitable for them.

Delivered via community councils means that all volunteers working as part of the resilience plan are covered by SBC insurance - something that took SBC nine months of negotiations with insurers to thrash out - and as SBC’s emergency planning officer, Jim Fraser, explained, it puts what many communities are already doing on an official footing.

Jim and a team from SBC created a framework from which individual communities can create their own plans and that framework has since gone before cabinets at Westminster and Holyrood, both the UK and Scottish Governments keen to emulate the community self help response to emergencies.

Now, whatever the emergency - be it a power cut, snow or flood - St Abbs is prepared. Local residents now know who to contact within their own community if they need assistance, and the co-ordinator has a list of people signed up who have indicated what they can help with, be it shovelling snow, putting out sandbags, collecting prescriptions or shopping for those unable to get and about and anyone needing assistance does not have to feel as if they are imposing on anyone as there is an official list of people only too willing to help.

The type of help that may be needed includes: clearing snow from the pathways of people unable to do it themselves; clearing snow from school and nursery access routes to help ensure they remain open during periods of bad weather; helping with the delivery of supplies in bad weather; providing hot meals and assistance within community centres and village halls; and checking on neighbours to ensure their safety and well being during severe weather.

And youngsters are being encouraged to get involved too. The framework developed by SBC means that becoming involved in a community resilience plan fits into the Scottish education system’s Curriculum for Excellence and the teenagers who sign up as volunteers will receive a letter of merit from Scottish Borders Council and can include their involvement, complete with documentary proof, on their CV.

In the Borders SBC officials have been taken aback at the interest being shown by community councils and despite initially planning to introduce community emergency plans gradually across the region they have already had requests from 35 of the 60 community councils in the region and the speed at which villages like St Abbs have been able to put the idea into action has been quite overwhelming.

Leader of SBC, Councillor David Parker: said “Scottish Borders Council is the leading local authority in Scotland in preparing and implementing this type of initiative and it has already secured backing from both the Scottish and UK Government.

“It provides a fantastic opportunity for local communities to work together to complement the response of the emergency responders when things like severe weather and power failure are impacting on their daily lives.”

For a community emergency plan to work requires at least 10 per cent of the residents to get involved - something that proved to be no problem for St Abbs where 40 of the 129 population signed up immediately.

“We put the leaflets out on the Friday and by the following Thursday we had well over the 10 per cent,” said Helen Crowe, secretary of St Abbs Community Council and co-ordinator of the village plan.

“It’s something we already do here and the plan just cements what we have been doing as a community and puts it on an official footing.

“The council’s plan has been well thought through and the equipment we have been given is good.”

Local councillor Michael Cook added: “It’s not re-inventing the wheel; it’s about recognising the communities who have worked together for years and giving them support as well as equipment.”

As SBC’s emergency planning officer, Jim Fraser received around 50 calls a day at the height of last winter’s bad weather.

Typical calls would be pensioners who couldn’t dig their cars out of their drives to get elderly partners to hospital for vital dialysis, chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment.

The roads had been cleared it was too much for them to clear the drive to the road.

Although not a council responsibility they did what they could to help, but with each community having its own list of communities, if SBC’s emergency team are contacted in future they can immediately get in touch with a volunteer in that village or town and help can be there much quicker for those in need.

A community’s co-ordinator is the first point of contact and then depending on the size of the town or village it may be divided into different areas and each area has it’s own co-ordinator. Armed with a list of volunteers from that area they can then contact as and when required.

St Abbs are confident that the plan they have worked on with will work but Councillor Michael Cook indicated that a review of how it is going will be needed some time in the future to ensure that it is working as expected for the community and the list of volunteers will need to be updated on a regular basis as people’s circumstances change.

“Funding and resources have been made available by the council and its partners to make sure the Resilient Communities Plan is properly implemented and supported.,” said Jim Fraser.

“We’ve been presenting the scheme to community councils throughout the Borders and are overwhelmed by the number of communities getting involved.”

All you have to do is ask - there is someone near you only too ready and willing to help.