24 February 2022

Emergency services point the finger at Evoenergy for storm response delays

| Lottie Twyford
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Storm clean up

The ESA says a lack of communication from Evoenergy is to blame for the delay in getting power back to hundreds of Belconnen residents after the January storm. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

ACT Emergency Services Commissioner Georgeina Whelan has blamed Evoenergy for the length of time it took to get power back to thousands of Belconnen residents in the aftermath of the January storm.

Some residents in the area were without power for six days.

Commissioner Whelan told a committee inquiry yesterday the company had failed to convey the severity of the power outage problem immediately after the storm ripped through.

“The advice we were receiving from Evoenergy for about the first 48 hours did not in any way indicate the extent to which there was a power outage,” she said.

But a spokesperson for Evoenergy refuted this.

They said a full situation report was provided to the ESA ACT Emergency Controller on Tuesday, 4 January, which said, “2600 customers remained without power and that it was likely those customers would be without power until the afternoon of Wednesday, 5 January 2022, or later that week”.

“Evoenergy worked in close collaboration with the ESA, ACT SES and Rural Fire Service, ACT Parks, and NSW SES to coordinate the trimming and removal of downed trees to accelerate the speed at which our crews could attend damaged areas of the network to make them safe, and restore power,” the spokesperson said.

ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan

ACT ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said the advice received from Evoenergy in the aftermath of the January storm failed to convey the extent of the power outage. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The storm on the evening of 3 January triggered more than 1000 requests for assistance. Commissioner Whelan said in storm events, the State Emergency Service takes the lead in responding to hazards, and it’s the ESA’s role to respond to requests for assistance through the 132 500 number, “which we did”, she said.

“We also engaged with other directorates and service providers and brought them into our agency to provide information flow into our incident management team.”

Commissioner Whelan explained that emergency services agencies also don’t have access to information about vulnerable community members who would be at risk during power outages due to privacy concerns.

However, she said people who required medical apparatus, for example, were asked to register with Evoenergy to put together a plan “in the event they lose power”.

Evoenergy crews restored power to 15,000 customers within 24 hours, but 3000 others remained without power for longer.

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Earlier this month, Belconnen residents hit out at what they described as an underwhelming government response to the storm.

Hawker resident Lyn told Region Media she had been “very disappointed” with how “ill-prepared the government was in responding to significant storm damage that occurred in and around Belconnen, especially given that this occurred in storm season”.

“Frankly, any cleanup was a case of too little too late, and people in west Belconnen justifiably felt they were forgotten,” Lyn explained.

Reports emerged in early January of most cleanup work being undertaken by residents rather than trained crews. Earlier this month, Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry thanked residents for having helped out but asked that any remaining jobs be left to those who were trained.

James Milligan

Opposition spokesperson for emergency services James Milligan said the government’s response to the storm had been inadequate. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Opposition spokesperson for emergency services James Milligan said it was unacceptable that Canberrans had been left without power for so long.

“[The government’s] response to the damage left by the storm was totally inadequate. More than 15,000 homes were left in the dark during and for some time after the storm tore through Belconnen,” Mr Milligan said.

He said the government needed a better response plan given the Bureau of Meteorology has registered more than 26 intense storms over the last 10 years, and such storm events are only likely to increase in frequency and severity.

Several weeks ago, Ms Berry indicated that the cleanup in the Belconnen area would be underway for months, even as cleanup crews had their ranks bolstered by additional staff members.

She sought to assure the community that the government still had the capacity to manage any other storms if they were to arise.

The government did agree to inquire into the storm response, with a committee to look into how emergency services agencies communicate with affected locals and the service delivery options of various agencies throughout the storm period and in the weeks afterwards.

Evoenergy has been contacted for comment.

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With an apology and a thank you to the on the ground crews who had to deal with this. No one (in authority or in charge) appears to be responsible for the delay and the attitude appears to be ‘nothing to see here move along’. Ms Berry “sought to assure the community that the government still had the capacity to manage any other storms if they were to arise. The response..”The government did agree to inquire into the storm response, with a committee to look into how emergency services agencies communicate with affected locals…..” A committee? What about having emergency plans in place to cover a range of hazardous events already developed with options in case of bushfire, storms, chemical issues etc instead of the knee-jerk responses. Ms Berry’s reassurances mean nothing to the people of Belconnen who were left to fend for themselves. If it was in the Chief Minister’s electorate I bet a concerned looking Mr Barr would have resolved the cleanup quickly and spare no resources. The ACT Government is quick to issue its rate notices (with rate rises to offset the reduction in stamp duties… yeah right) but the provision of services is yet another thing.

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