Perthshire Conservatives have welcomed assurances from a major mobile network provider regarding ‘resilience’ help to stricken communities without power and use of a phone but stress more help needs to come from statutory bodies and the Scottish Government.
Murdo Fraser MSP and Councillors Caroline Shiers and Bob Brawn were commenting following a virtual meeting held recently between Mr Fraser and representatives from Vodafone, when they discussed problems encountered by Kirkmichael residents due to the impact of Storm Arwen.
The ferocious storm brought down trees and damaged fibre cable in the area, leading to a loss of broadband and mobile phone coverage. During the meeting, Mr Fraser highlighted the length of time it took to fix the problem, which involved several different companies.
Commenting, Mr Fraser, who represents the Mid Scotland and Fife region, said: “I told the Vodafone representatives that it was only through good community spirit being built-up in the Kirkmichael area during the pandemic that prevented potentially fatal incidents involving residents following the power outage. The good spirit resulted in people knowing the locations of vulnerable residents in rural areas and, as a result, they were physically able to knock on doors and have a conversation about whether these folk needed support in terms of things like needing help with their heating.
“During the meeting with Vodafone, I pointed out that while this was a good method of helping people, we shouldn’t be relying on volunteers - we need statutory bodies and the Scottish Government to set out a planned resilience model. I also raised the issue that we have established that a lot of people who live in rural areas of Perth and Kinross have dispensed with their landlines altogether and now rely entirely on mobile phones.
“One of the main problems with the Kirkmichael incident was that residents weren’t able to get updates following the storm as they couldn’t use their mobile phones and had no broadband, so they were effectively ‘in the dark’ and had no idea when power would be restored.”
Mr Fraser continued: “The meeting was very useful as it was clear that this issue is very much on their radar and they outlined how Storm Arwen had been a big wake-up call for the mobile phone industry. We were told of their various plans to help in terms of resilience for communities. However, they also highlighted that in order to go down this route funding is a major issue, so it would be useful to know if statutory bodies and the Scottish Government plan to help with this.”
And Councillor Caroline Shiers, who represents the Blairgowrie and the Glens ward, added: “I am glad to hear that discussions have taken place with one of the mobile phone operators serving the rural area of Blairgowrie and Glens. The experience of residents when service has been unavailable for extended periods of time as seen during the storms last winter is completely unacceptable. So many people rely solely on mobile phones now and it is important that service providers do all they can to ensure resilience of equipment and speedy repairs to ensure their network is available.”
Fellow Blairgowrie and the Glens Councillor, Bob Brawn, commented: “I’m pleased that a meeting has taken place with a mobile phone operator that gives giving widespread coverage in our rural areas. Storm Arwen whilst, hopefully, a rare event, clearly showed how reliant communities are on the network, not just calls but also for the broadband service.
“Being without any communication in such an event left many isolated, vulnerable, worried about what was happening and most importantly lacking details of locations and times of relief services such as hot food and drinks.
“With so much reliance today on telephonic communication, such networks should be regarded on the same level as other services- water, gas and electricity.”