Perthshire Conservatives have welcomed an announcement from Ofcom that states local residents must be able to phone emergency services following a damaging storm.
Murdo Fraser MSP and Councillors Caroline Shiers and Bob Brawn all say this move is essential in helping stricken people, such as those living in the Kirkmichael area following the impact of Storm Arwen in November last year.
The ferocious storm brought down trees and damaged fibre cable in the area, leading to a loss of broadband and mobile phone coverage.
Ofcom wrote to BT after the chaos caused by storms Arwen and Eunice left communities like those living in the Kirkmichael area without power for days, and has asked the company to find new backup options for phones that depend on an internet connection rather than old copper wires as ‘a matter of urgency.’ As a result, BT has subsequently stopped the roll-out of its digital-only phones.
Commenting, Mr Fraser, who represents the Mid Scotland and Fife region, said: “We very much welcome this decision from Ofcom who told BT that rural people must be able to call the emergency services when storms cause power cuts, after digital-only phones were rendered useless by strong winds last winter. This was part of the main problem for residents in Kirkmichael as they were unable to use their mobile phones and their internet was down, so they were not getting updates on what was being done to try to get the power back on in their homes.
“The pausing of rolling out digital-only phones was one of the subjects I had discussed with Vodafone following the lengthy delay in fixing the power outage in Kirkmichael. Communities that are devastated in this manner following a storm need to have access to emergency services as it can literally be a matter of life and death.
“It was very fortunate that there was a great community spirit in Kirkmichael with residents looking out for one another. Otherwise, I shudder to think what may have happened.
“It is good that measures are now being looked at to help residents in terms of resilience following fierce storms.”
And Councillor Caroline Shiers, who represents the Blairgowrie and the Glens ward, added: “This is very welcome news. Communities in areas such as Strathardle and Glenshee are fantastic at working together to look after each other and that community spirit came to the fore during the storms of last winter. They do however, need to know that the communications companies along with public services and utility providers are all doing everything they can to support them in their efforts to be as resilient as possible and I will certainly do all I can to ensure that the voices of our communities are heard.”
Councillor Bob Brawn, who also represents the Blairgowrie and the Glens ward, said that “effectively” all communication across the Kirkmichael area had gone following the storm, and as a result, unless residents had the old style plug-in cable telephone, they had no idea of what was happening, no idea where and what relief was available and no way of contacting the emergency services.
“Thankfully, over the course of the storm and days following as repairs were made, no one needed the emergency services,” he commented.
“However, the event highlighted the problems of living in a rural area. Fortunately, the community pulled together and help was on hand if anyone needed it.
“It is pleasing to note that BT have reflected on their plans to roll out a digital only phone system because of Ofcom’s intervention. Undoubtedly, there must be a back-up system should such a storm strike again and BT must have this place before the current network changes.”