Uni Head of Comms responds to Storm Desmond

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The College Residence Officers of the nine colleges (Bowland, Cartmel, County, Furness, Fylde, Graduate, Grizedale, Lonsdale and Pendle) were are up and running during the flooding from Storm Desmond which occurred in some parts of Lancashire and as such affected the academic activities here in Lancaster University. This is a briefing by Victoria Tyrrell (Head of Communications, Lancaster University) on the action taken by the university during the Storm Desmond.

‘The initial full power cuts and an extended period on significantly reduced power were circumstances beyond the University’s control. The December power cut was a results of the flooding of a major substation which affected homes, businesses, street lighting and communications in Lancashire and Cumbria. While the wind turbine creates electricity for the University, the power it generates goes back into the main grid and therefore is affected by a full scale power cut. (Most wind turbines operate this way.)

‘Student welfare was our first priority and we made the decision on Sunday 6 December to end term early and relocate 6000 students from their residences to a safe place where we could offer light, heat, food and help.  Power failed again on the Monday at 4 pm, again on Tuesday after being restored for only 90 minutes, followed by only partial restoration Tuesday evening.

‘Students were facing fire risk and no fire alarms, hygiene problems with toilets and, of course, the dark. It wasn’t just students on campus, students living in town who had no power came to campus too.

‘The power cut and no wifi on campus made communications challenging, but the emergency team including the College staff, residence officers and volunteers, used megaphones and posters and students were safely brought to the Great Hall and Chaplaincy Centre, where we could offer them a warm place to sleep, food and help. Students were given meals at Refuel and the university put on buses to take anyone who wanted to go home early to Preston train station, as Lancaster station was closed. Staff assisted in trying to reunite students with parents who arrived to pick them up (made difficult because most mobile phones were useless). Bedding packs were also given out.

‘Staff worked around the clock to restore some power to campus through generators.

‘Academic and professional staff came in to volunteer their help. Departments have been working to make alternative arrangements for teaching and assessments which were due to take place in the last week of term and cleaning staff did a fantastic job of making residences habitable again.

‘Throughout we tried to keep the university community, parents and visitors informed in different ways and posted dozens of updates on twitter, email, web and Bay radio and answered hundreds of enquiries.

‘The University plans for many different emergencies to ensure student safety and welfare. This situation was particularly challenging as the power cut affected the whole area, not just the campus and mobile signals were down. The response from students was brilliant and also from our colleagues across the campus who dealt with this difficult situation and are continuing to deal with the aftermath. Emergency procedures are routinely reviewed to make sure that they are robust.  Staff worked hard to make the postgraduate ceremonies a success, which so many graduating students and their supporters were hugely appreciative of, as we were continuing to fully restore power to the campus.’

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