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Monday, 5 March, 2001, 10:02 GMT
Can NIE weather the storm?

Bad weather has hit Northern Ireland again with disruption on the roads and across the travel network. But is the situation being handled better this time round than at Christmas?

Up to 70,000 homes have been affected by power cuts and Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) has had difficulties in guaranteeing when people can expect to be reconnected.

There has been criticism of the staffing of the company's emergency helpline on which many customers have only been able to get a recorded message.

Meanwhile the Meteorological Office has issued a severe weather warning forecasting more snow and gale force winds for the province.

Are we ready when winter weather bites? Are the roads service and NIE quick enough to react? Share your views online.

HAVE YOUR SAY Having lived on the County Down coast for twenty years, power cuts were quite common mostly due to stormy weather so we always had a few candles or Tilley Lamps set aside for the occasion. Be prepared for the expected. Here in Canada the 'expected' means owning a snow shovel, burying water pipes twelve feet down and having a block heater on your car etc. The unexpected is always going to play havoc. The ice storm in Quebec caused power loss for several months for some people. Don't blame NIE.
Ross Smith, Canada

Regarding Keith's point, telecoms companies convey low-power signals which are far easier to handle than the heavy electrical loads of power transmission. Sadly, it's the old trade-off between price and reliability, as underground cables are five times the cost of overhead power systems.
Tom, The Netherlands


At the end of the day we could be worse off and have no roads or electricity. I think we should be thankful for what we have

Gareth, N.I.
Yet again Northern Ireland people think about no one but themselves. They don't think about the EMPLOYEES at the other end of the phone who have to listen to the grief that people give to them. We pay bills to keep a good service, and at the end of the day we can not blame an individual or an organisation for these problems. After all, anything made by man can be broken by man AND nature. At the end of the day we could be worse off and have no roads or electricity. I think we should be thankful for what we have, and in times with power remember those in worse off countries.
Gareth, N.I.

For a country that encounters bad weather on a frequent basis, problems always seem to arise! - Will the services ever be adequately prepared?
Suzanne McMillan, Japan

Maybe if people actually had to deal with the rantings of people on the phone they might be more understanding. As for the money you are right. Over here at the first sign of a problem the second question always is "Will I be compensated?"
John, N.I.

It doesn't make sense for us to be prepared for any possible weather conditions, it's all about balance of risks. Sooner or later despite our arrogance we will learn that man against nature isn't going to work and that we need to work with it not against it. It says a lot about how complicated our lives are that we can't survive without electricity for a day.
RJG, N. Ireland


Here we put the hydro lines underground in and around the cities. So we don't get blackouts too often

Agnes, Canada
Welcome to the real world. I can only remember one big snowfall back in the 60's when we were snowed in for a week! I chose to come to Canada to live in the early 70's, and there is not much point grumbling about the snow and ice. You could say I am biased, working for a cable manufacturer, but here we put the hydro lines underground in and around the cities. So we don't get blackouts too often. Maybe when the system was revamped in NI, consideration should have been given to putting the electricity lines underground. It is more expensive initially to replace an overhead line with an underground line, but over the life span of the cable it more than makes up on this expense. Also, utilities in north America have massive tree pruning budgets and fulltime crews for cutting back branches and limbs away from power lines in the countryside.
Agnes, Canada


I am not at all impressed by NIE's call centre. I was sent a special "winter information" pack with a number to ring if the power goes off. When I rang it, I only got an unhelpful recorded message

Wesley, Northern Ireland
I won't criticise Northern Ireland Electricity for the power losses - we cannot expect daily life to go on as normal under extreme weather conditions. And their laudable engineers did get the power on again fairly quickly, despite the atrocious weather. However, I am not at all impressed by NIE's call centre. I was sent a special "winter information" pack a few months ago with a phone number to ring if the power goes off. When I rang it, I only got an unhelpful recorded message and was unable to find out any information about the extent of the power cuts or when we might expect to be reconnected. What happened to the big investment in NIE's call centres?
Wesley, Northern Ireland

We lost power in our house (near Larne) in the middle of Monday night and it was restored at 11.00 on Tuesday morning. Yes, it was freezing cold in the house and it was pretty inconvenient, but I think we have to expect these things when we have unusual weather conditions. Nobody can expect NIE to employ extra staff and resources above normal requirements, just in case we have a storm, and I was certainly impressed with how quickly they sorted out our problems.
Mo, N. Ireland

I'm not criticising the efforts of the maintenance crews - rather I'm praising their dedication to patching up what is pretty obviously a network hopelessly lacking robusticity and resilience. How come telecoms companies can keep power flowing to business and household phones, and yet those whose supposed speciality this is cannot do so.
Keith, NI

One answer, Keith - IN IT FOR THE MONEY!!! The only ones who actually CARE are the linesmen on the ground.
Chris Greer, N.Ireland

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