Southern Water Practices Socially Distanced Bottle Water Collection

Practice makes perfect: Southern Water workers drill for a socially distanced water collection point

They say ‘if it’s not raining, it’s not training’. So the exercise conducted at Southern Water’s Falmer campus was certainly training.

In pouring rain nearly 40 colleagues led by the Emergency Planning team assembled with partners from Water Direct, our alternative supply partner, MTS and Double R traffic management to practice delivering bottled water in a socially distanced world.

The exercise was planned after the major incident in Hastings. We delivered 35,520 litres of bottled water to more than 1000 vulnerable customers in that incident and prepared drive through bottled water stations. But thanks to the speed of a challenging repair the drive through delivery system was not needed in anger.

The Southern Water response was praised by Defra among other partners but the challenge of delivering bottled water to large numbers of customers was clear. Setting up a carpark as a drive in collection point is one thing: how it will work in real life is another.

“Even with lockdown easing, social distancing is still key to keeping customers and Southern Water employees safe. The only way to ensure we can run a bottled water station under those circumstance is to practice as close to real life as possible,” says Tom Hales, Emergency Planner.

Paul Riordan, Operational Resilience and Response Manager, was delighted by the way the exercise went. “Conditions were terrible but our participants kept their enthusiasm and we have learned a lot about the challenges of doing things in a completely new way.”

The Covid-19 stations are set up around the Water Direct lorry which contains pallet loads of emergency water supplies kept on hand in case of a major water outage where customers face being out of supply for more than 12 hours.

Signage is erected to ensure traffic is managed safely.

As cars arrive one team member greets the driver and runs through a short list of information, such as ‘Please do not get out of your vehicle’ ‘Use your hands to show how many people you live with’ ‘Please open the boot of the vehicle’. Drivers then make their way down towards the distribution points, show how many people they live with, and the correct amount of water is loaded into the boot

To make the exercise realistic a few spanners were thrown into the works: a breakdown in a traffic lane and the odd frustrated customer lent realism to the event.

The Emergency Planning Team and Health & Safety kept a close eye on what was going on – searching for glitches and hiccups and ensuring that health and safety was paramount.

“We aim to keep customers in supply at all times and everyone in the company works hard to achieve that. But with thousands of miles of pipeline along with hundreds of water supply works and storage reservoirs, there can never be a guarantee. By drilling exercising and practicing, we try to mitigate any problems and demonstrate to customers that we are company that cares about their well-being and is always ready to respond in a professional manner,” Paul Riordan added.