The South East is braced for a cold snap. Our Operations Manager, Glen Stock, explains why we all need to be winter-ready, the impact of lockdown and what you can do to protect your home and community from disruption this winter.
Hi Glen, please can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’ve been at Southern Water for nearly 30 years. Both man and boy, I’ve worked in frontline operations, so I understand how water and wastewater are affected throughout the seasons.
How does winter affect what you do?
As the temperature changes, the ground can freeze and thaw. This causes the earth to shift, putting pressure on our pipes. If they break, that’s when leaks or bursts can happen.
During prolonged cold temperatures, our customers’ homes are also at risk. If your pipes get too cold, the water inside freezes and expands. This can cause them to break and leak. Nobody wants a winter emergency, so lagging your pipes and knowing where to find your stop tap are really important.
Have you noticed anything different this year?
During the pandemic, people have spent more time at home – whether that’s because they’re shielding, working from home or in lockdown.
With more people home, demand for water usage is higher. If everyone turns on their taps at same time, water moves through the pipes quicker. This puts a lot of stress on our network, which can increase the risk of leaks or bursts.
Alongside our proactive leak-detection work, we rely on the public to let us know if they spot something unusual. While people are spending less time out and about, fewer leaks are being reported early on.
Do you have any tips to help customers protect their homes?
Yes, you can do many, simple things to prepare your home for winter – such as lagging your pipes, disconnecting hoses and servicing your boiler. My biggest tip would be to keep your heating on at a low temperature so your pipes are less at risk of freezing.
I’d also recommend you find your internal stop tap and test it regularly. A lot of people only think of this in an emergency, but imagine if that’s when you discovered yours had broken. Please find yours today and remember to test its operation every 12 weeks so you can be confident it’ll work if an emergency strikes.
During lockdown, you may have empty property. Perhaps you’ve left your home to form a bubble with someone else, closed your business premises or maybe you have a second home. Remember to winter-ready these properties or check on them to avoid any nasty surprises when you return.
What are your teams doing to prevent disruption?
Back in 2018, the ‘Beast from the East’ took a lot of utilities providers by surprise. The lessons we learned are now part of our Winter Mitigation Action Plan, which sets out how to prepare for adverse weather along with daily activities to keep on top of the risks.
People often think preventing leaks and bursts is all about installing new pipes and assets. However, resource is just as important to our resilience. During winter, we increase the number of people working across each area of our network so we can spread the workload and rapidly respond to incidents without our people become overwhelmed or worn out. Each day, our teams get together in hubs to discuss what they’re working on and any support they need. From November into the New Year, these meetings cover winter readiness.
As well as more people, we’ve put additional equipment in place. We now have extra 4x4s, so we can gain access to reservoirs and isolated customers even in the harshest conditions. Plus, we’ve fitted our vehicles with a winter pack so we’re ready to tackle whatever the winter throws our way. Our vehicles also carry additional fittings so we can complete more jobs on-the-go without returning to the yard. As well as working smarter, this is reducing our carbon footprint.
How can customers help?
Whether you’re at home or out and about, you can help us prevent and respond to winter emergencies.
While you’re at home, please use water wisely to reduce strain on the network. If you follow our simple water-saving tips, you could save money on your bills too. Preparing your home for winter will also prevent unnecessary leaks and bursts.
When you go out, if you see anything out of the ordinary while you’re exercising or shopping for essentials, please report a leak. I’d always rather someone rings and we discover nothing is wrong than us hear nothing and later discover a problem. So, if you’re unsure – please call us.