IHE CEO: Councils must be better prepared

Highways Reporters

The chief executive of the Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE) says local authorities are ill prepared when it comes to dealing with crisis situations.

At this year’s Highways SIB (Seeing is Believing) event Richard Hayes (pictured) led a debate on the resilience of the road network.

He told Highways Magazine: “The rainy day is inevitable. Whether you like climate change or you don’t the facts are there – we get more weather events and they’re more severe when they occur – so you can’t expect the general public to deal with it. You’ve got to have a coordinated plan or response.

“Local authorities plan for some things, but forget about planning for some of the more obvious things that occur on a more regular basis. They’ve got to get their heads out of the sand. There is a cost involved with keeping a resource, but when you need it you have to be able to get hold of it. You can’t wait three days for B&Q to open to get some sand out. That’s the way people are working these days. You’ve got to keep some supply.”

Geoff Allister, executive director of the Highways Term Maintenance Association, agreed that councils must have contingency plans in place.

He commented: “A number of local authorities have got contingency plans in place, but I’m not convinced that they’ve tested those. You need to take a contingency plan and bring in professionals from outside to test it. I’ve been through those exercises, and you can learn an enormous amount from them.”

Hayes, who is the former area highways manager for Northumberland County Council, knows from experience that it doesn’t take much for the best-laid plans to go wrong.

“Having been through a number of flood and snow events, you know where the weakness in the system is,” he remarked. “Winter services can be stopped by the lack of an indicator bulb on a particular vehicle. It’s not just about the big resource, it’s about the minor detail so that people understand that anything can fail.

“You have to have a stress test scenario to see whether or not you’ve got effective response. From doing this you do sometimes see where the weaknesses are. These things might not happen and you hope they never do, but I can remember planning an awful lot for plane crashes in the north east. We never had a single one, but we had a very good plan if it had of happened.”
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