My Winter - Emergency Planning Officer Matt Shaw

How the weather affects my role as Emergency Planning Officer

Having lived in places like Ukraine and Switzerland I feel like I’ve definitely experienced how winter can affect my job. In Ukraine, doing this sort of work, I’d be out shovelling snow, gritting pavements and trying to find a gas supply amidst shortages. In Switzerland, I was dealing with masses of snow and all the challenges that poses for mountain communities. In Harrow, the role of an Emergency Planning Officer isn’t as hectic but it certainly has its challenges. 

We have a small team in emergency planning who receive weather warnings from the Met Office and implement processes accordingly. We alert the services the weather may impact and maintain plans for more serious incidents involving other organisations such as the emergency services. My role in those operations is more of a coordinator compared to the on-the-ground activities I did in Ukraine. Together with the local Resilience Forum, we prepare and plan for the best possible response to and management of incidents. 

Winter weather resilience

But it’s more than just processes and plans – winter resilience depends largely on people. The emergency planning team trains relevant staff to deal with any impacts winter weather can throw at us. This is chiefly through effectively implementing the plans themselves, but it’s also about raising awareness of basic things so that every member of staff and every resident in the community can prepare themselves ahead of severe weather. 

That’s why we’re keen to engage with the Met Office’s WeatherReady campaign. Here in London, like in other cities, there are many people including students living in house-shares and rented accommodation, and other people in temporary accommodation. How many of those people know their utility supplier’s emergency contact? How many of them know where the stop tap is? Knowing the small things like these can save a lot of headaches. 

My Top Tips for Winter

Where I grew up in Stockport, we lived near vulnerable people who would be snowed in with even a bit of snow. If you’re able to, give them a hand de-icing, shovelling and gritting their driveway and pavements.

If you do live in a house-share of any kind, don’t assume your landlord or someone else in the house knows what they’re doing. Find where the stop tap is for your water and know how to turn it off.  

Within weeks of moving to Ukraine, and with my flatmate away, we had a leaky pipe in the bathroom which caused a flood. I had no idea who to call other than my flatmate who said “Matt, we are clever men, we’ll fix it ourselves”. However, the clever thing to do is not only find the stop tap and turn it off, but to write down all your utility supplier’s contact details on one piece of paper and keep it safe. 

For heating bills, don’t forget to see if you can save by switching supplier. Also, make sure you’re claiming the benefits you’re entitled to. And, invest in a hot water bottle if you can

Find out if you’re eligible to sign-up for priority services with your utility suppliers. This will help ensure you’re given a supply in the event of issues such as power surges or lack of water supply. 

I fell off my bike a couple of times in Switzerland during a cold snap. I found letting out some air from my bike tyres really does help to gain a bit more control. And, don’t forget to dress to be seen.