MAN WITH A PLAN: The Environment Agency's Bill Stephenson, who is helping create an emergency plan for Middleton-in-Teesdale
MAN WITH A PLAN: The Environment Agency's Bill Stephenson, who is helping create an emergency plan for Middleton-in-Teesdale

UPPER dale parish councillors backed plans to draw up a plan to deal with emergencies – just days before Storm Arwen swept through the area, leaving thousands stranded and without power.
Members of Middleton-in-Teesdale Parish Council welcomed Bill Stephenson, community engagement officer with the Environment Agency and Laura Dobson, a member of Durham County Council’s civil contingencies unit to a recent meeting.
They explained how drawing up a plan could help keep everyone in the village and surrounding areas safe during extreme events – everything from drought, flooding and other extreme weather to power cuts and sink holes.
Ms Dobson said having an emergency plan in place when crisis struck would help the emergency services.
“You are the people who live in the area and you know what the dangers are. You know the ins and outs of the community.”
Mr Stephenson emphasised that emergency planning was not about doing the work of the emergency services.
“However, there is always going to be a delay before the emergency services arrive and if you have a plan, there are things you can do,” he said.
“It is not about putting yourself in danger, it is just little things you can do that are really effective.”
Ms Dobson added: “A big part is advising and warning neighbours. Knowing who has a tractor or 4x4 is really important to put in a plan.
“Think about stores of sandbags, torches and other supplies and when you create an emergency plan, put it on a shared platform so the emergency services can see what is there.”
She pointed to other communities in the county, such as Lanchester, where emergency plans had been drawn up and proved effective when the town had been hit by flooding.
The meeting heard it was important that while the parish council could take the lead, all sectors of the community should be involved in drawing up an emergency plan.
Mr Stephenson said: “We would help you create an emergency plan and would come along and go through it to make it fit your community.
“We would hold a training exercise to test the plan. It is only good if you know everything in it.”
However, he told councillors he was not able to provide any funding that may be incurred in drawing up an emergency plan.
Cllr Julie Ward said: “I can imagine some of the young people would be interested in this and it would be a good thing for them to do.”
Ms Dobson said uniformed organisations such as the Scouts and Guides could be involved.
Mr Stephenson said if there was support for an emergency plan, the next step was to spread the word to the wider public.
Parish councillors agreed to take a lead on emergency planning for Middleton-in-Teesdale and invited Mr Stephenson and Ms Dobson to their January meeting for further discussions.
As a first step, Mr Stephenson attended the Christmas fair at Middleton-in-Teesdale Auction Mart which went ahead on a smaller scale than planned – and without any power – the day after Storm Arwen had hit the dale.
He said despite the storm, he had spoken to a good number of people – including many from outside the area – about the benefits of an emergency plan. He and Ms Dobson plan to attend more public events in the coming weeks and months.