Snow days don't stop SEPA protecting the environment

date02 March 2018

As “the Beast from the East” cast its wintry grip on Scotland this week, staff from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) worked above-and-beyond the call to safeguard Scotland’s environment and support local communities.

  • Staff spend nights in business park hotel to maintain 24/7 environmental protection hotline.
  • Staff member houses family trapped on M80.
  • Scotland’s flood forecasting service providing daily guidance.

As a Category One responder, alongside the blue light services and local authorities, SEPA has an important role in any multi-agency response. Staff from SEPA’s Resilience team played an important role, working with Scottish Government and other responders through regular multi-agency meetings during the current snow event.

Staff from SEPA’s 24/7 contact centre, which manages Scotland’s environmental protection hotline and supports Floodline information services, spent nights in a nearby business park hotel to ensure the continuation of this critical public service.

The contact centre, based at Maxim Business Park in Lanarkshire, was in the heart of the Met Office’s ‘red zone’, with guidance from Police Scotland to travellers and commuters not to travel.

With a firm focus on maintaining essential services, the team worked into the night on Wednesday and a team of seven spent nights in the nearby Dakota Hotel to rotate rest and essential resilience cover for two days, before relief cover arrived. Over Wednesday and Thursday alone, the team handled 665 calls, maintaining a response rate of 96%.

Karen-Anne Nicol, SEPA Contact Centre Manager, said:

“As Scotland’s environment watchdog and flood forecasting service, our contact centre works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the snow couldn’t change that. After ensuring the safety of our people, our priority was maintaining Scotland’s environment protection hotline.

“Our people are a committed as they come and didn’t think twice about stepping-up, sharing shifts and sleeping in a nearby hotel to ensure our service to local communities continued. The team have done an amazing job, and I’m sure everyone in SEPA and our partners agencies will want to offer their thanks to both this team and the wider resilience community across Scotland.”

But more than that, like many people across Scotland, our staff have been working in their communities to help those in need - from snow shovelling to helping collect supplies for neighbours. One member of staff hosted a family who had been trapped in snow on the M80.

The family had been heading to Cumbria due to a family emergency when they got stuck on the motorway. Having been trapped for five hours, they managed to pass through with the help of Police Scotland, but it was almost 10pm, and with a young child they needed to find somewhere to stay.

Fiona, a Personal Assistant at SEPA, said:

“They stopped outside our house (we live on a main road) and my husband went out to check if they were ok. We invited them in as they were frozen and had no food and low phone batteries. We tried to call round to find a hotel, but they were all full, so we offered them our home for the evening. We swapped numbers when they left and they texted me last night twice, once to say they were half way there and the second to say they had arrived.”

SEPA is also Scotland’s flood forecasting and warning authority. Flood forecasting staff, based in Perth, have been working with the Met Office, monitoring snow levels, temperature and any future rainfall, to assess whether snow melt will have any impacts on Scotland’s rivers. At present no significant snow melt is expected, but regular updates are provided to our multi-agency partners, including local authorities, to ensure they are prepared and informed.

David Pirie, Executive Director at SEPA, said:

“The last few days have been challenging for everyone, and SEPA is no different. I’d like to say thank you to each and every one of our people, and to the wider resilience community, who have done a fantastic job over the last 72 hours in very difficult circumstances.

“From attending multi-agency meetings, maintaining our environment protection hotline, conducting flood forecasting or helping in their local communities, our staff across the country have worked to keep our agency servicing Scotland. Our staff truly are our greatest asset, and I thank them for the resilience and professionalism they have shown. Their commitment has ensured that essential services continue to be delivered to our communities.”





As well as managing SEPA’s Pollution Hotline and supporting Floodline, SEPA Contact Centre operators provide staff from SEPA, Scottish Natural Heritage, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority and Historic Scotland with essential health and safety cover for lone working and site visits.