Foreward by Michelle Butler, Bromford Lab
International Day for Disaster Recovery began in 1989, after a call by the United Nations General Assembly for a day to promote a global culture of risk-awareness and disaster reduction. Held every 13th October, the day celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters and raising awareness about the importance of reining in the risks that they face. The 2018 edition continues as part of the "Sendai Seven" campaign, centred on the seven targets of the Sendai Framework. This year will focus on Target C of the Sendai Framework, reducing disaster economic losses in relation to global GDP by 2030. You can follow it on the hashtag #IDDR2018 or #ResilienceForAll!
The statistics above make interesting reading. Whilst we are very lucky in the UK to avoid huge natural disasters, we are experiencing more extreme adverse weather than ever before and, let’s be honest, every time it happens, the country grinds to a halt. A more forward thinking approach, as advocated by the United Nations through the Sendai Framework is essential in reducing the risk to our customers and assets, making sure homes are not damaged, people displaced and support continues for our communities.
On International Disaster Recovery Day, we asked Steve Flanagan, Maintenance Manager for Responsive Repairs, to write a guest blog for the Bromford Lab, talking about how ‘The Beast From The East’ inspired an idea that we are working with him on at the moment in the Lab - the Bromford Responsive Action Group.
As with the majority of housing providers, we have an Out Of Hours Service (OOH), which provides an emergency service through the times when our normal business is closed, typically after 6pm through the night until we open again at 8am, and over weekends, Bank Holidays and any other extraordinary times. We generally have 1 multi skilled tradesman and 1 electrician per repairs area, backed up by an escalation structure of team leaders and managers to support engineers with any difficult decisions or situations they may find themselves in. They cover all areas of our service and attend to any immediate emergencies our customers may be experiencing, so anything from a blocked toilet, full electrical failure, you name it, we get it!
Which brings me neatly on to what happened earlier in the year where we had to think a little differently to how we normally operate.
On the week beginning Monday 12th March, severe weather was forecast across Europe. It was all over the media, being reported for around ten days before the event, and growing with intensity as the week approached. The press named it ‘The Beast From The East’.
Our first thought and concern within the Repairs team was around OOH Engineers safety and how we could offer an additional line of support if we were allowing the service to operate at all, depending on the severity of the conditions. Following initial consultation with all maintenance teams managers, including empty homes, electrical and gas, and our planning team, we agreed to putting in a second supporting line of engineer resource (all of whom volunteered!) that first responders could call on if they thought they were being overloaded or needed a buddy to work and travel with, depending on the conditions and types of emergencies faced.
As we were in the throes of putting our back up plan together, we began to hear news of our customer teams starting to do the same. We decided to come together as a collective, forming a one team approach - that with the extra repairs support and Customer Contact opening over the weekend, Bromford would be on hand to answer questions, or make appropriate decisions where needed. A huge amount of thought and planning was given around how colleagues would not be put in harm’s way, and how they would get to and from the office, along with exactly what we were prepared to send engineers into.
The weather started to build from the Tuesday 13th March, with heavy rain and winds building in severity as the week progressed. The media was reporting that the worst of the weather would start Friday evening and be at its worst right across the weekend. The Met Office had issued severe weather warnings left, right and centre, with temperatures dropping to around -4, although in some areas around the country they hit -15!
As arranged, all our heroic colleagues turned up to work on Saturday to man the phone lines, which was a huge relief to our customers as our externally contracted services, as well as the national providers such as British Gas, AA, etc, had started to fall over. We also had colleagues beavering away at home, with their main job being to work through emails and messages via social media channels. When telephony volumes rapidly increased (we had an 800% increase in call volumes for the first 24 hour period!) customers turned to more digital channels. Social media volumes doubled, with over 2,200 posts in the month, and colleagues worked into the night trying to support customers as much as possible. We also deployed messages via our own website and social media channels, using ‘how to’ videos to assist customers where possible, as well as inforgraohics and this was really well received (you can see what we issued here: https://bromford.co.uk/news-hub/your-news/2018/march/severe-weather-conditions-an-update-from-bromford/)
The fact we had implemented Saturday working the year before really helped and we had learnt so much over the months. Saturdays helped us build good relationships with engineers and this paid dividends. The fact that our contact centre was open was a huge relief to our customers, who in their time of need had at the very least a friendly voice to make contact with. Our customers were well aware that the country was encountering an extreme situation, so they were sympathetic and appreciative of any help or assistance we were offering. For many of our customers too, our plan that we had put in place was, in some cases, all there was. We became the front line, with the contact team offering advice, co-ordinating engineers to attend where they could; engineers carrying out important works from delivering temporary heating, unblocking systems, and even at times delivering water, or knocking on customers doors to ensure people were coping.
Calls never stopped for the full 72 hours, with escalation colleagues staying in touch with our call centre and engineers out in the field. Come Monday morning everyone involved were somewhat drained, and the overall feeling was although a good fight had been fought, a lot of pain had been felt by our customers, and it was an adversary we were never going to match. We felt the Beast had still won, despite our valiant efforts.
The truth of the situation was actually the opposite:
Our customers fully appreciated the effort we had put in. When some could not get emergency services in their area, our vans were seen on the streets doing their best. The calls were answered, and on some occasions, a solution found over the phone.
Our field colleagues were supported and felt safer. We had come together as one team and created something (as patched together as it was) which worked, when all others around were failing.
Our support teams had a more informed Monday, with the usual bad weather bubble, not really appearing, as for the majority it had been dealt with. Although there was an increase in work to allocate, it was a fairly calm controlled situation.
We reduced the expense to the business by controlling a large portion of the breakdowns over the weekend, so what was required of contractors to attend as an emergency was minimised and our heating teams could get around our customers to ensure as a minimum they had heating and hot water.
Where an event as this would normally take us weeks to work through our system, a more proactive approach meant it was really only a matter of days before we returned to normal, with the extra planning giving ourselves the room to cope and continue providing our service.
Welcome to BRAG - Bromford Responsive Action Group, our idea of a service predicting initiative for exactly these type of circumstances when we have pre warning of upcoming potential weather issues. As our climate becomes less predictable, it is prudent that we put together a specialist team, which can bring together as a collective the full resources of Bromford, from Finance to Localities, so we can move from being a responsive service to a more proactive service. We are still in the early stages of design, but we are hoping to get a test moving quickly to see whether our experience was a one off or if we are onto something big.
The idea will be simple - have representatives from each element of our operational services who will review potential upcoming issues and then formulate an appropriate plan.
We’re not sure how this will work at present, whether it will be monthly catch ups in person, or whether it will be more ad hoc, but we are excited to see something that we tried as a one off potentially become part of Bromford’s very being. Although, one always hopes that you never have to use it!
For more information and the latest updates, keep an eye on the Bromford Exploration Pipeline.
About The Author
Steve is the Maintenance Manager for Responsive Repairs at Bromford and brains behind the BRAG idea. Also, this is his first ever blog!
He has been a key member in many other service improvements around Repairs and can always be counted to have a smile on his face, roll his sleeves up and get into the thick of it!
You can email Steve on firstname.lastname@example.org.