PRWEEK AWARDS 2003: Specialist & Technique - The Regester Larkin Award - Crisis Management

WINNER - OCTOBER STORMS 2002 - SCOTTISHPOWER

On Sunday 27 October 2002, a severe storm caused extensive damage to ScottishPower's overhead line electricity network, SP Manweb, in Cheshire and north Wales.

Reports of loss of power supplies started coming in at 6am on the Sunday and by the storm's peak, a total of 2,191 faults had been reported and around 73,000 customers were without electricity.

ScottishPower, whose main corporate communications team is based in Glasgow, swung its regularly-rehearsed emergency plan into action.

The on-duty press officer alerted the media relations manager, who opened the Emergency Media Room, next to the main Emergency Action Centre.

The main objective was to keep customers informed using the full force of the regional media. The PR team wanted to explain what the company was doing to restore electricity as quickly as possible, but keep coverage local and minimise negative publicity.

The Emergency Media Room provided hourly updates to the media and handled 155 enquiries in four days. Local radio was used extensively to provide information about power restoration times and advice for customers.

A number of key staff - both English and Welsh speakers - undertook interviews with local broadcasters. Meanwhile, HTV and an in-house photographer got shots showing the severity of the storm damage from a company helicopter.

The PR team set up an ongoing contact programme with MPs and Welsh Assembly Members, and established a one-to-one link with Energywatch North West and North Wales, plus the Electricity Association.

Following a decision not to offer compensation to customers, there were few references to ScottishPower and SP Manweb in the national press, and most of the local and regional media quickly lost interest.

The Government's independent inquiry into how the UK's electricity firms handled the emergency commented on SP Manweb's 'good performance'.

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