Government Task Force on Emergency Planning – ‘You, Your Community and The Winter’
• Huge growth in demand for Seniors Alert Scheme
• Fuel allowance to assist over 370k householders
• Additional supports for rough sleepers
• Financial assistance for homes affected by flooding
• 258,000 tonnes of salt available for country’s roads
The government has today launched the ‘Be WinterReady’ 2018-2019 Information Campaign, focusing this year on building strong communities and looking out for the vulnerable.
The campaign, under the theme ‘You, Your Community and The Winter’, was jointly launched by Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring TD, Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty TD, Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local government with special responsibility for Housing and Urban Development, Damien English TD and Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross TD.
Also in attendance were representatives from the various departments and agencies tasked with emergency planning and response.
The launch coincided with a meeting of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, which dealt with winter-preparedness issues.
The ‘Be Winter-Ready’ campaign is intended to raise awareness about the particular challenges that winter can present.
This is now an established and important annual event impacting across the whole public service.
The campaign highlights the ‘whole of government’ approach being taken to winter preparations. This sort of approach was seen during recent storms Ophelia, Emma, and Ali, which posed challenges for communities, businesses, government departments and agencies.
Importantly, the ‘Be Winter-Ready’ campaign informs the public of what is being done in relation to winter preparations and where they can source valuable information that can assist them through a difficult period.
The Office of Emergency Planning, in collaboration with their colleagues in the Department of Rural and Community Development, have designed and produced a leaflet on building strong communities. This leaflet is available at winterready.ie.
This year’s leaflet emphasises the role of residents associations and community alert groups to prepare community responses to emergencies.
It also encourages people to consider particularly vulnerable neighbours; for example, older people, families with young children, and people with disabilities or mobility problems.
At the launch, Minister Ring said: “The message of the ‘Be Winter Ready’ campaign is simple: communities need to be informed, prepare in advance and work together to be winter ready this year and every year.
“I hope that this ‘Be Winter Ready’ campaign will be the catalyst for encouraging communities to prepare for future emergencies in order to help minimise the impact these events can have.
“The Senior Alerts Scheme supports vulnerable older people through the provision of free personal monitored alarms provided by my department.
“This community-led scheme enables people over 65 to live securely in their homes with confidence, independence and peace of mind.
“There is a steep increase in personal alarms being triggered during the winter months when older people feel particularly vulnerable. Applications for the alarms also peak in winter.
“I’m glad to report that we have seen huge growth in demand for the scheme. Applications for the first half of this year increased by 112% over the same period in 2017.”
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection can assist households in the immediate aftermath of flooding or storm events through its Humanitarian Assistance Scheme administered by the Community Welfare Service.
After an adverse event, financial assistance can also be provided to assist with the replacement of essential household items or some building works.
The scheme has been activated a number of times in recent years most recently to support householders affected by the flooding in Donegal and in Laois and Offaly last year.
Additionally, the department’s Fuel Allowance Scheme assists 370,000 householders and, with winter on the way, is an important scheme to assist the vulnerable.
Speaking today, Minister Doherty said: “I am delighted to be involved in this joint government approach to proactively prepare for the weather ahead.
“Our Community Welfare Service staff are ready this winter to step in if necessary in cooperation with the relevant local authorities and other agencies.
“Hopefully, the conditions will not arise where they will be needed but, if we do have an adverse weather event, our professional staff will be there to assist and help any affected community.”
“With respect to the Fuel Allowance, this essential allowance benefits the most vulnerable in society.
“I am extending the Fuel Allowance by one week from 27 to 28 weeks as part of our Budget 2019 package.
“If necessary, our Community Welfare Service can also provide additional support to provide assistance towards exceptional heating related costs for those in need during an extreme weather incident.”
Department of Housing, Planning and Local government
The Department of Housing, Planning and Local government is the lead government department for the response to severe weather emergencies and has successfully led the response, at national level, to recent severe weather events including ex-Hurricane Ophelia and the severe cold weather and Storm Emma earlier this year.
The department also makes funding available to local authorities to assist them in meeting the costs of response activities which will not have been budgeted for within existing resources.
€95m has been made available in this way since 2009, including €9.4m for this year’s cold weather and snow.
At the launch, Minister English noted that planning has also commenced for the provision of additional supports for rough sleepers in anticipation of winter 2018.
He said: “In Dublin, my department has been in close contact with the DRHE who are working on providing an additional 200 bed spaces by the end of the year, which will bring the total capacity for rough sleepers in the capital to 700 beds.
“My department has also been working with other local authorities to ensure that their Cold Weather Initiatives are in place in time for the change in weather.
“These arrangements ensure that additional temporary beds can be brought into use across a range of existing services and facilities for singles and couples, who need them during periods of cold weather.”
Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport support
The severe winter of 2017/18 saw over 200,000 tonnes of salt used across the national, regional and local roads.
Transport Infrastructure Ireland prepared in advance to ensure an adequate supply of salt was available and has continued to work with local authorities in advance of this winter. This year, 258,000 tonnes of salt are nationally available.
At the launch, Minister Ross said: “I ask all road users to be safe and be seen. If you’re walking or cycling, wear high-vis items and make sure you have proper lighting.
“If you’re driving, wear your seat belt, don’t use a mobile phone and keep within the speed limit.
“As winter is also a time of celebration and Christmas cheer, I would urge all motorists; if you’re having a drink, please, please leave the car at home. It’s just not worth the risk.”
“Winter Ready is all about being prepared. Whatever weather may be ahead of us this winter, I would ask all transport users to be aware of conditions around them and to heed the safety advice being given to them.
Department of Health
An additional €10 million has been allocated by the Department of Health to the HSE to prepare for winter.
Minister for Health Simon Harris has just concluded meetings with each Hospital Group CEO and each chief officer from the nine CHOs across the health service.
Detailed plans from the HSE are expected in mid-November on how the additional money is to be spent in addition to operational plans for each hospital group and primary and social care services to manage winter pressures.
This funding should focus on initiatives to enable the hospital system to deescalate before Christmas.
Minister Harris said: “The winter is a difficult period for the health service but significant work is under way by the department of Health and the Health Service Executive to adequately prepare for the challenge ahead.
“The government has allocated €10 million in additional resources which will allow for increased social care supports including more home help, more transitional beds, more aids and appliances. We expect to see detailed plans from the HSE over the coming week on winter planning.
“I want to thank all of those working in our health service for their continuous commitment and know that will continue over this challenging period.”