On Saturday December 5th, much of North West Britain was rocked by the fourth major storm in less than a month – and the fourth storm to be given a name under new policies – Storm Desmond. With the heavy rain falling on already saturated ground, the results were overwhelming and something for which the areas that suffered most were woefully underprepared.
The lights went out in Lancaster, among other places, by 10pm on Saturday night, the substation serving the city overwhelmed by the waters, and still the rains fell. Cell phone towers went down, and whole phone networks went off the grid as surely as the rest failed. Even Lancaster University’s InfoLab21, a state-of-the-art IT building which offers the students of today the chance to work with businesses established in the field – businesses like novi.digital – was out of action, and would stay out of action for some time.
And people immediately went into action using whatever lines of communication they could find. Neighbours and groups of friends at homes with gas heating began to visit the surrounding homes, ensuring a flow of hot food, baked goods, and opening their doors to let those around them gather in the heat.
But action was being taken at other levels, too. It was easy to see from even the earliest reports that Lancaster’s businesses were going to be hit badly; days of the Christmas trade were gone from retailers. Students were sent home from a powerless university a week earlier than usual, taking with them their end-of-term blowout budgets. Property damage, short-term and lasting, had been done to many.
While the men and women who work here found ways to do their jobs with what we could access – in some cases tethering their internet through their phone to be able to handle emails and sort through internal correspondence, while others looked for other workarounds – our Managing Director had other, equally important, priorities to address.
Working through the city’s Chamber of Commerce, he spearheaded a scheme among the city’s businesses, calling on those who could help to provide a list of things they could offer and using whatever means were available to identify businesses in need and link the two.