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Newry flood alert scheme concerns despite 1.2m people reached on social media

Sugar Island flooding in Newry 1

A flood hit Northern Ireland council has heard concerns over a limited public alert scheme following input from the shadow secretary of state Hilary Benn.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council (NMDDC) has now launched an independent review of the causes and failures from recent flooding damage across its business and residential areas.

However, despite a council officer stating social media messaging reached “1.2million people” across the first week of the flooding, the strategy, policy and resources committee raised concerns on Thursday night (Nov 16), that an emergency messaging system had not provided the early warning that people needed.

Slieve Gullion SDLP rep, Pete Byrne said: “You can’t just rely on social media, we need to be able to contact businesses who will be affected directly.

“When the situation was live, it has been highlighted in the council’s report that it did all that was expected of them, but they actually went over and above.

“The public messaging has to go out to the public very, very quickly and social media is the place to get that information out there.

“Going forward, residents get updates on social media, but we have to try and tweak the (emergency messaging) policy, that in cases of severe flooding like we have seen over the last couple of weeks, that businesses are contacted immediately and I don’t know if the best way of doing that is through social media.

“There has to be a procedure to contact business directly, perhaps through the chamber of commerce or the BID (business improvement district) so that businesses get the information straight away.

“We all heard businesses saying that if they had more notice they would have been better prepared and could have saved some stock.

“We can say till we’re blue in the face, that messaging was put out on social media, but they have got to be contacted directly.”

Elected members across the chamber voiced their own experiences from the flood with many identifying a greater need to improve communications between all concerned.

Downpatrick Sinn Fein councillor, Oonagh Hanlon added: “Would it not be more prudent to have a flood alert scheme as they have in other jurisdictions and send alerts to everybody?

“We need to be cognisant that residents were affected by the flooding as well.

“We don’t have that scheme in place here. I know that today (Nov 16), speaking with the shadow secretary of state and he had been letting us know, that his constituency suffered very badly from flooding in 2007, where 55k homes were flooded, which effectively kicked in flood emergency warnings.

“I think that might be a better way of doing it.

“Certainly businesses absolutely need clarity, but I do think it needs to be wider and go out to absolutely everybody.

“I do think that the focus needs to be from the local council that we have an emergency flood alert scheme.”

A council officer told the chamber that the emergency alert system was not a matter for the local authority and that the latest flood alerts “had been led by the Department for Infrastructure”.

The officer said: “Something like the flood alert scheme would be another agency, we won’t bring the flood alert scheme in ourselves, we could put matters raised in writing to the agency involved.

“The flood alert scheme is not part of our statutory duties.

“Though, I can get the information requested and bring it back to the next meeting.”

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