The UK’s contingency plans for severe power cuts are based on numerous flawed or untested assumptions and need to be revised, according to documents obtained by the Telegraph.
The assessment, codenamed Exercise Hopkinson, examined what would happen if a severe storm knocked out crucial energy infrastructure in south west England, plunging two million homes into darkness for up to two weeks.
Transport networks would be paralysed and emergency services would struggle to cope, fuel to run backup generators may be inaccessible and the dead may not be buried, it found.
The assessment, which involved officials from all key departments and major industries, took place this summer following 12 months of preparation.
It was designed to ensure emergency power plans were “fit for purpose”.
Instead it “exposed the fact that, where contingency plans against power disruption exist, some of those plans are based on assumption rather than established fact”, according to a report of the exercise, distributed privately last month.
“Populations are far less resilient now than they once were,” it concluded. “There is likely to be a very rapid descent into public disorder unless Government can maintain [the] perception of security.”
Any central Government response to the crisis may be too slow, arriving “after the local emergency resources and critical utility contingency measures had already been consumed”. Departments needed to revise “critical facets” of their plans, it found.
“False assumptions & new considerations” were identified by all involved, a Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) presentation on Exercise Hopkinson shows.
The impacts of a widespread electricity outage were now being reassessed and re-rated as “VERY HIGH”, it suggests.
One of the major problems identified by the exercise was that crucial fuel supplies, which would be “ever more vital in the absence of power, to run generators and emergency response vehicles”, may not be accessible because petrol stations and some fuel bunkers rely on electric pumps.
“The ‘simple’ solution of using generators is far more difficult to establish in reality,” the report warns.