REV DAVID FAREY: Lessons learned from ‘The Great Hailsham Water Main Burst’



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It will soon be the second anniversary of the ‘Great Water Main Burst of Hailsham’. I have said previously how disappointed I am that South East Water had not produced a report on how the burst was handled.

At the time and as a previous emergency response officer for the Chichester Diocese I was aware of a considerable number of shortcomings.

People do read what I comment on! South East Water got in touch with me and invited me to meet them. It was very illuminating! I met with a manager and discovered that a report had indeed been produced. It was highly detailed and had a number of sensitive elements which it would be imprudent to bring into the public forum. Having listened to their arguments I understood that decision.

The major finding was that the incident did indeed uncover a number of failures in the system. My initial analysis was correct. They were essentially unprepared to deal appropriately with one of the largest incidents the company had encountered. The fact that it happened on a Sunday compounded the problems.

The areas that needed improvement included communications. News of the incident did not reach the members of the public who needed to know. The distribution of bottled water was inadequately handled being in the wrong place without the necessary back up of telling people about it and then handling the flow of people coming for the water. A number of vulnerable customers found themselves unable to get adequate supplies. There were also considerable problems in carrying out the repair.

I am happy to report that the failings were recognised and action taken to overcome the shortcomings. I was really encouraged to hear that South East Water had taken seriously what had gone wrong and worked to set up new systems and procedures. Since Hailsham they have had to deal with a further major incident in Surrey and applying the new procedures they found the incident was dealt with far more efficiently and effectively. Also at the time the number of customers registered as vulnerable was only 22, but more than 400 came forward needing help. Those whose needs are acute, should there be another incident can register in advance online at The website has also been improved due to the incident.

It is all a lesson about how you can learn from things that go wrong.

My further observation is that as communities we all need to do a lot more about resilience and the various agencies across the community need to learn better how they can integrate their response. But who am I to make such an observation? Nobody reads what I write….. Oh, hang on a minute……