Shetland Times Column 26 January 2024

26 Jan 2024

Shetland was brought to a standstill last week by an Arctic blast of bitterly cold weather. Flight disruptions meant I was unable to get to Edinburgh and, like lots of other people, I worked remotely from home.  For many who do shift work though that is not an option.

This is January, so we should not be surprised at wintry conditions. Shetland’s emergency plan, under which public and emergency services collaborate during periods of crisis, was activated but winter preparedness does not start with the first flurry of snow.

Winter tyres is one action that vehicle owners can take in preparing for winter but in times of squeezed budgets it can be harder for households to prioritise them, which can lead to problems when the snow hits. Roads need to be kept clear for snow clearing and emergency vehicles access.

The gritter teams and their contractors who were working all hours to keep roads clear faced challenging conditions and they deserve enormous praise for all their efforts.

Last week the positive side of Facebook was a vital source of local information. The Gulberwick Weather and Shetland Road Conditions pages were regularly updated with contributions for and from its members. It helped people make decisions about whether to drive or stay home, which in turn helped prevent vehicles from getting stuck in the snow. Thank you to the administrators for providing such a great public service which was appreciated by many across Shetland.

Preparedness in the event of the pandemic and another one in the future now sees the UK Covid-19 Inquiry sitting in Edinburgh. The former First Minister held daily press conferences during the pandemic. “She’s a good communicator” was often said as though the content of the briefings was less important than comparing her delivery with that of a former Prime Minister.

Given the ongoing evidence being heard at the Inquiry, and the disappearance of WhatsApp messages, many of her supporters must be left with a feeling of disappointment. More importantly, the families of those who died or were unable to visit relatives in care homes won’t get full answers about how and why decisions were made.

“Lessons learned” is a well-worn phrase. Without all the background information to understand how and why those in the corridors of power made decisions during the pandemic, learning lessons for the future will be hampered.

On a brighter note, Tuesday is Up-Helly-A’ Day. For Richard Moar, Lerwick’s 2024 Guizer Jarl, his special day is nearly here. May I take this opportunity to send good wishes to Richard and his family, and all the other guizers on what will be a spectacular and fiery 24 hours.

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