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Case study: an ineffective response

An article helping to identify the elements of a poor emergency response, using the Northern Ireland big freeze of 2010 as a case study.
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0

In this section, you will explore two different case studies that will demonstrate how the effectiveness of any given response is largely dependent on good emergency planning.

The Northern Ireland Big Freeze 2010

The following case study shows an example of the results of poor emergency planning.

During the winter of 2010, Northern Ireland experienced one of its coldest winters on record. Temperatures as low as -17°C were recorded in some regions. This put a great strain on public utilities across the province.

The low temperatures caused pipes to freeze and burst, leading to widespread disruption to the water supply for a number of weeks.

There was much criticism of the Northern Ireland Water response at the time, an example being the article ‘Decades of neglect led to this Northern Ireland water crisis’ (Collins 2010) available from the Guardian website, and this article, ‘40,000 hit by Northern Ireland water crisis’ (BBC 2010) available from the BBC News website, which includes interviews with the mayor of Belfast and local residents.

This is an example of the failure of emergency preparedness. In this case, it was a combination of the failure of both the operational response and customer communications that resulted in widespread loss of water supply in Northern Ireland.

Your task

Read the articles and watch the videos that are available, then carry out your own research into the events during the winter of 2010.
What were the issues around emergency preparedness that subsequently made the response in Northern Ireland so problematic?
In the comments section below share and discuss your findings.


Collins, R. (2010) ‘Decades of neglect led to this Northern Ireland water crisis’ The Guardian [online] 30 December. available from [09 May 2018]

British Broadcasting Corporation (2010) 40,000 hit by Northern Ireland water crisis [online] available from [09 May 2018]

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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Emergency Planning and Preparedness: An Introduction

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