Sydney Water Agrees To Implement Changes Recommended by an Independent Review on the Lane Cove September 2022 Water Outage

    Image source - Philip Rodgers

    An independent review was conducted into the Lane Cove Sydney Water Outage in September 2022, and a report was released to Sydney Water.

    Around 6.45 am on Saturday, 10 September 2022, a water main burst so loudly it sounded like an explosion, and water started gushing onto Epping Road. The pipe burst near the NUSS Removals building.

    The Lane Cove Council area, North Ryde and other lower north shore suburbs were impacted by this major Sydney Water outage that left some locals unable to shower or flush their toilets for up to four days.  At one stage, it is estimated over 50 000 residents were impacted.

    On 13 September 2022, Sydney Water crews finally isolated and repaired the water main break. The Sydney Water crews worked round the clock, and once they realised they could not quickly fix the burst water pipe, they had to take steps to reroute the water to other pipes to restore water to impacted locals.

    Although Sydney Water was working around the clock, Sydney Water failed to communicate to customers the extent of the problem or provide any timeframe as to when the water would be reconnected.  In fact, Sydney Water had no idea as to the number of customers impacted as they were looking at connections rather than end users.  For example, the Meriton Arise Complex at 150 Epping Road has over 300 units but only one connection.   ITC spoke to the Sydney Water Manager Director on Monday 12 December and he told ITC that there were only 2500 customers impacted.  ITC disputed this number on the basis that large parts of Lane Cove North did not have water and Lane Cove Village and Greenwich had very low water pressure.

    It was obvious that they were not looking at end users and also not speaking to their Customer Support Centre, which had been taking numerous calls from impacted customers.  The Customer Support Centre was also receiving calls from strata managers, property managers, landlords and plumbers, and they had no idea how many residents that group of people represented.

    The lack of communication frustrated residential and business customers as they could not make plans.  They were not sure whether they should book a hotel or stay with friends, and bottled water was running out in Lane Cove stores.

    At the time of the incident, Sydney Water’s Managing Director, Roch Cheroux, said the replacement of the damaged pipe was complex, and crews worked around the clock to return normal water supply as soon as possible.

    “This was not an ordinary water main break. Crews have told me it’s one of the largest blow-outs they’ve ever seen and that the impact of the break was so powerful, it created a 12 metre long, seven-metre deep and 10-metre wide excavation site.”

    “This was a complex and unfolding situation. The size and scale of this event and the full extent of how widespread the incident was on our customers changed rapidly over the course of the weekend,” Mr Cheroux said.

    You can read the full background here or listen to our special podcast on the event here.

    Sydney Water Response to the Independent Report

    The Independent Report found that communications between the customer contact centre and incident management team was insufficient, leading to a breakdown in communications to customers.

    Sydney Water released a media statement confirming they will implement all the review’s recommendations, focusing on incident planning, response and communications to customers.

    They will also will create a digital customer portal, and improve the internal flow of information during incidents.

    Sydney Water’s General Manager of Customer Services, Kathy Hourigan said valuable lessons were learned and will result in a range of new measures to engage with customers.

    “The review provided valuable insight into the issues which restricted the flow of information and the ability to communicate effectively with customers,” Ms Hourigan said.

    “The incident was complex and protracted and a gap in information sharing simply meant we did not communicate the full scale of the incident effectively.

    “Information during major incidents is critical and while our teams did their absolute best to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, the impact on customers was underestimated,” Ms Hourigan said.

    The report into the incident found the Incident Management Team made decisions based on the information available at the time but did not have access to an accurate number of impacted customers during the first two days of the incident.

    “We are committed to implementing these recommendations and deeply apologise again for the inconvenience and disruption and acknowledge this is not consistent with the level of service expected from our customers,” Ms Hourigan said.

    Mitigating the impact on our customers in the future is our number one priority and there have already been significant changes including:

    • Additional Duty Managers and Customer Advocates to ensure customer impacts and closely monitored.
    • Better co-ordination between the Customer Contact Centre and the Emergency Control Centre.
    • Introducing a Customer Portal to allow people to register their contact details so they can be notified of outages.
    • Engage with Community-based social media groups to share service-impact information.

    Key Recommendations

    Sydney Water said the Key Recommendation are:

    • A review of incident escalation criteria to better incorporate customer impact and consumer sentiment – Sydney Water already has customer impacts as part of the incident assessment criteria and will review these criteria by the end of March 2023 to ensure that they are clearer and more visible in the Emergency Control Centre.
    • Better visibility and analysis of real-time customer call volumes, website traffic, and customer sentiment to inform incident management planning, communications, and activity – Sydney Water is developing a dashboard to combine customer information from various sources and will make this available to all teams involved in incident management by March 2023.
    • Improved management and coordination of incident-related communications between teams including better integration of the Customer department (Hub specifically) into the Emergency Coordination Centre – Sydney Water is better integrating our Customer Hub and Emergency Control Centre by expanding the role that the Customer Hub Duty Manager plays in the Emergency Control Centre, especially as the incident escalates.
    • Investigating ways to more accurately understand the number of people impacted directly and indirectly by an incident including real-time modelling – Sydney Water is improving the visibility of the number of people served by connections points (such as unit blocks, schools and aged care facilities) by December 2022. Customer impacts can be complex to assess when water is rezoned during an incident, however Sydney Water will assess how new technologies may enable real time monitoring.

    ITC has not seen the report and, at this stage, does not know if the report will be made public.

    Northwood Road/Longueville Road Water Outage 1 December 2022

    Although Sydney Water has made some changes to its website since the September 2022 incident, there are still issues with notifications.  This week a water main burst on Northwood Road Northwood around 7.00 am.  Water had to be turned off to allow repairs, which impacted Northwood and Longueville Road residents.  When residents entered their address on the Sydney Water Outage page, they were told, “no known water interruptions in your area.”   Locals started messaging ITC to see if we had heard anything – due to the number of enquiries, we knew the outage was impacting quite a few properties.

    At around 12.00 pm, a notice was placed on Sydney Water’s Website (on the main page – but not on the Outage Page).

    After the water was restored, ITC again contacted Sydney Water to discuss the lack of information and sent Sydney Water an 11-page document outlining the issues.  Sydney Water invited ITC to meet with them to discuss how they can improve their processes.

    Sydney Water has also said they will give priority to reinstating a map on their Water Outage site.  ITC has been pushing this.  If, on a map, you can see that there is an issue in your area, then you at least know it is not specifically your property that is impacted.

    One of the issues that Sydney Water has is they do not necessarily have end-user data.  If a household rents, the landlord might be the customer but not the end user or as mentioned above, there can be one connection point for several residents (particularly older units and businesses in a retail complex).

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