Welsh civil emergency plans need improving say AMs

St Asaph under water, November 2012
Image caption Flooding has caused devastating damage across Wales in the last year, including the floods at St Asaph in Denbighshire last November

The way Wales responds to big civil emergencies such as flooding needs to improve, say assembly members.

There is "room for improvement" in the way police, fire, medical services and local councils respond, according to the Public Accounts Committee.

The committee, which monitors public spending, also highlighted how social media could both assist and hamper emergency efforts.

The report said misinformation could "spread very quickly".

The committee also says ministers should push to devolve some civil emergency powers from the UK - providing the resources are in place.

"Recent emergency situations, including those caused by inclement weather have showed us how reliant we are on the responses of our emergency services," said Darren Millar AM, who chairs the committee.

"The evidence we have gathered in this short inquiry clearly indicate that efforts are being made to improve how our resilience community plan for and manage civil emergencies.

"The committee concludes that there is still room for improvement."

The report highlights how social media communications can assist and hamper emergency efforts - citing the case of the Gleision mining disaster, in which four men died when the Swansea Valley pit flooded in 2011.

"Social media was being used by people at the scene to pass information very quickly," explained the committee report.

"We heard that the incident raised concerns about the impact of the use of social media, specifically regarding people at the scene making assumptions about resources arriving at the scene and in recognising families attending family centres.

Facebook and Twitter

"We heard that, owing to the instantaneous nature of social networking, this misinformation spread very quickly."

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Media captionSt Asaph mayor John Roberts said the damage caused by the city's floods has been emotional as well as financial

The committee said the Welsh government needed to collate "best practice" for using social media during emergencies.

The report also said there was a need for a "step change" in the way bodies across Wales co-ordinate regional responses to incidents.

"We believe that more thorough, ongoing scrutiny of the organisations at the forefront of planning contingencies is necessary," added Mr Millar.

But the assembly members also recognised that many powers over civil emergency planning still lay with the UK government - describing the Welsh government in Cardiff as acting like a "go-between".

Image caption Four men died in the 2011 Gleision mine disaster in the Swansea Valley

The committee heard that this was not the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland where responsibilities were devolved.

There has already been concern about the potential for confusion because responsibility for emergency planning falls between both Welsh and UK governments for different parts of the work.

The mayor of St Asaph praised the response by all agencies involved when the Denbighshire city was hit by floods last November.

John Roberts said: "The one thing that has become obvious that wasn't there is the aftercare, the counselling required after a flood.

"You can remove the physical experience of a flood but it is the psychological scars that it leaves that you have to be very careful of."

The committee's report follows another last year by the Wales Audit Office which pointed to potential gaps or overlaps.

As part of 14 recommendations, the AMs said they wanted the Welsh government to "actively consider future opportunities" to seek devolving civil contingency powers from Whitehall to Cardiff Bay.

But as part of that the committee said the Welsh government should also "publish a schedule of those resources required to carry out such duties prior to functions being transferred".

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