Plan for civil emergencies, water industry told, amid concerns Ukraine war will exacerbate supply chain issues | #government | #hacking | #cyberattack


Water companies have been ordered by ministers to draw up fresh contingency plans for shortages in the event of a national security threat, cyber attack or other emergency, as war in Ukraine fuels concerns in Whitehall about a knock-on effect on critical infrastructure and supply chain issues in the UK.

Firms have been told their plans must include identifying and prioritising vulnerable customers, sharing supplies between regions and protecting water treatment plants in the event of “any civil emergency”.

The move has been long-planned, according to Whitehall sources, and its timing this week was “completely coincidental” with the conflict in Ukraine and there is no reason for households to start stockpiling water.

But at the same time, planning and talks between government and utility companies and critical industries has been stepped up since Russia’s invasion last week.

Last year the Government identified the UK’s dependency on Russia for chemicals to treat drinking water and wastewater as “critical”, i understands.

Since then, the industry has identified other sources of supply to reduce dependency on Russia, with UK chemical firms beginning to produce their own stocks of urea and iron sulphate used in the treatment of water and sewage.

Defra insisted there is no “direct dependency on eastern Europe for water or wastewater treatment chemicals, and supplies therefore won’t be affected” but added that the Government will “continue to monitor the situation”.

There are ongoing concerns about the wider supply chain, however, with the conflict exacerbating problems that emerged last September with the transportation of raw materials and goods around the globe.

The government has insisted this week that the UK has “no issues with gas supply” and is not dependent on Russia for the fuel.

The new ministerial direction to water companies updates existing orders set in 1998 to “reflect the current water industry landscape and emergency planning expectations”.

One of these new issues is the threat of cyber attacks on any critical infrastructure, including from Russia.

This week, NHS England wrote to all trusts advising them to step up their security measures to prevent a cyber attack.

The direction, which applies to water firms in England and Wales, says “it is requisite and expedient in the interest of national security and for the purpose of mitigating the effects of any civil emergency” for companies to draw up new plans.

It will enable companies to continue to supply water and manage sewage in the event of such an attack or other problem affecting supplies such as shortage of equipment or chemicals.

In the event it cannot supply water “where the nature of the civil emergency or security event is such that this is not possible” and water cannot be supplied to homes and businesses, firms must ensure they have contingency plans to divert water from other regions and companies.

Vulnerable customers must be identified and prioritised and any vulnerable treatment sites must be identified and protected, the direction says.

Staff should receive up-to-date training for such a civil emergency, while firms should carry out tests and exercises of their contingency plans.

Water companies must make provision for “strategically stored reserves of sufficient types and quantities of equipment and materials necessary to enable the company to continue to carry out its water supply or sewerage functions”.

Tim Doggett, chief executive of the Chemical Business Association, said the water industry was “very resourceful” and had shored up its supplies of chemicals to treat drinking water and wastewater.

He added: “We have always got a watchful eye on any sort of disruption in the supply chain, and any disruption can have an impact.

“My biggest concern is the supply chain in general, not necessarily the raw materials themselves but the knock-on effect the disruption could cause, directly or indirectly.

“We don’t see a specific threat to any sector, what we see is an exacerbation of the difficulties in the supply chain that were already there. That might magnify any future impact.”

An industry source said there were “no concerns about the supply of fresh drinking water” and that Defra and the Environment Agency had contingency plans in place to ensure its ongoing supply.



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