Emergency crews from sign installation company Xmo Strata have been called out to petrol stations and retail stores across the country, to make damaged signs safe in the teeth of the storms. By mid afternoon today (January 18) 20 crews were at sites strung out across the south coast and the south Downs – with crews from elsewhere in the UK rushing to reinforce them.

The firm’s nationwide network of crews is being directed from a 24 hour control room at the company’s new head office at a converted Oast House in Marden, Kent.

Specially trained crews are dealing with sign panels which have been blown across motorways, dual carriageways, car parks and petrol forecourts. Some are potentially lethal, and many represent a peril, particularly to motorists and pedestrians, according to company boss Steve Martin.

“We have had many weeks of exceptional winds across the country, and our people have absolutely excelled themselves,” he said. “The priority is to prevent sign panels and debris becoming a danger to the public and teams are working round the clock at locations across the UK. Some of these situations are quite perilous and the crews are under strict instructions to operate to the highest levels of health and safety adherence.

“Petrol stations have to close if damaged signs become a danger, and they can easily lose business worth tens of thousands of pounds – so we’re under a lot of pressure to ‘make safe’, and get them open, even if we can’t actually repair the sign immediately.

“Over the past few weeks we’ve had to reinforce our crews at different times in Scotland, the north, the midlands, Wales and the west country, and along the east coast – today (Thursday) it has been the south and south east that have seemed to take the brunt of it.

“They have performed outstanding work in the most difficult conditions – they got seven large petrol stations up and running on Thursday morning within hours of the call outs, and that will have saved the owners a combined sum probably running into hundreds of thousands, possibly even millions, not to mention removing a risk to the public.”

Martin said his company would be feeding back information to sign manufacturers and asking for design changes and improvements to make signs less vulnerable to wind damage.

“I think global warming is with us for good, now. Signs are like big sails in high wind – you can’t hold them or stop them blowing around, and some of them are extremely heavy. Our teams are using a great deal of cool headedness and experience to wrestle them down in some cases, but we really need to think about how to stop this happening in the first place.”