Almost under the radar a report was published that has highlighted the dire state of the UK’s resilience to emergencies and crises. There appears to be little to no coverage in the media and it has attracted some discussion on social media but among emergency planners and specialists in disaster management. But do all communicators need to know what is in this lengthy report?
I would say yes, and not just because it is of interested to me. Everyone has a part to play in building more resilience into our lives and our communities. The report calls it ‘putting people first’ and creating a ‘whole of society’ approach. Effectively the more we talk about the risks and how we prepare for them, the more resilient we can become. The pandemic has shown that we all need to be more ready both personally and professionally for the crises that will arrive.
There were some shocking comments about the current state of resilience in the UK and of preparedness at a national level. Among the sentences that caught my attention were:
“…the pace of development has not been sustained over the past decade. In some important areas, quality has degraded. As a result, UK resilience today has some serious weaknesses. It is not fit for future purpose in the world the UK is moving into.”
“Resilience in the UK has suffered strategic neglect.”
If that is the damning assessment from those who conducted the review, how can we move forward? What can we do to make a difference and start to improve? One of the key recommendations is to publish more information on risks and their consequences so that families, communities and businesses can be better prepared. Also, giving people affected by emergencies a voice in the development of policies and operational practice. These are points that I have been stressing in the work I do over the past two years.
After the Manchester Arena attack in 2017 it was clear to me that those who are at the centre of such terrible events need to be heard. The work of the group Survivors Against Terror and the Peace Foundation have done much in this endeavour over the past five years. I have spoken recently at two events looking at how to communicate around terrorist incidents, and knowing how to approach the communication is important for us all. It doesn’t matter who we work for or where we work, any one of us could be caught up in an incident and need to respond.
The Covid-19 pandemic caught us all napping. Crisis communication plans, business continuity plans and emergency response plans were all found to have gaps, to be out of date or to need significant revision. As individuals, people rushed to the shops in panic as they did not know what to expect or what the impact of lockdowns would be. We have learnt a lot over the past two years and this is the ideal time to keep the conversation going. It is critical to talk to people about how they can be ready for emergencies, for storms that knock out the power, for floods that may sweep through streets, and for cyber attacks that bring down critical networks.
I will be interested to see how the Government respond to this report. How will they approach the extensive recommendations. Will they redesign the approach to risk? Will they create a Centre of Resilience Excellence? Will there be national standards in training and qualifications ensuring competence in working in this area? There are many areas of development that the report highlights and it is a transformation of this emergency response area of work.
For my part I will continue to work with the Emergency Planning Society Communication Professional Working Group to identify good practice, areas for development and to highlight emergency communication and preparedness as an issue for us all.