With one voice?

Students of emergency and crisis management will be familiar with the idea that we have reached the stage of consensus breakdown in the current pandemic.This might be true of the government's relationship with the public and is a position that could have been predicted – indeed what else are such theories for?However the same students and, especially practitioners, would point to consistency and clarity as the two essential requirements of crisis management.This is easy to say, and in complex circumstances, like those we now find ourselves in, difficult to achieve.
One of the reasons it is difficult at the moment is that when the Prime Minister mounts the rostrum to announce the latest changes in pandemic policy he is, in reality, speaking as Prime Minister of England not of the UK.  No such post exists. There is no English electorate and no constitutional niche that allows him to wear an English and a UK hat at once.On first listening to him one could be forgiven for not underst…

An Anniversary and a Report

This week sees the 105th anniversary of the worst railway accident in the UK.  On 22nd May 1915 a collision occurred at Quintinshill near Gretna Green.  Around 227 people were killed, most of them soldiers on the way to the front.  There is an annual service to remember the disaster which this year was held without the normal crowds who gather to pay their respects to those lost.  The accident was caused by errors made by signalmen.

By coincidence the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) published their Annual Report (2019) this week.  It makes sobering reading.  It talks of a lack of a satisfactory control and command system, problems of communication in crises and the challenges faced by signallers in managing very large workloads.  It contains a long list of lessons that have been identified in previous reports that still await action by the railway authorities.

It is not fair to juxtapose the publication of a modern report with an historic incident.  They are not related.   T…

Class War?

The current debate about the re-opening of schools is being played out in the press on strictly partisan lines.A glance at today’s Guardian and the Mail on Line provides pretty stark evidence of this.(1)
Most of the discussion is framed as being ‘Is it safe? V What about our Children’.Perhaps it is rather more straightforward.Is this just a matter of class?Of all the occupations the government is pushing to return to (or stay at) work it is teachers that are the first to have membership of the middle class.Perhaps more relevantly they are the first to be part of a coherent, highly unionised and corporately articulate group.Nurses and doctors would lead this list but their response (often at great personal cost) is so core to the crisis it has been virtually unquestioned.
In a modern profession heroism shouldn’t be a daily requirement.
The arguments around how safe schools are could equally apply to the workplaces of construction workers, bin collectors, security guards and re-cycling …

An Emergency Planning Register?

In recent weeks there has been a lot of discussion about the professional standing of emergency planners.The most recent instalment in this long running debate was sparked by an article in the Guardian by Professor David Alexander of UCL who questioned the low profile of emergency planners during the current crisis (1).Most recently items on Linkedin by leading practitioners in the field have argued that in the modern world emergency planners operate as professional advisers across the public and private sectors.(2)
I would suggest that we are hostages to our own language.Much has been written about defining the professions but as a word it is not especially useful in a standalone sense.I have witnessed the developing professionalism of emergency planning.As individuals the contribution of emergency planners far outstrips those of their predecessors, as does their level of education and training.It is also true to say that the occupation does not have all the usual attributes of a tr…

Pandemic: Prosecution Mistakes

A piece in the Guardian has highlighted the fact that 56 people have been incorrectly prosecuted for offences under the emergency regulations and that a further 44 charges (that is ALL of them) under the Coronavirus Act 2020 were wrongly brought.The article concludes that the errors were a result of the rushed nature of the legislation.
Rushed and ill considered legislation rarely works as anybody who has ever tried to use the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 will know.How can legislation and the regulations that sit under it be drafted, enacted and enforced within a few days without there being any errors?The introduction of new legislation takes time.Police officers and prosecutors need training and briefing.Procedures and bureaucracy needs to be developed (everything from policy to counting codes).But of course this was an emergency – things had to move quickly.This is true, but isn’t this what contingency planning is for?What was waiting in the wings?What draft regulations were sitting wa…

An Emergency Planning Profession?

Professor David Alexander of University College London (UCL) is the doyen of disaster studies in the UK.His books and papers are perceptive and insightful.This week he wrote a piece for the Guardian in which he asks the question “Britain is in a state of emergency.So where are its emergency planners”?  He makes the case for involving experienced planners as part of the national level response and in doing so he provides an observation on emergency planning that will resurface many times in the future (indeed it could form the basis of many an undergraduate essay title):
“Emergency Planning isn’t rocket science, but it’s distinctly challenging on many levels, involving intellectual, scientific and practical decisions. Wherever an event can be foreseen, the plans should be based on a range of scenarios. Planning scenarios aren’t predictions of the future but rather systematic explorations of hypothetical situations, answering the question: “What if…?” (Guardian Tue 5th May 2020).
It is r…

Chief Coroner Guidance

Further to recent blogs on the subject of what a post pandemic inquiry could look like it is interesting to see that the Chief Coroner has issued guidance to coroners on holding inquests as a result of Covid-19 deaths (in England and Wales).  This was helpfully posted on Linkedin in the Inquests and Inquiries Group and is a reminder to me that Linkedin can be useful (but see my rantings on other and furture blogs!).

The Guidance to coroners is clear and well written - even when read by laymen like me. The fact that it is published and can be accessed by the general public is something to be celebrated.  The coronial system has come a long way in the last 20 years.

Although the decision on whether or not to hold an inquest will be down to individual coroners we are unlikely to see large numbers of inquests attempting to inquire into consequences of inadequate PPE provision.  But there will be some and the situation in Scotland, where the rules around Fatal Accident Inquiries are differ…