Words: Jeannie Barr MEPS, Acting Chair & Director for Professional Standards & Learning, Emergency Planning Society
Everyone and everything in our communities has the potential to be affected by an adverse weather incident. And that’s why it’s so important that planning, response and delivery doesn’t all ‘sit’ in one place.
As we know, resilience professionals prepare for crisis; it’s what we do. Some of the things we prepare for thankfully might never happen, or happen only once or twice in our career. But adverse weather events are not rare and, depending on location, can happen multiple times a year – and their effects are felt by a community, including those providing the ongoing emergency and community response for days, weeks or even months.
While the UK is fortunate not to experience the more severe adverse weather events experienced elsewhere around the globe, such as hurricanes and tornados, nevertheless, storms can cause significant disruption and damage.
Take Storm Malik, the most recent to ‘strike’ the UK and elsewhere in Europe. With 100mph winds, emergency services dealt with a huge volume of incidents. Tragically lives were lost both here and overseas. Hundreds of thousands of homes were left without power – sometimes for days. Trains and other public transport were cancelled and coastal surges led to flooding. Compounding the issue was that this storm was closely followed by Storm Corrie, which hit just hours after. Not too long before, Storm Arwen caused even more widescale disruption and damage.
That weather-related incidents are so prolific – and thanks to weather forecasting’s accuracy – fairly predictable, means that professionals can be prepared and, to an extent, know what to expect. To maximise preparedness and response, however, it’s vital that professionals and communities communicate clearly, and work together to best effect. While we wouldn’t necessarily expect a community to be prepared for one of our ‘once in a career’ crisis, such as a terrorist incident or chemical leak, they can play an active role in knowing what to do if adverse weather is expected.
Improved and enhanced community involvement and preparedness is a theme set to be explored further in the Government’s soon-to-be published National Resilience Strategy and is also cited in the recent Scottish Government review into Storm Arwen as one of its key recommendations, where it states, ‘Throughout Storm Arwen, volunteers and community resilience groups played a crucial role in ensuring the welfare of those around them.’
However, despite this, there was a ‘broad recognition that more could be done to bring the voluntary and community sector more effectively into the heart of local resilience planning and response arrangements’.
It made a range of recommendations to fully integrate the voluntary sector into resilience partnership planning and resource structures and the mapping of key voluntary and community assets and capabilities to aid activation, deployment and coordination. It called on local authorities to consider what more could be done to support and develop community resilience.
The theme is echoed in the UK Government’s Public Response to its National Resilience Strategy Call for Evidence, which will publish fully in the Spring. In this report the vast majority of respondents highlighted ‘the importance of individuals, volunteer and community groups in building resilience’ and said, “Everyone should have a part to play improving the UK’s resilience.”
Integrated planning, response and deployment with coordination and cooperation between professionals and communities is the best and most effective way to respond to adverse weather events – the events which can hit the very heart of any one of our communities in the most human of ways.