Friday, 21 October 2022

Managing Emergencies: The Challenges of the Future

 

Welcome to the 'riskscape'

On one day in July 2021 fires devastated large areas of Sardinia, flooding occurred for the second time in two weeks in London and I received a message from research colleagues in Germany that read "the institute was quite destroyed and many colleagues have suffered tremendous damage to their houses." Hot, humid weather and developing storms made me wonder whether my house was about to suffer the effects of the kind of concentrated microcyclone storm which has come to be known colloquially as a 'water bomb' and scientifically as ‘explosive cyclogenesis’. The last one caused mayhem as water poured copiously through the door (on the third floor) and I broke my foot as I scrambled to mop it up and save the parquet. So much for the personal reflections. What does all this mean for Britain? 

If we look at major emergencies in the UK over the last 25 years or so, there have been significant deficiencies in the response in just about every case. In some instances, notably the Manchester Arena bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire (both in 2017), the shortcomings have been nothing less than scandalous (Kerslake 2018, Moore-Bick 2019). The same is true of some of the earlier events, such as the Hillsborough stadium disaster of 1989. Lessons have been identified and in some cases learned, but the process is inhibited by the weakness of the overall system.

This has been the case despite the fact that Britain has formidable expertise in both the practical and the academic domains. Recently, I spoke to a senior emergency planner who has worked for years in the transportation and nuclear industries. From memory he recited to me a catalogue of omissions, oversights and failures in managing the risks. I asked him for a prediction of what would happen in the future. He looked gloomy and said that the most likely scenario would be a large destructive event in the nuclear or chemical industries, or perhaps a major infrastructure failure of some kind. In each case, there are plenty of risks and situations to choose from. However, do we really appreciate the magnitude of the challenge posed by climate change, not merely in terms of average values of temperature and precipitation, but with respect to extreme events: heatwaves, cold snaps, snow, ice, frost, rain, floods, rising sea levels in conjunction with coastal storm surges, and so on?

A climate of increasing risk 

A report by the Met Office and associated climate scientists (Kendon et al. 2021) confirms that the United Kingdom is getting warmer and wetter. The potential for extreme weather events is increasing fast. The forecast is for heavier rain, more flooding, greater heat waves and, paradoxically, more substantial cold snaps and deeper snow. Moreover, the rate of sea-level rise has doubled since 1900, which will increase the impact of storm surge flooding along the nation's coasts. Billions will have to be spent on making the country's infrastructure more resilient against this sort of event. More flood defences will have to be constructed and those that exist will need strengthening and maintaining, at great cost. Alarmingly, a survey by the Environment Agency that nearly 6 per cent of existing flood defences are in a poor or very poor state (Environment Agency 2021). One only hopes that land-use planning will stem the flood of new construction in areas that are prone to inundation by rivers that burst their banks and seas that rise up and surge inland, eating away at properties and coastal defences as they go.

The bureaucratic approach 

Emphasis is quite rightly placed on mitigating these impacts and preparing to adapt our lives and livelihoods to climate change. However, it would be wrong to avoid thinking about how to improve our ability to respond to meteorological disasters when they occur. In the UK, the term 'disaster' is not used: 'major incident' is preferred. This is acceptable when one is dealing with a road accident or a train crash. But in 2008 floods stretched from Alnwick in Northumberland to Tewksbury in Somerset, nearly 500 km away. Was this not a disaster? And how can the death of nearly 130,000 people from Covid-19 be called a 'major incident'? It is time to call a spade a spade.

Every country needs a law that specifies the nature of the civil protection system and the basic details of how it works. In the UK this is the Civil Contingencies Act of November 2004. Oddly, it was sidelined during the pandemic as the Cabinet Office Minister, Michael Gove, judged it to be 'too extreme'. He went on to promulgate a law, the Coronavirus Act of March 2020, that is perhaps even more 'extreme', although mitigated by its incomprehensibility. To illustrate that, consider just one of the 102 provisions and 29 schedules. namely paragraph 25D, subparagraph (1): 

 
"Regulations under section 25C may not include provision imposing a restriction or requirement by virtue of subsection (3)(c) of that section unless the Department considers, when making the regulations, that the restriction or requirement is proportionate to what is sought to be achieved by imposing it."

Wording of this kind is designed to defy the country's leading philosophers of logic, and let's remember that the Act is designed to tackle a major emergency–sorry, disaster.

The real problem is that the British emergency planning, management and response system is fragmented and incomplete. It lacks a national emergency operations centre. For the ops people in Rome there is a cluster of five emergency operations rooms in a substantial purpose-built complex. In The Hague there is a compact but technologically advanced operations centre. In Britain, there is the Cabinet Office Briefing Room, which is a mere discussion chamber, staffed on an ad hoc basis and very occasionally frequented by the Prime Minister. 

Emergency planning is a vital occupation. In major emergencies the plans orchestrate the procedures and reduce improvisation to a necessary minimum. This is a good idea because improvisation in place of proper foresight and preparation can be lethal, as we have seen with the provision of personal protective equipment and the first test-and-trace system in Britain. However, in the UK emergency planning is hardly a profession. Despite the presence of 62 universities that teach some aspects of disaster and emergency management, it has no graduate entry requirement and no career progression. Where it exists and has not been dispensed with in austerity cuts, expertise and institutional memory are easily lost in the rotation of staff.

Britain was one of the first countries to institute a national register of civil risks. This document is periodically updated and the latest edition came out in 2020. Interestingly, since the first edition in 2008, pandemics have been regarded as the leading risk in terms of their probability of occurrence and seriousness of consequences. Despite this, in early 2020 when Covid-19 struck, preparedness was at a low ebb and government was distracted by other contingencies, notably Brexit and counter-terrorism.

The National Risk Register has been criticised because it is not a particularly user-friendly document, it takes only a short-term view of the threats and hazards that assail the UK, it does not enquire into how risks can manifest themselves in combinations, and it is unknown to many of the organisations and decision makers who could make good use of it.

The local level of emergency preparedness in the UK does use the risk register, as it is charged with preparing community risk registers, which are local versions of the NRR.  They are managed by the country's local resilience forums. These are rather ambiguous bodies. They lack consistent funding and have little executive authority. They have few mechanisms for involving the community or creating an efficient, effective local system. This is particularly unfortunate as there is immense scope to generate more community engagement. Indeed, the challenge of the century in civil protection is to persuade ordinary people to be more responsible for their own risks.

One wonders why the police are the lead agency in the UK and why the emergency planners are so seldom the emergency managers? The answer lies in both the undervaluing of emergency planning ('disaster science' is not represented in, for example, the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, SAGE), and the excessive emphasis on command and control. An extension of this is the widespread use of military forces in civilian emergencies in the UK. At a time when the military complement of personnel is shrinking and there are many other demands on the attention of our armed forces, this does not make sense. Indeed, some military commanders I have spoken to are uneasy about their role in floods, storms and so on. It is a role that is seldom sustained enough to make a thorough-going difference. In fact, in general terms, the evolution of emergency management can practically be measured by its degree of demilitarisation over recent decades.

In the response to civilian emergencies, all countries experience a certain tension between centralisation and devolution. The UK has become highly centralised in its organisation, but most emergencies are far from being nationwide events. Given the future challenges, it makes clear sense to reverse this tendency.

Inspiration from elsewhere

I have the good fortune to be a dual national with British and Italian citizenship. In my home town in Italy a civil protection service has existed since 1525 (some 281 years after it began 17 km down the road in Florence - where it is still headquartered in the same building as it had in 1244). Organised voluntarism is fully incorporated into the system. This gives us a modern, efficient ambulance service that often has a doctor on board as well as paramedics. Across the road there is the emergency operations centre of the forest fire-fighting volunteers. Both services do much more than responding to casualties and fires respectively. 'Civil Protection' is written large upon their fleets of vehicles. Laws protect their operatives and define their responsibilities in major emergencies. Both services will look to the municipal emergency operations centre, which is combined with a small detachment of the national fire and rescue service. This is responsible for six local municipalities which respond to emergencies in consortium. The provincial emergency plan is fully digital and it is coordinated by the civil protection service of the region.

In Florence, a consortium of 29 volunteer organisations includes specialists in medicine, transportation, radio communications, fire-fighting, logistics and hazardous materials response. It can put 1,000 operatives into the field within ten minutes and 5,000 within two hours. I can verify that is is not a mere boast, as I have seen it done. In the case of a major national emergency such as a large earthquake, following a well-rehearsed procedure, the regional convoy will form up and be on its way within a matter of hours. Above all, this is a matter of local pride, not merely expediency. When one of the local ambulances developed a short circuit and caught fire, the townspeople stepped forward, paid up and six weeks later two new state-of-the-art cardiac arrest ambulances were parked outside the town hall for inspection. No doubt people were thinking "I may well need this service one day," but they also benefited from a sense of ownership. There are many civil protection volunteers among friends and family members. One curious result of this is that the last three major earthquake emergencies have involved more civil protection volunteers than members of the affected populations, but very much in the orderly, well-directed manner that is characteristic of a mature public service.

This digital pen-portrait of local emergency arrangements is meant to illustrate the point that the ability to respond to major emergencies is of necessity dependent on local arrangements. Civil defence involves the protection of populations against armed aggression. It is perforce a 'top-down' national affair and it is the parent discipline of civil protection. The latter is quintessentially 'bottom-up', as the theatre of operations is invariably the local area. No outside forces, whether civilian or military, can quite match the local understanding of local characteristics and needs.

A recipe for the future

The future holds considerable challenges: a possible epidemic of lethal, non-seasonal influenza, highly destructive extreme weather events, infrastructure failures with cascading consequences, and so on. Emergency planning, management and response in the UK needs to be welded into a coherent system with the following characteristics. First, it must be based on the local level, as all disasters are local problems. Secondly, it must be harmonised regionally and nationally, with standardised methods and procedures. Thirdly, it must be inclusive and representative of the diversity of the population. Fourthly, it must harness the voluntary sector in a coherent, joined-up way as part of the system. It must be demilitarised so that civilian authorities take full responsibility for creating resilience and response capability. Fifthly, it must divest itself of its traditional command-and-control ethos in favour of the more collaborative model that has become the norm in the modern world, a model that makes full use of the ability of information and communications technology to foster collaboration.

Finally, it is time to make full use of the talents of women, young people and members of minority groups. Although there are still relatively few women in emergency management, those who are members of this profession tend to be very good: practical, level headed, good at multi-tasking and not afraid to speak their mind in favour of improving the service. The typical emergency manager is still a middle-aged white male with a military background. Although some of these people are outstandingly good at their jobs, much depends on whether they can lose their military ethos, as it is simply not appropriate to the management of civilian emergencies. Indeed, it is one of the most important factors that inhibit positive change. One of the lessons of Covid-19 is that failure to view emergencies from the point of view of minority groups creates disadvantage, unfairness and discontent. The solution is to have emergency planners and managers who are not only well educated in the field, but they also have a more varied perspective on it.

Sir Oliver Letwin's excellent book Apocalypse How? (2020) describes a major infrastructure failure in the UK caused by a space weather incident, which occurs, hypothetically, in the year 2037. It describes the struggles to bring the situation back to normality given the role of funding cuts in the disappearance of redundancy and alternative systems. It ends on a relatively comforting, optimistic note. But unless the official mindset changes, I am not sure that the real thing will enjoy such a happy ending.

References 

Environment Agency 2021. Risk of Flooding from Rivers and Sea. https://data.gov.uk/dataset/bad20199-6d39-4aad-8564-26a46778fd94/risk-of-flooding-from-rivers-and-sea (accessed 30 June 2021).

Kendon, M., M. McCarthy, S. Jevrejeva, A. Matthews, T. Sparks and J. Garforth 2021. State of the UK Climate 2020. International Journal of Climatology 41(S2): 1-76. doi: 10.1002/joc.7285 

Letwin, O. 2020. Apocalypse How? Technology and the Threat of Disaster. Atlantic Books, London, 256 pp.

Kerslake, B. 2018. The Kerslake Report: An Independent Review into the Preparedness For, and Emergency Response to, the Manchester Arena Attack on 22nd May 2017. 224 pp. http://www.kerslakearenareview.co.uk/news/ (accessed 21 October 2022). 

Moore-Bick, M. 2019. Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report. Report of the Public Inquiry Into the Fire At Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017. UK Government, London (4 vols.).

 

Thursday, 20 October 2022

Can we stop the rot in academia?

Few would deny that there is a general air of malaise in academia at the moment. I look around at colleagues and their attitudes seem to vary along a spectrum from combative anger, through pervasive anxiety, to sullen resignation.

Academics seem to be trapped in a spiral of worsening conditions, but many fear that if they seek a new position elsewhere, the situation there may be just the same as the one that induced them to move. Others, of course, are simply unable to move, stuck in a job with working conditions that are increasingly less tolerable.

Standards of management are generally very poor in the university and college world. Most academic staff are hired on the basis of their reputations as researchers or teachers, not for their skills in managing departments, faculties or entire institutions. Those who make the transition from intellectual activity to administration are precipitated into a system that enthusiastically applies principles and techniques that were tried out in business half a century ago and rapidly abandoned because they failed to improve the performance of companies.

Expansion, competitivity and the desire for hyper-visible progress induce university administrators to pile on the tasks with no attention either to a person's capacity or his or her priorities. The huge expansion in non-academic staff has created a large cadre of people who spend their time thinking up tasks for academics to perform. Many of the latter are being driven to distraction by the relentless increase in demands upon their time. 

Academic units such as departments or institutes are cost centres. They must under all circumstances maintain a balance between financial inputs and outgoings. There is no elasticity in this system, which cannot tolerate anything regarded as a "loss-making enterprise", no matter how worthy it is. Priorities are thus determined by how much money they are worth, not by their intellectual value. However, monetary value is a poor measure of utility to society, because not all things of value have an equivalent cost.

Among the greatest casualties of this vicious spiral is "thinking time", and with it creativity. Both are essential to the pursuit of research, which, we know, is essential to the furtherance of teaching. Academic staff who are too tired or demotivated or pressured to take time to think about their mission and their work are losing the very thing that underpins the real value of universities. 

Unions are fighting to halt the decline in the real value of salaries, the rise in precarious employment, the assault on pensions, and perhaps also the constant erosion of the status of the modern academic. However, there is more to be done in terms of university and college governance.

Managers need to recognise that the working week is finite and so is the number of tasks that can be completed during it. This means that management and the front-line staff need to agree on priorities. In this it must be accepted that, if one task is prioritised, another will not be accomplished. Lip service is paid to "work-life balance", but the system is currently rigged in such a way that for most academics it simply cannot be achieved. 

Many colleagues I speak to have lost their creative impetus to the constant demands of administrative tasks and the low-level activities that crowd into our days (and evenings and weekends). We need to be able to schedule ourselves at least half a day a week when we will not be answering emails, dealing with urgent requests, teaching classes, attending meetings and such tasks. Instead we will be reading and thinking, also writing. If we must regard academic life as a buying-and-selling market, then the product we have to sell is the fruit of our creativity. If we lose that, our product rapidly deteriorates.

During the worst of the pandemic there was, no doubt rightly, a huge emphasis on student welfare. Many of us had the impression that the corresponding emphasis on staff welfare was little more than lip-service, as we struggled day and night to support the well-being of our students. 

In effect, the pandemic saw the triumph of the marketisation of higher education, a process that had been steadily accelerating for decades before Covid-19 struck. Yet in its current form, the commercial market approach to academic life is bound to be self-defeating, as it hollows out the product that we sell to the consumers of our teaching and research.

Conditions are sadly not right for anyone to found a "slow university", a place where deep meditation can give rise to enhanced creativity, well-crafted publications, sustained concern for others, and courses in which one has time for free, wide-ranging discussion. Nevertheless, it remains an ideal, even if a distant one.

In the meantime it would be useful to repair the processes of governance in higher education. This would require more participation by staff in decision making, which in turn would require less of a separation between teaching and research staff, on the one hand, and management on the other.

One tendency that seriously needs to be reversed is the loss of trust in front-line staff. Everywhere, there seem to be procedures that control what we do and require us to justify the smallest of our actions. Not only is this demeaning, it creates a massive, unnecessary bureaucracy that eats up time that could be devoted to loftier activities and saps the will to create. If once it was unnecessary, it can treated so again.

It is striking that so many of those who run universities either cannot see the problem--and the solution--clearly enough or else remain indifferent to it. Cultural change is drastically needed in the academy. Some of it involves reversion to the saner ways of doing things that once prevailed, but, clearly, trying to recreate the past would not work in an age as dynamic as our own. Perhaps we should start by trying to ascertain why common sense seems to have fled from the halls of academia and what can be done to attract it back. Governance has to be improved, and one measure of whether happens is to know whether expectations of academic staff are realistic--indeed humane--enough.

 

Sunday, 24 April 2022

Foresight

A principle of cascading disasters is that the world is ever more closely linked by networks on which we all depend for communications, commerce, enlightenment and entertainment. When disaster strikes, these networks are capable of transmitting impacts through a variety of domains and system states, each of which produces different consequences. The cascade is a result of the progression of a shock through different kinds of vulnerability. To categorise these as social, economic, psychological, environmental, institutional, and so on is to oversimplify the mechanisms within them and the connections between them.


Behind this scenario is globalisation. The term has many different meanings. It can signify a means of diversifying assets so as to optimise the way they can be used to exploit people, for example, by shifting manufacturing production to places where wages can most easily be suppressed. It can also mean communication over very long distances, leading to the adoption of common agendas among disparate groups of people. In globalisation there is a degree of uniformity of culture, tastes and social mores. This makes it easy to spread concepts that are compatible with the culture, tastes and mores.

There has recently been a surge of research interest in disaster and conflict (ref). It is obvious that military instability is likely to complicate and retard the process of getting natural hazard impacts under control. Everyday risk factors are different when floods, transportation crashes, landslides, toxic spills, structural collapses occur against a background of asymmetric warfare, armed insurgency, fighting or rampant terrorism. One question that is asked relatively rarely is why we exclude warfare from our definitions of disaster. Is war not a disaster in its own right? The answer is that we do so on the basis of convenience, because introducing armed conflict into the disaster equation would easily lead to unmanageable complexity.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a cascading disaster with global ramifications. It shows up failure to avoid provocation between states, failure to predict and mitigate conflict, failure to make sufficient progress in the transition away from dependency on fossil fuels, and failure to resolve disputes in the global arena. It poses challenges of coping with massive, unplanned mass migration, preventing the escalation of conflict into other states or the global arena, preventing deadlock in the United Nations Organisation and revitalising it. All of these problems have at their root a lack of foresight and an inability to create stable global governance, as well, of course, as simple bad behaviour by national leaders. Moreover, at the world scale there has been a gradual and sustained retreat from democracy as well as a retreat from the principle of right to protection (R2P). Moreover, the Coronavirus pandemic has been widely used as a pretext for curtailing human rights.

The apparent impotence of the United Nations in the face of armed aggression by one country against another might beg the provocative question “are we witnessing the end of globalisation?” Inspired by the events that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, 30 years ago Francis Fukuyama wrote his treatise on The End of History (Fukuyama 1992). History, of course, continues to be made, both as events and as some form of human social development. One wonders whether, instead, we are seeing the end of progress. A related question is whether progress is the essential motor of globalisation, and whether globalisation would collapse without it.

Niels Bohr famously said that “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”. Nevertheless, a defining malaise of our age is the failure to exercise foresight. If many things cannot be foreseen, at least they can be visualised as possibilities or probabilities. One can then ask how they would be dealt with if they materialise. We tend to analyse problems using the matrix, or within the context, that prevails at the moment. Yet the problems may materialise in a very different context in which the values in the matrix diverge substantially from those that currently prevail.

Two further observations are pertinent here. One is that the shifting context pilots events. The other is that it can be demanding and expensive (in various ways) to transform foresight into action, and it may be something that lacks broad support, especially among people who lack foresight.

We cannot understand disaster without knowledge of its root causes and the dynamic pressures that trigger the forces that precipitate it. The dynamic pressures, in turn, cannot be understood without knowledge of the context in which disaster occurs. One of the major challenges of the modern age is to understand a context which tends to broaden from the purely local to a global extent. Geopolitics, globalised production, global competition for natural resources and the world-wide effects of climate change all have local impacts and implications. Conversely, local events can have repercussions around the world. As an example, consider the impact of the Fukushima Dai’ichi nuclear release in Japan in 2011 on nuclear energy policy in other countries (Wittneben 2012,Kim et al. 2013).

References

Fukuyama, F. 1992. The End of History and the Last Man. The Free Press, New York, 418 pp.

Kim, Y., M. Kim and W. Kim 2013. Effect of the Fukushima nuclear disaster on global public acceptance of nuclear energy. Energy Policy 61: 822-828. DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2013.06.107

Wittneben, B.F. 2012. The impact of the Fukushima nuclear accident on European energy policy. Environmental Science and Policy 15(1): 1-3. DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2011.09.002

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

A Resilience Charter

 

1.    Preamble

1.1    The purpose of this charter is to specify the responsibilities of the state and citizens in the field of resilience against disasters, crises and major public emergencies and incidents.

1.2    The future of humanity will involve very significant challenges in order to create and maintain resilience. Climate change will increase the magnitude and frequency of extreme meteorological events. Unplanned mass migrations will occur. The increasing vulnerability and dwindling redundancy of life-support systems will aggravate the effect of proliferating failure among critical infrastructure networks. Opportunities for malicious attacks will become more numerous and sophisticated in both the physical and cyber realms. As a result of these and other challenges, a new, more concerted approach to resilience is urgently required.

2.    Working definitions

2.1    ‘Resilience’ is defined as the ability to absorb and resist the impact of a major adverse event and to recover promptly. Recovery involves ‘bouncing back’ or better still ‘bouncing forward’ to a state of greater safety.

2.2    ‘Disaster’ refers to an event that causes damage, destruction, interruption of services and important activities, and possibly casualties. Its impact may sudden, slow or repetitive. A ‘major incident’ is an adverse impact that requires immediate attention from emergency services and a switch from normal to emergency working patterns. In this context, ‘crisis’ refers to those situations in which extraordinary measures are required in order to ensure public safety or prevent escalating damage and losses.

2.3    ‘Safety’ refers to protection against major hazards such as storms, floods and industrial explosions. ‘Security’ involves protection against major threats, such as terrorist activity.

2.4    ‘Civil protection’ refers to the system designed to protect the public and assets against disasters and other major adverse impacts. ‘Civil defence’ refers to the system designed to protect non-combatants against armed aggression, which is nowadays usually in the form of terrorism or interference in critical activities by nefarious groups that may or may not be sponsored by rival states. Some countries prefer to treat civil protection and civil defence as a unified function of the central state.

3.    The state

3.1    Every country needs a basic law that establishes its civil protection system and specifies in broad terms how the system functions. The term ‘civil protection system’ describes coordinated national, regional and local arrangements designed to plan for, manage and respond to major emergencies, and to initiate recovery from them. At all levels the system must be integral, robust and complete.

3.2    National standards should be developed to ensure that emergency plans are functional and compatible with one another, and that they ensure the interoperability of emergency services and functions. All levels of public administration should be required to produce emergency plans and maintain them by means of periodic updates.

3.3    Civil protection must be developed at the local authority level, coordinated regionally and harmonised nationally. The main functions of national government are (a) to provide leadership, direction and guidance to lower levels of public administration, (b) to provide an open, accessible hub or pole of attraction for civil protection and civil defence activities in the national realm, (c) to support local and regional initiatives to develop the system and respond to emergencies, (d) to lead training and learning initiatives in this sector, and (e) to liaise with other countries in matters of civil protection and civil defence.

3.4    Local mayors or chief executives should have a primary role in ensuring that arrangements are in place for emergency planning, management and response.

3.5    The central government must ensure that resources are adequate to respond to the kinds and levels of emergency that are envisaged in planning scenarios.

3.6    Emergency planning and management should be fully professionalised, with educational and training requirements, professional associations, credit for experience, a career path and an employment structure at all levels, from national to local. The private sector should be encouraged to follow suit.

3.7    Emergency management and response should be a civilian responsibility and should be fully demilitarised. National armed forces should be utilised only in exceptional circumstances where there can be no civilian alternative.

3.8    Regional coordination should ensure that local efforts to instil civil protection and respond to emergencies are supported by mutual assistance and resources from higher levels of government.

3.9    ‘Welfare’ can be defined as the provision of care to a minimum acceptable standard to people who are unable adequately to look after themselves. The welfare function of disaster risk reduction must be defined by the central state and practised so that adverse impacts do not accentuate inequality in society and the burden of disaster is shared equitably. Conversely, ‘welfare’ should not be interpreted as public largesse. It should consist of targeted assistance based on reasonable, ethically acceptable criteria.

3.10    All levels of government should develop business continuity plans to ensure that their essential services can continue to be delivered during crisis conditions. The business continuity plans will function in parallel to emergency response plans.

3.11    National, regional and local authority emergency plans should be complemented by compatible emergency plans for hospitals, health systems, dangerous manufacturing sites, airports, cultural heritage sites and other key installations. Plans should be networked.

4.    The citizen

4.1    It is the responsibility of all citizens to consider, as far as they are able, their relationship with hazards and threats.

4.2    Volunteer work should be encouraged in disaster risk reduction and kindred fields. However, spontaneous voluntarism is not recommended. Volunteers need to be trained, equipped and their organisations need to be incorporated into the civil protection system. Government should provide support to voluntary organisations and consider legislating on employment protection (for those who are abruptly required to carry out emergency work) and accident and liability insurance.

4.3    Civil protection should be organised as a democratic, participatory system in which members of the public have a say in arrangements designed to protect them against hazards and threats.

4.4    'Community' refers to the association of citizens united by common interests that may be bound up with geographical locations of various sizes. State-sponsored civil protection should engage with and encourage community-level efforts to create and promote resilience.

5.    The private sector

5.1    The providers of privatised essential services should be designated as first category responders, with a duty to ensure that the companies and sites have both functional emergency plans and viable business continuity plans.

5.2    Strong links should be developed between the emergency planners in private sector concerns and emergency planning and management departments at appropriate levels of public administration. This is especially important for the providers of all forms of critical infrastructure.

6.    Foresight

6.1    When considering threats and hazards, emergency planning and preparedness must focus on both the short term (several years) and the long term (decades).

6.2    Wherever it is feasible, emergency plans should be based on scenarios. There should be flexible, systematic explorations of possible future outcomes. The assumptions that underlie them should be specified in detail and the results should be presented as a suite or envelope of outcomes, of which the upper limit is the worst plausible case - i.e., the worst impact that could reasonably be expected in a definable time-period extending over several decades.

Thursday, 17 March 2022

The Disaster of War


By convention, when we study disasters we exclude warfare. It is not easy to find a completely logical reason for this. It is more a matter of convenience and a feeling that to conflate the two phenomena would lead to problems because not all generalisations about the one are applicable to the other. At the same time, there is always the basic truth that war is a disaster in its own right because of the casualties, suffering and destruction that it causes. Moreover, as we are seeing in Ukraine and surrounding countries, it is all too often accompanied by a major humanitarian emergency.

In recent years there has been increasing interest in trying to understand the intersectionality between war and other forms of disaster. The other forms are natural hazard impacts (please do not call them ‘natural disasters’ as they, too, are largely the result of human agency), technological failures, social movements (riots, crowd crushes, unplanned mass migrations, etc.), intentional disasters (essentially terrorism) and composite events. Such is the complexity of modern life that the last of these categories predominates. We live in networked societies and disasters tend to be events with cascading consequences.

In recent days, vast numbers of women, children and the elderly have crossed international boundaries as they have fled the fighting in Ukraine in what has become Europe’s fastest mass migration since the 1940s. As a result, we have a humanitarian emergency that encompasses primarily Ukraine itself and six countries on its western borders but potentially the whole of Europe. In Ukraine the challenge is to provide basic necessities under highly dangerous conditions and via an infrastructure that is becoming more and more damaged and fragmentary. Outside Ukraine it is a matter of accommodating hundreds of thousands of refugees, most of whom come from families that have been split up by the war.

Gone are the times when war was fought on a battlefield between assembled armies. There is no room any more for a Napoleon or a Wellington. In modern warfare everyone and everything is a target. Grain, fertiliser, gas, oil and minerals are casualties as well as people, and so are those who depend on these commodities and are deprived by shortage or rising prices from accessing them.

In a world that faces grim challenges in dealing with climate change, ecological catastrophe, loss of the carrying capacity of the land and problems with the vulnerability of technology, the last thing we need is a major war. Nothing can compensate for the loss of life and destruction of people’s living conditions that it causes, but it may yet accelerate the transition towards more sustainable consumption and more rational ways of living. Amid the lies and manipulations that lie behind the aggression, there is also solidarity and rationality. Let us hope that in spite of everything these admirable qualities will prevail. We need them so that we can confront the next disaster.