Dr Anne Eyre, Vice-Chair of Disaster Action, highlights the role of the organisation in informing today’s management of large-scale emergencies and disasters:
Earlier this month Philip Mason from our sister site Policing Today outlined new initiatives aimed at a more victim-focussed approach in relation to rape and sexual assault prosecutions, and highlighted the continuing need to understand and address the needs of victims going through the criminal justice system.
Intuitively this seems to be an obvious, moral and sensible way forward. And yet our history is littered with the unheard voices and unmet needs of those on the receiving end of a broad spectrum of criminal and culpable acts. The changing tide towards a more ‘victim-focussed’ approach, or rather as we would put it, one that puts the needs of people at the heart of investigative processes, systems and procedures, is welcomed by those of us who have experienced this cultural shift first-hand and over a prolonged period of time.
I am speaking here as a member of Disaster Action (DA), a small charity founded in 1991 by UK survivors and bereaved people from disasters of the late 1980s. These included the Zeebrugge ferry capsize, the King’s Cross underground fire, the Clapham rail crash, the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, the Hillsborough football stadium crush and the Marchioness riverboat sinking. We came together at the end of the so-called ‘decade of disaster’ partly because in those days we felt marginal and, it seemed, inconsequential to the range of investigative processes in the months and years that followed.
Facing for the first time the bewildering set of procedures associated with lengthy complex investigations (including civil, criminal and in some cases corporate prosecutions) only added to the trauma, loss and grief of finding oneself a disaster statistic. (We also found ourselves often without access to information, guidance or support).
By joining with others we were able to muster the collective conviction, resilience and tenacity to successfully campaign for changes both in the law - specifically around corporate manslaughter, and in the perception and treatment of victims and families.
Over 20 years, our small but influential organisation has grown to support and represent those in the UK affected by over 28 international disasters. These include the Westgate terrorist attacks (2013), the shooting down of MH17 over the Ukraine (2014), the Mumbai attacks (2008), the London Bombings (2005), the Asian Tsunami (2004), the Bali bombings (2002) and the September 11 attacks (2001).
We have helped bring together families and survivors for mutual support across many types of tragedy. We draw on our personal and collective experiences to help others working to prevent, prepare for and respond to people affected by mass casualty and mass fatality incidents.
Today, DA acts as independent advisers to government and the statutory and voluntary services, and participates in legislative and non-statutory guidance consultations. We are often consulted by police services and others for our views and experience of a range of issues. (Including victim identification; viewing, recovery and release of bodies; the inquest process; communication channels; death certification; support networks and family and survivor support groups).
We also help to train commanders on multiagency and service-based strategic (Gold) command courses and exercises. A recent example of our role was helping develop, refine and evaluate the implementation of people-focussed objectives for last autumn’s major national interoperability exercise in Liverpool (JESIP).
Keen to record our corporate memory we have recently published 'Collective Conviction: the Story of Disaster Action'. The book interweaves individual stories with chapters highlighting the social context and changing legal and cultural landscape of contingency planning, corporate responsibility and emergency management.
In this way it also captures the corporate memory around major incident lessons, looking back as a way of looking forward. It presents fundamental principles and key learning for professionals within the police and other services dealing with both today’s and future disasters, and the needs of people directly affected by them.
Find details of 'Collective Conviction: the story of Disaster Action' here.