Revisiting FIRE’s appeal for a Charter for Resilience, Editor Andrew Lynch outlines the principles and structure required to deliver a new architecture for society.
Could the pandemic be the first step to resetting how functions?’ was the standout question from FIRE’s white paper, Coronavirus: A Five-Step Reset for Fire and Emergency Leaders; in turn forming the springboard for a Charter for Resilience developed with Security Correspondent Dr Dave Sloggett.
It is clear that there is not an innate resilient mindset engrained in the general population; the polarised debate around restrictions and liberty still dominates discussion in Whitehall in those who are supposed to lead and know better. It is hardly surprising given the short-term memory problems displayed by many in prominent positions. The balance clearly needs to swing towards personal then organisational resilience, and it needs shifting apace, lest the next fuel crisis or national emergency shifts the tectonic plates of resistance more substantively. Coronavirus 2.0.
Developing situational awareness, consideration of community support and intervention, and developing that individual resilient mindset should be encouraged as the potential is there; see the remarkable appetite for volunteering across the country. Personal resilience should not be the domain of frontline workers and community activists alone; it should be second nature to us all because we’re all on the frontline now. The next challenge will raise its ugly head soon enough.
Ill affording to wait for a mass overnight change in societal expectations, it is imperative that measures are taken to strengthen local resilience; the task is clear, the outcome uncertain.
The problem, of course, with proposing a new architecture for society is that there is so much to pick apart when the clarion call is to reset the whole ecosystem, fire and rescue response and dynamic leadership, in the forlorn hope of providing resilient and connected communities. It is therefore to those areas to which we can all contribute that we shall return to focus on developing a framework, or architecture, that can bolster society through creating those resilient and connected local communities.
Resetting Connected Communities
Staying connected has never been more crucial: from supporting vulnerable and isolated members of the community to the importance of clarity of messaging from public services and government, the power of effective communications has come under intense scrutiny.
At the heart of this is how do we help each other? How do we safeguard the most vulnerable people in our communities? How do we ensure we follow guidelines? How do we act safely to protect ourselves and loved ones?
In the near future, how do we prepare for the next pandemic? What provisions do we put in place now, nationally, regionally and locally to mitigate the next disaster, whether disease, terrorism, flood or famine? How do we stay connected to become a more resilient society?
If you think this is too soon to consider the next major incident amid the carnage of this one, reflect on how you felt when you first heard of the outbreak in Wuhan 18 months ago? Or Ebola, SARS? All of which struck on other continents but they might have been on other worlds.
“Engraining the Charter for Resilience in the fabric of society… will ensure the new architecture for society emboldens leaders and the public to unite around a shared vision for protecting our communities"
The Charter for Resilience
Given the impact upon the economy, the health of the nation and the very infrastructure of society, we believe the tenets of the Charter for Resilience and suggested architecture will place the country on a permanent state of preparedness for the worst threats we face. The Charter for Resilience states:
- Society is placed on a permanent state of readiness to respond effectively to all national emergencies
- Structures are established to identify, analyse and provide oversight to all credible threats to national safety
- Reasonable steps are taken to ensure all scientific measures and technological advancements are aligned to reduce the impact of major threats
- A rapid response to all national threats is engrained at local, regional and national levels
- The supporting infrastructure is in place to ensure effective and timely response
- Effective systems are established to mitigate social and economic impact from national emergencies
- Community cohesion, collaboration and resilience are built into the fabric of daily life and form the cornerstone to national resilience.
Resilience Charter Key Considerations
Resilience should be based on all government activity with all departments playing their role in ensuring a national response to crisis. It is seen with the Ministry of Defence, for example, helping on floods and during the pandemic. It is a whole society approach geared towards one aim: mitigating loss of life. At the end of the crisis institutional reform needs to happen where it is identified that any department or part of government did not step up to the plate.
The National Risk Register maintained by the Cabinet Office needs to be reviewed on an annual basis and be challenged by people who are not inside the Whitehall bubble, whilst committee membership be made public outside of the security services. We need rigorous debate on the nature of threats, such as the rise of germs that resist anti-biotics.
National Lessons Learnt Register
Exercises undertaken to prepare resilience forums should be regional in focus, with an ability to spin off at a local level if the threat is highly localised. Exercises should be scripted according to basic principles and not given to a non-professional person to run the exercises. The structure and approach to exercises, including the detail of how to draw out lessons learnt and feed them into the Cabinet Office and be assured through feedback that those lessons have been taken on board, is essential. We cannot afford to ignore lessons from the likes of Exercise Cygnet as such knowledge drains amount to nothing less than lessons being unlearnt. There needs to be a National Lessons Learnt Register which maintains the national view and compares results from exercises. This needs to be formal and not ad hoc as it currently is as this has no formal means of capturing what is important for pre‑planning.
Any response to a future crisis needs to look through the response from an environmental impact viewpoint as a priority, identifying the opportunities to support a green agenda. Remote working, for example, now needs to be a formal part of any response to a national emergency, whatever form its takes. Secure infrastructure to support remote working needs to be established, not borrowed in an ad-hoc fashion from Zoom or Teams or whatever the latest video conferencing suite that is available. National Resilience planning needs to have a firm and secure baseline from which to work. That requires a communications infrastructure that supports ad-hoc remote working for periods of time and where this has an environmental advantage, allows remote working anyway to cut down on travelling time.
Any response to a future crisis should also be viewed through equality impact assessments as evidence is mounting of the impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities being disproportionately affected, accounting for 30 per cent of critically ill Coronavirus patients in hospital. The disproportionate impact on BAME communities could have been foreseen and we need to ensure that when future threats emerge that every step has been taken to protect all sections of the community.
Strategic reserves need to be maintained (in storage and replenished where necessary) of a number of key items of equipment. The critical capabilities list, which could include a basic amount of PPE, should be regularly replenished.
Engraining the Charter for Resilience in the fabric of society – building resilient, connected communities as outlined in part one’s white paper on a five-step reset – will ensure the new architecture for society emboldens leaders and the public to unite around a shared vision for protecting our communities. Building a strong, flexible framework will ensure future governments will be able to respond proactively, step outside the maelstrom of reactive catch-up decision making and respond effectively to the next pandemic or disaster.
“It will require a step change, a complete reset of how we approach life, but that is the only way of mitigating impact in this new architecture for society”
A New Architecture for Society
Alongside the considerations above, the Charter for Resilience should include the following:
- Independent Resilience Advisory Board charged with assessing resilience risks, overseeing the National Resilience Risk Register and issuing a monthly report to be made public, subject to security considerations.
- Rapid Response Task Force charged with planning for and overseeing all responses to national emergencies as the coordinating and executive body, also tasked with updating national capability.
- Local Community Resilience Groups charged with overseeing the delivery of the advisory board and task force recommendations, engaging local ‘volunteer armies’.
- Resilience Research Group charged with investigating all credible threats and providing a Risk Matrix to inform the National Resilience Risk Register.
- Resilience Science Group charged with developing response models and strategies, overseen by the research group and liaising with the innovation alliance, below.
- Public-Private Innovation Alliance made up of a wide range of industry leaders (see the group including Formula 1 engineers reverse engineering ventilators) charged with developing new technologies to be proactive in meeting threats.
- International Liaison Panel to develop best practice and coordinate national response to global threats.
- Act of Parliament to put into legislation the aforementioned structure.
- A Department for Resilience charged with overseeing delivery of the Resilience Charter.
Local Vs Regional Resilience
It is possible to suggest that while in the course of a national emergency it is inevitable that some degree of centralised control is required to help shape a national effort. It is clear that a balance has to be found between structures that remain able, for the periods between crises, to deliver responsive services at a local level, while also recognising the new threats to society require a more balanced (hybrid) approach to resilience. Something that has a regionalised focus with local and central authorities playing their role when required. This is what should underpin a Charter for Resilience that governs the way the country is adapted for future threats.
One argument that is worthy of debate is a move to a more regional backdrop for things like Local Resilience Forums (restructured as Local Community Resilience Groups to include wider representation from community leaders and vested local interest groups). Is the current low level of granularity of these institutions sufficiently adaptable going forward? Do we really need to aggregate up these forums into a regional structure?
As the country has only just emerged from lockdown one point is worth considering, is it highly risky to allow the nation to emerge from the current crisis in one step? The second wave of the Spanish Flu saw many more people die than in the first wave. The fear is that a quick national exit from lockdown, putting the economy first, may see chaos and civil disorder as other national emergencies come into play, such as the fuel crisis.
A New Architecture for Society
FIRE’s white paper, Coronavirus: A Five-Step Reset for Fire and Emergency Leaders, stated that a new architecture for society should emerge. Will policy makers want to embrace this new architecture or will they fight it to maintain the status quo? Those creating barriers to change must realise that where we are is not sustainable and an appetite for change is required to move beyond cultural inertia and break down those barriers, together.
If one positive comes from Coronavirus let it be that we are better prepared to reduce the loss of life in the inevitable event of future catastrophes by being well informed and staying connected and proactive. It will require a step change, a complete reset of how we approach life, but it is the only way of mitigating impact in this new architecture for society.
Only through such a complete overhaul of the current infrastructure to align organisations and institutions – from government departments to local community resilience teams – can we ensure rapid and proportionate response to future national and international disasters. That is the new architecture for society; anything less will leave us critically vulnerable.
- See FIRE April 2020. The white paper was awarded the UK Press Gazette’s Coronavirus Journalism Excellence award for Best Comment Journalism whilst ‘A new architecture for society’ received the 2021 Editor’s Column Silver Award from the US based Trade, Association and Business Publications International.
- Extract from FIRE’s white paper, Coronavirus: A Five-Step Reset for Fire and Emergency Leaders.
- Extract from the Charter for Resilience by Editor Andrew Lynch and Security Correspondent Dr Dave Sloggett, FIRE May 2020.
- Extract from Engraining the Charter for Resilience by Editor Andrew Lynch and Security Correspondent Dr Dave Sloggett, FIRE June 2020.