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Problem? What problem? 

June 2022; There are currently many problems affecting people around the world. Amanda Coleman asks: In dealing with today’s issues, are we failing to grasp the challenge of being more prepared for the crises that are just around the corner?

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When the UK’s National Preparedness Commission Report was published in April, it received no media coverage and was greeted with little interest.

It appears that situations have to deteriorate, disasters have to emerge and crises have to happen before being ready to meet them will receive any recognition. Time after time it is only in the aftermath of an emergency – when things have gone wrong, or the situation has escalated – that the issue of being prepared is then discussed. If we set this against the backdrop of two public inquiries looking at the Grenfell Tower fire and the Manchester Arena terrorist attack, both occurring in the UK in 2017, it makes no sense to dismiss the findings of the National Preparedness Commission’s (NPC) report.

The preliminary findings from both inquiries show how all who are connected with the response must be able to show that they have planned, prepared and considered the actions required for any disasters that occur. Yet training, planning and exercising is continually pushed down the list of priorities so that today’s problems can be addressed instead.

Recent crises have shown that it needs more than emergency services and public bodies to manage a situation effectively. The NPC report calls for a conversation with people about the risks that they may face and how they can respond. In these uncertain times, this would be a huge step forward in incident response. People would know what to do, how they can help and how to limit potential damage when the worst happens. This has worked well for the UK's flooding response as people are now aware of the risk and what they can do. But the same approach has not been expanded into a wider discussion of the risks within communities.

The conversation needs to take people out of the realms of TV dramas and films, where a problem happens, is managed and concluded within a couple of hours. Crises can last for a few hours, a few days or a few years. It is this message that needs to be shared to tackle two years where governments have tried to downplay the effect of Covid-19. Covid was never going to be over by Easter, Christmas or any other fixed timescale. It will take time for its consequences to be restricted. During this time, decisions are made on partial information, risks start to emerge and the response will change and adapt. If this is explained to people, they will stop focusing on artificial moments in time when things are expected to ‘return to normal’ and start to focus on how they respond to what is happening.

Preparedness matters because it builds resilience. It ensures people and organisations are ready to deal with the unthinkable events. This is under threat here in the UK when you consider the findings of the NPC report. Other countries outside the UK don’t have the same problem with talking about risks with their communities. It may be that such locations have faced more risks in recent years and so are able to talk about being prepared and responding in the most appropriate way. It is known that the more you plan, test and think about risks the more you are ready to move quickly when something happens.

Developing a national conversation about being prepared for crises, emergencies and disasters cannot just happen. It needs to be discussed and defined with people so that they feel connected to what may take place and be confident in the response. It is time for the UK to start this discussion on preparedness. To do it there are three key elements that are required:

  • A clear communication plan is needed so that people can see possible issues and are able to develop the response;
  • The discussion about risks, crisis response and challenges to be faced needs to take place. People need that time to think about what could happen and what they could do; and
  • The plan needs to be for the long term and not just for a few hours. It needs to be realistic to improve the situation and get to the point when people know how to respond.

Let’s stop talking about learning the lessons, about a swift recovery and of limited impact when faced with a crisis to communicate. Instead, it is time to build on the people’s response during the pandemic, to discuss the risks that lie in the future and to ensure we are all prepared for whatever may happen.
Image: Pict Rider/Adobe Stock

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