We are in for a deluge of post flooding review after the recent floods (like a forecast perhaps this is true?). Sympathy is with those who at the time of writing are still drying out and rebuilding their lives and businesses. There will also be those who will have met the definition of a crisis – it has affected their ‘strategic objectives’ i.e. they will be revising, rewriting or writing their business plans. The flooding, severe storms and storm surges of the past 3 months in the UK provide a classic study in the progress of incidents to a crisis – the acute to the chronic, when central government is forced to react. Having high regard for a paper by Prof Allan McConnell, called ‘crisis management, influences, response and evaluation’ he provides some clues as to how the UK Government has behaved in crises in the past [Prof Allan’s paper]. He writes that “what constitutes a crisis is a matter if judgement, not a matter of fact. It depends on people’s perceptions of the scale and importance of the problem faced, the degree to which they are affected, and the extent to which it may provide an opportunity to benefit”. This is a good observation and the word ‘benefit’ seems to be a key word in politics.
Crisis management apart from the obvious requirement to minimise the negatives, should also provide the mechanism to be able to strategize the possible opportunities that a new environment may bring. One wonders what possible opportunities have been or will be seized. Crises provide a platform for establishing the leader as ‘in control’ – did that happen in this crisis? My antennae to the opportune have been sensitised by Andrew Rawnsley’s book ‘The End of the Party’ [The End of the Party] about the Blair and Brown years. This has got to be an essential read for anyone involved in crisis management in the UK and how some of the past crisis responses have happened (is the word managed too strong here!). The tactics used by governments vary and Allison’s paper puts them in the following list: tactics:
- No admission and play it down
- Pass responsibility to others
- Form new body or position
A really useful point in the paper is that “crisis management is essentially no different from any other area of governmental activity. It cannot be separated from political ideologies, institutional structures, powerful interests and personalities”. This is a reminder that crises open up fault lines and agendas. Allison has also written about the issue of why some crisis result in social change and others do not [Governing after Crisis]. This is a fascinating arena and there are no fixed rules and it is not a ‘stochastic’ equation. The UK’s recent events are not of the scale that the US faced with Hurricane Katrina, but it is striking the concept of political interest is common with the UK. This is my review of Michael Brown’s book ‘Deadly Indifference’ [Deadly Indifference]. “There are very few case studies on effects of disasters on modern cities (?). I think the value of this book is about the insight it provides to behaviours of a democracy in the face of disaster. The scale of the disaster (93,000 square miles – about the size of the UK and facts like 10,000 people taking refuge in the Superdome – struck home). There were a some lines which are ‘keepers’:e.g. knowledge, competence and preparedness can be trumped by politics and fear. The concept of NIMBI – not in my best interest. Just in time logistics are entrenched practices and failure quickly affects basics – food and fuel. Controls like the levees assumed the status of mountains, whereas in reality the design limitations were built in and not maintained so people thought nothing of building below sea-level. Late invocation in a situation of uncertainty. This is highly recommended reading for anyone in the disaster prevention business”. Late invocation and NIMBI is alive and kicking and here we go on Pitt Review – ‘Take 2’. [Pitt Review]. Strangely in the recent months not many journalists referenced Pitt in their stories – maybe it was too weighty and of course the focus has moved on to Ukraine and Russia! or perhaps modern TV journalism is not robust? The main recommendations of the Pitt Review were: The Government should:
- Establish a Cabinet Committee dedicated to tackling the risk of flooding, bringing flooding in line with other major risks such as pandemic flu and terrorism
- Publish monthly summaries of progress during the recovery phase of major flooding events, including number of households still displaced
- Ensure proper resourcing of flood resilience measures, with above inflation increases every spending review
- Establish a National Resilience Forum to facilitate national level planning for flooding and other emergencies
- Have pre-planned, rather than ad hoc, financial arrangements in place for responding to the financial burden of exceptional emergencies
- Publish an action plan to implement the recommendations in this review, with regular progress updates.
It would be a very interesting exercise to score the recommendations or repeat recommendations in the coming months. Let’s see what happens in Pitt Take 2?