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Solace blog

30th June 2016

Recovering from civil emergencies

As Chair of the Suffolk Local Resilience Forum, I recently attended a national conference for LRF Chairs. I was encouraged to hear several speakers refer to the importance of the ‘Recovery’ phase in relation to civil emergencies, particularly as this is something I have been ‘banging on’ about for some time! Of course, the initial response, invariably led by colleagues from blue light services, is critical, but until recently the Recovery phase has not, in my view, had the attention it deserves. That may be about to change.

I did contemplate whether the reason for Recovery gaining a greater profile is the recent flooding experienced across the country; we all know that the process of returning to normality from a major flood is a long, slow and arduous process. However, on reflection, recovery from other incidents can be equally long and difficult, but perhaps the difference with flooding is the extent of the damage, and how many people, businesses and communities are affected.

It was good, therefore, to hear James Cruddas (DCLG) speak about the greater emphasis that Ministers want to place on Recovery, and their desire to “increase the tempo of the Recovery phase”. He also mentioned that Ministers are keen to provide expertise and resources quickly, in order to support local authorities leading on Recovery. His reference to a ‘push-button recovery model’ was encouraging, particularly as it was accompanied by a commitment to providing “a surge in capacity” where required. I was also pleased to hear that the rigidity of the transfer from Response to Recovery should be relaxed where necessary.

I’m confident that this point also resonated with our colleague Diane Wood (Chief Executive, Cumbria County Council) who spoke passionately, and earnestly, about her experience following the recent flooding in Cumbria. In particular, she recalled the moment that the Chair of ‘Gold Command’ slid the piece of paper across for her to sign to signify that transition was now complete and she was now in control of the Recovery phase. Clearly, that moment brought responsibilities into stark relief for her. As Diane shared her experience with colleagues, the lessons learnt were many, some simple, some profound. She advised to “make friends before you need them”, “seek out information”, “make sure everyone is trained, even in skills such as driving in deep water”, “remember, none of us is as clever as all of us”. Diane urged us to be imaginative when communicating. I particularly liked the example of the bridge that many insisted was safe until images showing the lack of any supports underwater were placed on the internet by Cumbria CC. She also warned against allowing confidence to blur into complacency, and we all know what
she means – as Chief Executive many of us have been there. Finally, she reminded us all that Recovery was tough and difficult, but there was also the day job to deliver and we needed to remember that as we lead and manage our staff, our communities, and of course ourselves … and don’t we know it.

By Stephen Baker, Chief Executive, Suffolk Coastal and Waveney Councils and Solace Deputy Spokesperson on Civil Resilience