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Saturday, May 19, 2012
Flooding, terror plots and evacuations – just a standard morning’s work for an emergency planner
It is a standing joke in our profession that, when we give our job title, people usually respond by saying that they need help getting approval for a loft conversion. Once we explain that emergency planning encompasses everything from town evacuation to coping with a flu pandemic, they are often surprised by the scope of our expertise and the scenarios we prepare for.
After September 11, the fuel crisis, an outbreak of foot and mouth and national flooding, local authorities realised that guidance and legislation around local emergency planning dated from, at best, the Cold War and in some cases much earlier. A much-needed overhaul began in 2004.
Whether a community is seeking to reduce crime or prepare for a potential disaster, many of skills needed to tackle the problem are the same and my colleagues and I work hard to develop a community of self-help. We also work closely with traditional emergency services. But while the blue lights are immediately recognisable, local government is not just a supporting agency. Our contribution to the emergency planning process starts long before an incident, and extends long after any post-disaster investigation is complete.
One of our greatest areas of influence is long-term recovery from disaster, from the physical reconstruction through to building community cohesion. During a major incident, there are few areas of a council that will not receive a call from our team.
Emergency planning requires flexibility, a willingness to rise to any challenge and the ability to appear cool, calm and collected while others are facing life-changing events.
Last Monday, my diary consisted of two meetings and a report to write up. But by mid-afternoon, I was involved in the evacuation of a residential holiday park involving thousands of residents and countless pets, including an elderly parrot.
I also spoke at length to a distressed man who feared he may permanently lose his home. Knowing how to listen, and when to point people to specialists more able and qualified to assist, is essential. Emergency planners are not always able to help the individuals we come across, but we do know where that help is available. Building relationships with staff across services and local authority boundaries is incredibly important.
Much of our peacetime work involves sharing knowledge and training our colleagues. Fortunately, we experience very few major incidents – but when we do, we need support at all levels, so we dedicate lots of time to training those who may not have had practical exposure to real-world crisis management.
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