A lockdown experiment…
What happens if you edit together three years of Whatsapp voice notes into a single stream of consciousness and try to pass that off as a podcast?
A lockdown experiment…
What happens if you edit together three years of Whatsapp voice notes into a single stream of consciousness and try to pass that off as a podcast?
Each week since the start of lockdown the Emergency Planning Society has been hosting ‘Resilience Huddles’ on Zoom. An opportunity for members to come together to decompress during these unusual times but also to share ideas and learn from each other.
In the most recent of these events I was (and I cannot stress this enough) enraged when somebody suggested Emergency Management isn’t a profession.
Take a look at this image. Can you guess the professions? Which one is the emergency manager?
Sure, unlike ‘doctor’ or ‘engineer’ the title Emergency Manager is less well-defined. But a profession, to me, is the application of specialist knowledge and skills in the interest of others. I see colleagues around me doing that every day. A profession should not be reduced to being identifiable in clip art.
To suggest we are not a profession implies we are unprofessional. That makes me angry because I work with unquestionably professional people. Our days are spent building relationships, translating between professional backgrounds, navigating organisational cultures, and referencing broad bodies of research and learning.
We are ‘specialist generalists’.
Inspired by a list of 250 things an architect should know from a recent 99 Percent Invisible podcast, I’ve had a stab at 81 things (in no order of priority) that I think an emergency manager should to know:
Undoubtedly this list is incomplete.
It’s what I came up with over an hour or so and fueled by a considerable amount of rage. Maybe I’ll come back to later.
If you’ve got thoughts on what else should be on the list send suggestions on Twitter @mtthwhgn.
Remember that song you learnt at school… “the knee bone’s connected to the leg bone“? Well, that song tells us to think of the body as a system of interconnected and interdependent components which work together to form a whole. Make a change somewhere and the repercussions of that will be felt elsewhere.
Other metaphors are available: The butterfly effect. The domino effect.
For a whole host of reasons though, we often focus more on components over systems; and it’s important we do that.
It’s important that when we plug something into an electrical socket or turn on a tap that what we are expecting comes out.
But we should ask ourselves why that is important. It’s important because, owing to our highly connected modern society, when a component fails the cascading impacts of that can be felt far and wide. It’s not just inconvenient, it can sometimes have direct safety implications.
When an earthquake struck northern Italy in 2013, the NHS in the UK had a supply issue with dialysis tubing.
We’re seeing similar right now with the COVID pandemic. It’s not just the impact of people who contract the disease, but the far-ranging impacts and knock-on effects of social distancing and isolation, reduced international travel and changing perceptions of risk.
I started the ANYTOWN project in 2013 as an attempt to better understand and describe how a partial or total failure of a network can impact on other connected networks. In some circumstances, this can lead to a much larger range of impacts than just the initiating incident.
Previous blog posts about ANYTOWN cover a bit more of the background of the project. But I’ve been attempting to apply the same model to describe what we are seeing (and may see in the coming months) with COVID.
There is very little ‘real science’ to this. Previous Anytown work was informed by extensive focus group research. However, as this is a highly dynamic situation this is primarily my musings. I shared it on LinkedIn over the last week and I’m indebted to those who have made suggestions and offered feedback.
This is is a work in progress. It is biased towards my own experiences as a middle-class white man in his thirties in London. I appreciate that other people’s experience of COVID will be different. I want to reflect that in future versions, but at the moment it is a limitation that I have noted.
Here’s version 1.2 for you to explore…
Starting in the centre is the initiating incident, in this case, the pandemic virus. Although there may be some specifics to COVID I suspect many of the cascading consequences would be relatively similar across different global pandemic threats.
The next ring out from the centre describes the ‘first-order’ impacts that are/have been observed across a range of different sectors. So some of the first impacts that would be anticipated (and have played out with COVID) are the introduction of social distancing measures, reduced public transport use and increased handwashing.
Second and third-order impacts for each sector are then captured as you move further from the centre. The diagram deliberately doesn’t indicate timescales; I intended this to help understand sequence, not timing.
This is a bit of a thought experiment to see if the model would work having previously been geared towards ‘hard infrastructure’ systems failure. I think it does, but it needs some development. I’m incredibly grateful to those who have made suggestions (I haven’t checked that it’s ok to specifically credit them so acknowledgements to feature in a future version!) or have commented that they have found it useful.
It’s not the answer to the problem. Not by any means.
But hopefully, it’s a useful tool to help us all to think about how our increasing interconnectedness. Normally this is super helpful, but it can sometimes work against us. At a time when there’s lots of uncertainty about lots of things, perhaps this offers a bit of a glimpse into the future to help us be prepared.
Just what the world needs, another blog about COVID-19, except it’s not!
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
There are, by my very rough calculations, something like 7000 Emergency Managers in the UK. Or at least, there were until earlier this week.
Now I think it’s probably something like 40 million!
Supermarket shelves might be empty, but communities are overflowing with people who want to look out for each other. It’s really quite wonderful to see.
But those 7000 people are still there.
They’re working long days (and nights).
They’re supporting people who routinely respond to challenging situations (and people who have never done this before).
They’re being asked for lots of information and answers (and they are not being told lots of information or having their questions answered).
In addition to that, they are people. If we openly admit it or not, these are worrying times. We’ve got families and homes and lives; thinking about the potential impacts of COVID-19 now, and in the future, makes us anxious too.
All of our employing organisations offer support. Support is available through friends and family. Support is available through professional societies. But I get the sense that something else is required.
This week a community of Emergency Managers on Twitter™ have been sharing of official messages, but we’ve also been reacting on a personal basis too. I’ve seen lots of good humour, and mutual support. I’ve seen (and issued my own) cries for help. That culminated yesterday in a discussion about finding a way to ‘get together’ and chat.
So, as an experiment, a few of us have grasped the last roll of toilet paper by the horns (look, it’s a crisis, leave my mixed metaphors alone) and decided to experiment with having virtual work drinks. Like everyone else, we’re going to use Zoom, as it’s free and seems user friendly. Many of us haven’t used it before so I’m fully expecting a bit of a bumpy ride.
My suggested a format is ‘the best thing that has happened this week and the thing you’re most concerned about’. It’s not about sharing best practise (though that is important), it’s not about bitching (that is important too). It’s about talking through a highly unusual situation with like-minded colleagues, and an ability to decompress after what has been a very long week.
Will it work? That depends on how you measure success. My prediction is that we’ll realise it’s a great idea but needs some work! I’ll report back!
Times like these can be hard. Talk to someone and wash your hands.
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‘Exciting’ wasn’t a word I associated with ramen noodles, until Thursday that is…
There’s something about the Covent Garden branch of Kanada-Ya that feels really authentic. I’ve been there a handful of times now and the food has never disappointed.
It’s definitely up there with my favourite noodle places in London. Whenever someone needs to be inducted into the club, it’s my first choice. Paul indicated he might need a fork, so reader, I was already nervous about how the evening might turn out.
It was a rainy Thursday in London’s glittering west end. I was, naturally, running late. I would like to blame the Hammersmith and City line, I really would. But I can only really blame myself for allowing 20 mins for a 35 min journey!
Damp and disheveled I met Paul at The Angel, a pub literally next door. Now, Sam Smith pubs have a No Phones rule. They’re not shy about it, and it seriously rubs me up the wrong way. But, it meant I had put my phone into my bag so as not to be distracted.
As we left the pub I transferred my phone to my jacket pocket.
We sat down in Kanada-Ya. It’s communal tables which lends to the authenticity. We ordered and got back to chatting.
Our food arrived. I’d chosen the Chasu-Men ramen, because I always see other people having it and get jealous of the amount of meat. Paul chose the brothless ramen (basically noodle salad). We split chicken karrage and pork gyoza.
As with earlier visits, the broth was TO DIE FOR. Like a rookie though, I had forgotten to add an egg. Note to self: pay attention when ordering! The karrage was slightly on the salty side but incredibly crispy. The gyoza were a tad disappointing, tasting a bit like the oil they had been fried in had been there for ‘a while’.
We got up to leave and I scoured around in the floor for my bag. It had gone. But another bag was there, so I, in an unusually optimistic moment, presumed it was a case of mistaken bag retrieval by our earlier table-mates. The staff noticed our dilemma though, and were quick on the case to check out the toilets and advise that no, this was more than likely a theft.
Not to be deterred, the evening continued but it left me feeling slightly like ramen noodles that have been cooked too long. Limp and disappointing.
Thankfully I’d got my phone, wallet and keys, so it could have been a lot more of an issue.
However, other than a reminder to never not be paying attention, the noodles remained up to their high standard, and this experience doesn’t change Kanada-Ya’s place near the top of my list.
Sky pulled a bit of a fast one here, combining episodes 5 and 6 into a double bill. Although this was not the plan, I’ll also blog about them in a double bill. One of the key attributes of an emergency manager, you see, is the ability to roll with the punches!
How Sky pitched these episodes:
The episode starts with a briefing in COBRA, always a handy narrative device to bring people up to speed if they’ve forgotten where we left off. In real life, the Cabinet Office support COBR meetings through the production of a commonly recognised information picture, which is widely referred to as “The CRIP”. This process saves going around the table to get an update from each person as it’s already been collated.
The long and short of it is that the public is becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress being seen to restore power to Northumberland, resulting in blockades around London to force the hand of the Government.
One theme that has come through strongly for the entire series is the ‘us v them’ between the ordinary members of the public and the privileged government. There doesn’t seem to have been any strength of feeling towards anyone other than the politicians, which I think would have been more realistic. “How has this been allowed to happen?” is a common question following an emergency. However, rarely is the answer simple and it’s usual that there are multiple intersecting criteria. Politics may be one of those but it’s not directly the sole cause.
Remember that sub-plot about the drug-pushing daughter of the Prime Minister? Well, things appear to have gone badly for all concerned, but…what I did find interesting is that the Press Office keeps a diary which is being used to establish the facts. In many ways, that’s not too different from keeping a record of decisions during an emergency. In the UK this record is referred to as a log. This is then used as a verb, logging, to describe the process of capturing information in a chronological record.
Oh gosh. The leader of the protest group has been hit by a car in a scene much like this…
With a sniff of conspiracy theory about the hit and run, negotiations with the lorry drivers supporting the blockades have broken down and reports of looting (which I’ve mentioned before is mostly a disaster myth) and rioting ( a term which they Government were very careful to avoid using in 2011, anecdotally because this would have given rise to different compensation arrangements under the Riot Damages Act of 1886!).
Sidenote: It’s always exciting watching TV shows set in London and trying to spot locations. The secret meeting place for the Russians is Marsham Court on Marsham Street. I walk past it regularly but will be more on the lookout now!
The decision has been made to break the blockade using force, and the PM has authorised the military use of firearms against civilians.
Ah yes, and they’ve shot a journalist. Not good optics to be honest. That’s probably not going to look great on his Wikipedia page.
Ok, who cares, let’s move straight on to the final episode and get this thing done.
The first 20 minutes is all politics and backstabbing and double-crossing and nepotism. Once you’re past that it’s straight into the delivery of a massive electrical transformer to Northumberland.
They’ve run into a slight issue, that it’s heavier than the bridge they need to cross will allow. The driver of the truck has refused, but helpfully there’s someone on hand from the Cabinet Office to step in as a hero. Cue tense background music, fast cuts to cracks appearing in the road, tight shots of anxious faces.
Panic over, he’s made it across! The only thing left to do now is to connect the transformer into the system, something which sounds simple, so that probably means it’s incredibly specialist.
More politics. Honestly, the tone of this series has been so inconsistent. Is it an emergency management procedural? Is it the West Wing or House of Cards? Is it an apocalyptic drama? It seems to depend from story arc to story arc.
Well what do you know, they got the lights back on, patted each other on the back and went on their merry ways.
A disappointing end to the series.
Power has been restored. All’s well that ends well. The reality though, is that ‘recovery’ would take many months, likely years.
Increasingly I’m of the opinion that recovery doesn’t really exist. Actually, maybe it shouldn’t exist. Lessons should always be learned, processes improved, arrangements reviewed. The obsession with recovery devalues the process of learning, but that feels like a post for another time.
I have a few concluding thoughts on COBRA:
And finally, just in case you were in any doubt about the Civil Contingencies Act, the characters themselves highlighted…
How Sky pitched this episode: Sutherland’s knowledge about his daughter’s part in her friend’s death is questioned. Meanwhile, a new threat rears its head.
I’d avoided mentioning the sub-plot about the Prime Minister’s daughter until now because I didn’t think it was going to be relevant. It looks like it’s going to be a major part of this episode so we’ll just have to roll with it. To bring us all up to speed – the daughter of the Prime Minister supplied drugs to a girl who subsequently died, Number 10 lied about the supply.
At the same time, the national blackout continues.
So far we have learnt that the Police Chief Constable can do every job that exists, simultaneously. Today he’s in charge of fuel logistics. No doubt by the end of the episode he’ll personally be drilling for fuel oil in the North Sea.
A fuel tanker hijacking and a ‘vigilante group’. That’s the most exciting opener since episode 1!
The suggestion for the Army to take over fuel supply distribution is real, taken from the Government’s guidance on responding to energy emergencies:
As part of its contingency planning, the government works with the downstream oil industry, including haulage companies, to maintain a capability within the Armed Forces to make fuel deliveries in the event of a serious disruption to normal deliveries.
I know it’s a drama, but I found it strange that it was the Home Office rather than the Defence representatives (or Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Government Department with lead responsibility (out of date list of other responsibilities available here) for energy emergency preparedness) suggesting the military as an option.
MI5 apparently have a maxim that society is three meals away from anarchy. I’m not sure how evidenced that is, but it’s fair to assume that with the consequences of the powercuts now in their third or fourth week it’s unsurprising people are now starting to take action into their own hands.
You may remember from Episode 1, there was some debate about whether a hospital was the best place to site a coordination centre. We don’t know the full story, but that decision is now coming back to bite, with the ‘vigilante’ crew storming the facility.
Sidenote: It’s reminding me of those times that a new group of survivors in The Walking Dead try their might against Rick Grimes’ group.
“You need a good night’s kip, you’re a bit tense” finally, someone is looking out for the welfare of the Gold Commander, although the last place you’d expect that to come from is the leader of the group attempting to take control!
Something I don’t think I’ve thought about before, whether a Strategic Coordination Centre (the place a multi-agency response is managed from) needs a panic-button?
The Chief of Staff’s husband has found out about multiple-night stand man. Oh dear. I smell another sub-plot.
I do like the attempt to show that these people are people. They have their own complicated lives and baggage, context which informs the decisions they make and how the respond to stress. However, it’s inconsistently done and feels a bit forced at times; maybe a slightly longer series would have given more time for the characters to breathe.
The vigilante group have now been joined by trade union members of the haulage industry, preventing supplies being delivered to the affected area and putting pressure on the PM to resign. Seems counter-intuitive to me, but perhaps an interesting insight into the double-think involved with this type of negotiation?
Interesting that in this episode it’s fictional Channel 6 News being shown in COBR not Sky News like in the first episodes.
In response to the protesters, the Prime Minister described the situation as a “natural event”. That probably won’t be significant to many people, but to an emergency manager avoiding the term ‘natural disaster‘ is very welcome nuance.
The episode ends with a cliffhanger (of sorts). The leader of the ‘vigilante’ group has issued a call to action to members of the public to rise up and fight the London elite. Tune in next week to find out how that goes!
** for more info about this blog-along and previous episodes check out the introductory post