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EPS Community Resilience Event – July 2019

EPS Community Resilience Event – July 2019

On Wednesday I attended an interesting Emergency Planning Society event loosely themed around community resilience.

It’s a term which means different things to different people and more often than not the starting place for discussion is about definitions. “What does Community Resilience mean?”

Boring.

We should instead, embrace that it’s a broad term, with varied interpretations depending on individual perspective and one which will change over time. Rather than getting hung up on what it is, we should focus on what we can do.

One of the things we can do is to be braver and more innovative. At the event Helen spoke about Naturvation, a European project looking at green infrastructure solutions to city challenges, the highlight was the unintended consequence of a Melbourne project which allows people to email 70,000 trees!

Three comments from speakers and attendees on Wednesday gave me the shivers. So I’m going to use this post to take each of those points in turn and explain my perspective, and then give a suggestion on approaching community resilience (or maybe just resilience) differently. 

‘We are living in a riskier society’ – Lord Toby Harris

Lord Harris is the President of the Institute for Strategic Risk Management. He knows his stuff and is a fantastic advocate for the resilience profession. But I’m not convinced that the evidence is truly there that our world is getting more unsafe. More unsafe compared to what?

On one hand, I agree with Lord Harris that complexity is increasing and that the speed of global communication brings some new aspects. However, we should consider this against changes in demography and our collective risk tolerance.

World War One resulted in approximately 40 million casualties. The Black Death is estimated to have killed up to 60% of 14th century Europe. Baby Boomers and Millennials have experienced less real risk than nearly all generations that preceded them. Our risk perception, the things we choose to be concerned about, reflect our values as much as any objective knowledge of the hazard.

The world is definitely not without significant problems, but it’s important not to lose perspective and to understand where our rhetoric comes from and what underpins it.

‘We’ll all be living as individuals and everything will be delivered to us by drone’ – an event attendee

Lots of worrying scenarios were painted at the event – geopolitical instability, global food and water insecurity, weather extremes, tropical disease migration, antibiotic resistance…the list goes on.

For me, the scariest scenario was mentioned by An attendee; a Wall-E-style vision of the future,  where the death of cities results from us all living as individuals who never leave our confines because Amazon drones or 3D printing technology makes everything available at home.

I reject this fully. The world population is urbanising at pace. That’s a relatively new phenomenon too, of course, but as a species, we’ve lived for tens of thousands of years as societal groups and I can’t see us unlearning that behaviour any time soon, irrespective of what might be technologically possible.

The idea of ‘doing’ community resilience in the absence of community also left me incredibly puzzled!

“Spontaneous volunteers need to be controlled” – an event attendee

I called this question out on Wednesday. I think it’s an outdated view, which cements the idea that you can command and control your way out of an emergency when in reality there needs to be flexibility, decentralisation and inclusivity.

The octopus has the most well developed invertebrate brain, but it doesn’t use its brain to tell each arm to change colour, that would take too long, instead individual skin cells sense changes in its environment and respond accordingly, which collectively gives a camouflage capability.

Similarly, the human immune system is based on individual white blood cells which go about our bodies looking for pathogens, finding and solving problems without intervention from our brains.

So why is it that when our society is faced with risk, that our approach is to introduce structure and control? Having some sense of leadership parameters to work within I agree are important. But you can achieve that through decentralised approaches too – provided people aren’t doing harm, what is the problem with them supporting the response and being enabled to do so?

So, where from here?

  • We need more ecologists in resilience.
  • We need more historians in resilience.
  • We need more complexity scientists in resilience.
  • We need more economists in resilience.
  • We need more ethicists in resilience.
  • We need better inclusion and intersectionality in resilience.
  • We need to empower people to innovate and solve problems collectively.

Resilience is naturally an incredibly broad field, it touches on so many other disciplines, all of which have lots of valuable contributions to make. What the resilience profession brings is a place to connect all of those dots.

Community Resilience, whatever it means to people at a given time, can only happen if we embrace how complex and messy our communities are. It can be hard for public or private sector organisations to find logical, auditable and measurable ways to ‘do’ community resilience, because of the way in which productivity and effectiveness are measured.

Our communities are filled with incredible skills, knowledge and people. We need to take a more inclusive approach and distance ourselves, at least slightly, from the neoliberal patriarchal approaches which currently dominate.

If you’d like to hear more about the event, take a look at this thread from the London Branch of the EPS for a rundown of the key discussions on the day.

Ramen Resolution – Tatami

Ramen Resolution – Tatami

For lunch at a work event yesterday it was a toss-up between cheese sandwiches with curly edges, or literally anything else. So a colleague and I dashed over to Flat Iron Square in London’s glittering Southwark to grab a quick bite.

Flat Iron Square is one of those trendy ‘food hall’ type places where there are lots of different types of ‘street food’ under the same roof. Notice those air quotes – because I feel like these are just new words for things that existed before.

Tatami Ramen was one of the busiest places there, but I literally only had to wait a matter of minutes before my Pork Tonkotsu order was up on the counter for collection.

For takeout noodles they were actually pretty good – the broth was salty and creamy, and there were two sheets of nori rather than the standard one, and a handful of rocket. A bonus topping, which I didn’t see listed on the menu, was crispy onions, which gave a subtle caramel sweetness.

Also, because I’m bad at cropping photos, you also get to see my shoes and a little bit of Sophie’s leg!

The noodles themselves were a tad on the soft side, and as you can see above, the egg was a little overdone; but as a quick snack, you can’t really fault Tatami.

Also worth pointing out that whilst £8 for lunch is probably a bit on the steep side, I think that is the cheapest ramen that I’ve found in London in 3 years of ramen adventures.

I’ll definitely go back (I want to try the vegan ramen, which has a kombucha based broth because hipster!) and would definitely recommend if you’re at Flat Iron Square, or just in the general London Bridge area and need a bowl of ramen!

Ramen Resolution – Bone Daddies (Soho) (again)

Ramen Resolution – Bone Daddies (Soho) (again)

There are so many ramen places that I sometimes feel that going back to places might mean I’m missing out on new discoveries. However, if you’ve had Bone Daddies’ Korean Fried Chicken Wings then you’ll understand that it is hard to resist its siren call.

That was the case when a good friend made a spontaneous trip to London recently and I was given the task of arranging food.

Paul lives in Birmingham. The UK’s second city is not known for extensive ramen options, so I thought it was the perfect choice for us.

After a couple of drinks on Bermondsey Street, we hopped the tube a couple of stops to Soho.

Regular readers (the WordPress stats tell me there is at least one of you!) will know that I’m a regular Bone Daddies customer. You can read previous reviews here and here.

Earlier this year, to nobody in particular, I declared 2019 “Year of the Yuzu” and so when I saw Yuzu Tonkotsu on the menu that was a no-brainer option for me. Paul chose the Crab Tonkotsu and then we shared chicken wings (obvs) and pork ribs (but they arrived after I took the photo).

That’s also a green tea hanging out there, because, health.

Bone Daddies is NOT authentic Japanese ramen. The flavours are punchier, it lacks a certain elegance and restraint that seems common in lots of other places. But that does not stop it being delicious. Plus, they make their playlists available on Spotify!

They’ve created a vibe in the restaurant which makes it just a nice place to hang out, catch up with great friends and exchange stories which cannot have any place on the internet!

I recommend it to everybody, and no doubt will be back there before too long.

Ramen Resolution: Maki Ramen

Ramen Resolution: Maki Ramen

What to do with a spare hour in Edinburgh? That was a dilemma I faced today.

It was a toss up between going back to Union of Genius (a shop I visited in 2015 which only sells three soups each day and you can do a soup flight!) or finding a ramen place.

Maki Ramen was just around the corner from where I was, they had a 4.4 rating on Google AND I really liked their logo, so the choice had been made for me.

Hardly surprising that at 4pm I was the only customer, but the walls are decorated with post-it notes from customers and it’s clear to see that there’s a lot of love for this place. Bonus point for the ramen-based joke.

I ordered the vegetable gyoza and the black garlic tonkotsu (the online menu shows lots of different options that weren’t on the IRL one).

The ramen arrived first; burnt garlic oil and garlic chips packed a powerful garlicky punch. The broth was perhaps on the less viscous side, especially considering it was a tonkotsu, but delicious all the same.

The pork was perhaps a little dry, but they had scorched the outside edges to give a sweet, smoky crispness.

The gyoza was disappointing. Firstly, I think I ordered vegetable but pork arrived (but I could have misordered) and the filling was a bit too pureed. That would have been ok ordinarily, but instead of a dipping sauce, the tangy ponzo had been drizzled over the dumplings. This made even the fried crispy part soggy, so it was all just a bit wet.

Maki Ramen was good enough, relatively cheap, and well located. But other than the pork there was nothing extra special about it, so I’m awarding a middle-of-the-road 3/5.

Ramen Resolution: Kanada-Ya Picadilly

Ramen Resolution: Kanada-Ya Picadilly

I’m not sure ramen is the best pre-theatre food – it’s too comforting and often all I want to do afterwards is go home and sit.

However, it had been a while since my last post and there was a restaurant I wanted to check out just around the corner from the Haymarket Theatre, so it seemed like the obvious choice.

Kanada-Ya has got a few branches in London (I’ve previously reviewed the Covent Garden branch) but this time it was the Piccadilly shop that we called in to. They don’t seat incomplete parties and Mel was running late (she has a geography degree but she got lost!) so I was doing my best to defend our place in the queue.

Side note: One thing I liked about restaurants in NYC is the system for putting your name down, we should import that.

The bonus of ramen is that it’s quick and people don’t drag it out, so it wasn’t long before we were seated.

I ordered the salmon onigiri to start, I chose the Chicken Paitan and Mel opted for the basic Tonkotsu ramen. We both naturally added an egg, which should always come as standard (I am prepared to die on this particular hill).

The onigiri looked better than they tasted; a more liberal squirt of mayonnaise and a bit more salmon would have improved it no end. The noodles were great, just the right firmness (hard) and my broth was thicker than some of the chicken broths I’ve previously tried.

I also had a beer, purely because it had the same name as my cat!

We didn’t stay long because we had to collect tickets and go see a show, but I’d definitely go back to Kanada-Ya again.

Also – a shout out for them being the only ramen joint I’ve visited that has a specific kids ramen menu.

Kanada-Ya Piccadilly gets a solid 4/5.

thank u, women in resilience

thank u, women in resilience

Emergencies affect everyone differently. Race, age, ethnicity, affluence and level of education are just some of the factors which determine your vulnerability (and resilience). Gender is also a factor, with women more likely to die than men after a large scale disaster.

But this blog isn’t about that…

This morning I watched this lecture on popular misconceptions about disaster.

Another misconception that Hollywood’s gets wrong is about women’s role to cope during disaster, as shown by this parody clip:

But this blog isn’t about that either.

This is a blog written on International Women’s Day 2019, to say “thank you” to the hundreds of women I have worked alongside. Thanks for the work they do to make people safer and for everything I have learnt from them.

I can’t thank everyone individually, but I’ve picked out those whose tutelage has had the most lasting impact…

Agnes offered me a job on the same day that I met her. Nobody would call her logical, or predictable, but her dedication and passion could not be questioned. She pushed me into doing things that I was uncomfortable doing and had faith in me when I didn’t always have it in myself.

Long after meeting her, I remember still being in awe of Sue‘s experience in emergency management. As well as her ‘battle stories’, she taught me about determination and to read between the lines. She acted as a mentor more than a manager.

Over the last two years, I’ve relied on Lucy more than she realises. She sees things through a different lens, one which I feel gives greater consideration to outcome over process. She is a demonstration that sensitive, technical and complex subjects can be approached in a compassionate, human way, but still with a sense of humour.

Fiona has a pragmatic, considered and calm approach to the most challenging circumstances, and has taught me the importance of taking even the briefest moment to reflect, consider alternatives and contingencies before a decision is made. In her words “you often have more time than you realise”.

And finally, J, whose request for us to “be real” and avoid obfuscation really resonates with me. It’s something I’m trying to bring through this blog, and how I communicate at work. And something I’m still working on!

Helen, Alison, Aggie, Kate, Lynn, Gail, Robyn, Barb, Megan, Susan…There are tons of brilliant women out there in resilience (and every field) who as well as being excellent at what they do, bring valuable and important perspectives.

Thank u.

Revisiting Red Teaming

Revisiting Red Teaming

Red Teaming: The independent application of a range of structured, creative and critical thinking techniques to assist the end user to make a better-informed decision or create a more robust product.

That’s a kinda academic way to say “having (and welcoming) someone whose job it is to critique you”. 

I originally wrote about this in February 2017, and a lot has changed for me professionally since then. Based on recent experience, I wondered whether I would approach this differently now, has my thinking had evolved? 

recent Twitter exchange gave me a renewed interest in this idea and so picking up on the key aspects of that discussion, I’ve revisited my previous post. 

Is a Red Team a name for something that already exists? 

Yes and no.

Decisions in emergencies (in a UK context at least) are made by consensus. So there is already a structure whereby people with different experience and responsibilities reach decisions jointly. A variety of aspects and implications will have already been considered and extremes moderated or discounted.

However, ‘decisions by committee’ typically take longer to reach and run the risk of ‘group think’ where the desire for harmony in the group results in dysfunctional decisions.

A Red Team is about doing what you normally do, what you have been trained to do; but then taking an equally qualified objective team and seeing if they have any other perspectives you haven’t considered either about the decision you have reached or the way in which you reached it.

UPDATE: A colleague also pointed out that the type of feedback that I would anticipate coming from a Red Team is can also be (although in many cases isn’t) provided in the form of post-exercise reports. However, these are painfully slow to be produced, missing the oportunity to make dynamic change.

What are the barriers to Red Teaming?

There are many, but I think they can be broadly categorised into two groups; culture and resources.

We all like to think that we have the answers, and so accepting that in ambiguous, high risk and complex situations we might always have thought of everything shows self-awareness. Adopting a Red Team approach would signify to me high levels of strategic leadership maturity.

On the resources side, sorry, I think sometimes you have to take a hit. However, this should be balanced against the cost of sub-optimal decisions being made. Arguably that’s much harder to quantify, but having a stab at working out the return on investment would be a better approach than looking at expenditure.

Clearly embedding Red Teams would take time, money and will, but should that be a barrier to doing things better?

A (red) rose by any other name…

I don’t get hung up on what this structure would be called.

I became aware of the concept through a TV drama Newsroom, where it was called a Red Team, and that term has stuck with me as shorthand.

I have mixed feelings about the militarization of civil emergency management. However, there is no escaping that Red Teams have a military connection, where they are used to good effect. Typically, where the military goes, the civil emergency response follows.

The 2010 Ministry of Defence guidance on Red Teaming states it is a “practical response to overcoming the complex problems introduced by our human frailties, helping us to recognise them and correct our thinking and analysis before faulty judgements are cemented in the minds of key decision makers.” I think that’s equally as applicable in a civil context.

Perhaps recognising a militarisation tendency, NATO has opted to call their structure ‘Alternative Analysis’. You could also think about De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats and call it White Hatting, that has a peculiar ring, but might look entertaining in a control room!

What am I doing to implement Red Teaming?

I’m not convinced I’m adding much actual substance to the conversation, other than being an advocate of ‘let’s try it’.

In a lower-key way, I made a recent decision to bring someone in specifically to check my working out on a particularly complex project at work. It was really helpful to have someone force me to reflect on my proposals, and can really see how this could be scaled up. 

I’m interested in views of colleagues on how this could be applicable and how some of the barriers could be addressed.