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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 love notes to 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 comment 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. We should aim to make it even broader, to bring more people into our discussion. 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.

Some thoughts on professional societies

Some thoughts on professional societies

Getting into any career is tricky. Employers are looking for the perfect combination of both knowledge and experience. Fresh out of University you have to try extra hard to demonstrate that you can actually do the job, not just talk about it.

That was the position I found myself in almost 13 years ago. I spent countless days completing applications; labouring the point that “yes, I might have only ever worked in a shop, but you can definitely trust me not to screw this up”.

One way I could show employers that they could put their faith in me was to join a professional association. These bodies are designed to represent the interests of those in the field, so if I was a member it would enhance my legitimacy. Not one to do things by halves, I joined no less than 4 professional associations.

I did my research beforehand, of course.

Some of these organisations had a specific focus, others were more general. Some had active online communities, others were more traditional.

As a fledgeling emergency manager, I thought it was a good idea to try and learn from as much of this as possible. That way I could tell employers I not just only understood the job, but I also understood the profession and the direction it was travelling.

I’m no longer a member of any of those organisations that I joined.

Professional societies, at least those that I joined, had failed to move with the times. The challenges facing the profession now are not the same as those before critical UK legislation was introduced. The risk environment has changed, and the profession seems to be struggling to keep up.

Although, I think there were more fundamental issues holding those societies back

  1. Ego – None of these societies are sufficiently large in membership that they require the level of process that most of them have. Beacurcracy tends to override what could be helpful information exchange platforms.
  2. Identity crisis – There’s a shift towards a more holistic concept of resilience which is not reflected in the scope of the professional bodies. Emergency Planning, that’s too focused on ‘plans’. Civil Defence – that’s an outdated term from the 50’s. Business Continuity – that’s too defined by formal standards.
  3. Lack of value to members – having been associated with a range of bodies for at least the last 8 years I cannot honestly say that it has been worth the investment either financially or in terms of benefits gained.
  4. Unrepresentative leadership – those employed in emergency management when I first started my career often had military or security backgrounds. At the practitioner level that is changing, and new perspectives are being introduced, but the makeup of the decision makers in many of the professional organisations has not kept pace with the changing demographics of the field.

I don’t like to just sit on the fringes and criticise. If I see an issue I want to try and resolve it. For one of the bodies, I worked with similarly enthusiastic colleagues to solve some of these problems. However, after 18 months of trying different things and volunteering my own time, the same issues remained.

That organisation in particular alienated its members through sporadic, ill-conceived communication and disrespected its own volunteers. For a body designed to support members, it showed an extreme lack of empathy.

Contrast that with the sense of camaraderie and community I’ve seen online from my SMEMchat colleagues. This eclipses anything I have seen in over 10 years of being a member of a society.

There are, of course, many ways of doing things; I’m not simply suggesting that everything should move online. But if professionals are going to continue to support each other (and I really hope they do) then it might be time for a more radical rethink of how this is best achieved.

I feel no sense of loyalty to bodies which didn’t demonstrate any to me. However, I do feel a sense of loyalty to my colleagues, whether I work directly with them, or our paths haven’t crossed yet.

Everything that we do as a profession is a team effort. There are many ways that we can collaborate without the stuffiness of societies.

3D Resilience

3D Resilience

I recently discovered news aggregator Feedly. Having been released in 2008, I’m a little behind the curve!

For some time I’ve seen the inherent value of RSS feeds, but haven’t been able to figure out a way of making them work for me. However, Feedly (I’m not on commission, I’m sure other products are available!) seems to do just what I’ve been looking for. I have begun using Feedly to collate resilience blogs that I regularly check in on, and it’s really handy to have summaries available on the go without having to navigate to particular blogs.

Today Chris Bene’s article Making the Most of Resilience popped up in my feed, so I thought I’d check it out, and I’m glad I did.

Whilst primarily approaching resilience from a development angle, a diagram explaining resilience is applicable in an emergency management context.

3d resilience

Bene states that three types of capacity are important in living with change and uncertainty

  • absorptive capacity – the ability to cope with the effects of shocks and stresses
  • adaptive capacity – the ability of individuals or societies to adjust and adapt to shocks and stresses, but keep the overall system functioning in broadly the same way
  • transformative capacity – the ability to change the system fundamentally when the way it works is no longer viable

Im my experience, much of the work on resilience in a UK context is around developing the former, and it links back to an earlier post about developing a wider range of options for countering terrorism.

How can resilience professionals help to develop ‘softer’ approaches to preparing to emergencies which aren’t just about hardening, strengthening and fallback systems. How can we better embrace opotunities to transform both communities and places? I imagine that developing resilience is more likley to be sucessful where interventions reflect the three dimensions on the continuum.

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

Don’t worry, my knowledge of Shakespeare runs to just two quotes (both from Romeo and Juliet). David Alexander posted recently about the origins of the word ‘Resilience’, however, today I caught a blog post from Durham IHRR and it got me to thinking…does it matter what we call what we do?

In the office we often have conversations about what ‘Resilience’ means. I think we’ve finalled settled on a definition, based on the UK Civil Protection Lexicon, which includes the ability to detect, prevent, handle and recover from disruptive challenges. Whether this is my preferred definition or not isn’t so important (I’d actually have prefered something more reflective of the Latin eymological root of the word resilire “to rebound, recoil”).

I found the Google Ngram graph for ‘resilience’ interesting, although the scale of the graph probably runs the risk of us reading too much into the patterns. The period of growth since the 1960’s is particularly interesting and probably reflects the term being used by a wider range of fields (ecology, psychology, climate science etc).

Resilience 1800-2008 Google Ngram

Time Magaine called it the buzzword of 2013, so I took to Google Trends to see if there were any more recent pattens. Whilst there is a definate upward trend, to me it’s still inconclusive.

But the actual issue here, is does it matter? Call it resilience, call it Emergency Planning, call it Disaster Management, and the rose still smells the same, even if it doesn’t smell sweet.

I’ve always found definitions restrictive. Perhaps embracing the malleability and imprecision of the definitions could be a good thing? After all, in the event of an emergency/disaster/crisis/catastrophe/act of god, do we, as individuals or communities really care about definitions?

Debunking the Bunker

Debunking the Bunker

London Bunker. Source: Wikipedia

I remember as a Disneyland child, my grandmother telling me matériel tales of the Second World War. Arab There was probably a dash of artistic license, but somehow she managed to turn gruesome scenes into wholesale nfl jerseys Enid Blyton style adventures; many of which Termite took place in or around the Preppers family’s Anderson Shelter. During the war, going underground wholesale nfl jerseys was effective for both the public and government, with much the of the UK war effort coordinated from ‘secret’ bunkers beneath Whitehall.

Why did wartime bunkers work – was it wholesale nba jerseys because they were underground? Or was it because they had been thoroughly planned and constructed to offer a range of fallback technologies, resilient power and communication mechanisms? That they were underground provided a degree of risk prevention from falling bombs, however as this is a much lower risk today, there is less need for underground bunkers.

The key to building resilience is to get out of the bunker (at least figuratively) , to engage the public through sharing information on risks they face and actions they can take to prevent, prepare and recover.

From land use planning and architecture, to the design of staff and supplier contracts, investment in diversity of communication technologies and recognition of the importance of business continuity, I think we’re beginning to see a similar shift in emergency preparedness. It’s a slow process, but I hope that eventually resilience becomes as habitual as wearing seat belts or recycling waste. 

Doomsday Preppers

Doomsday Preppers

I’m not sure if you’ve seen this show which airs on National Geographic? I hadn’t until ‘Doomsday Preppers’ were mentioned in episode 08.17 of Grey’s Anatomy.

The show opens to dramatic music and rolling clouds…

Ordinary Americans from all walks of life are taking whatever measures necessary to prepare [cut to a relatively normal looking man preparing for the total destruction of the power grid, a guy in breathing apparatus concerned about the Yellowstone super volcano and finally a lady who appears to think a plate of rice will avert financial collapse (?!)] and protect themselves from what they perceive is the fast-approaching end of the world as we know it” It’s impressive, if slightly scare-mongering stuff.

But behind all the drama, and underneath the mildly mocking voiceover, is a sound message about preparing for emergencies, not just as individuals, but there is a strong emphasis on community preparedness – something uus that, as an Emergency Planner (more on that later), really resonates with me.

I don’t mind that my housemates mock my ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ bag (which I’ve had in various guises for 4 years now). According to the quiz on the Doomsday Preppers website, my bag would last me 2 weeks max. I’ve seen the contents of the bag, and honestly think that’s a little optimistic!

But I’m not trying to survive for 60 months, my intention, based on my cheap jerseys China appreciation of the risks that I face, is to cope for 24 hours, or get to a place of safety. There’s loads of checklists out there on what should be in your bag, but to me it’s a bit more personal than that. There would be no point in me including water purification tablets, I haven’t cheap jerseys got the first clue about how to wholesale mlb jerseys use them; but more than that, I can’t conceive of the situation in which I won’t have access to water (maybe that’s my own naivety?!).

Risk perception is highly subjective, and an introductory post probably isn’t the place for my thoughts on the heuristics involved, but it’s an interesting area which receives less consideration than I think it deserves, and is something that I intend to come back to.

My hope for this blog: to share my new views on emergency planning and resilience, without the ‘accessibility’ trappings of my professional role; that said – the opinions here are mine and mine only, it does not reflect the views of Jerseys the organisation I work for, or the organisations I work with (that’s the “boring but necessary” disclaimer out of the way!).

Now, excuse me whilst I go ready my supplies for December 21st

Picture credit: National Geographic