Reflecting on a pandemic year

Reflecting on a pandemic year

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

I’ve been feeling a bit reflective recently, so thought I’d jot down the things that sprang to me as ‘learning points’ over the past year.

There will be more. The order isn’t significant. There’s a blend of work and personal. But just getting this list down has helped me organise my thoughts a bit.

  1. Homeschooling is different to emergency education at home.
  2. Being at home during an emergency and trying to work is not the same as working from home.
  3. Clapping nurses was nice for two weeks, then became performative.
  4. Chickpeas basically go with anything.
  5. So do potato waffles.
  6. Frozen cherries are better than ice in a gin.
  7. There is a lot to be said about the curious snacks in the Polish shop.
  8. Going to the cinema was more fun than I realised.
  9. That couple of weeks without any cars on the roads was glorious.
  10. The vanity around haircuts was surprising.
  11. “Chis” stands for covert human intelligence source.
  12. I miss live music more than I thought. Live-streamed music events were a tonic. Stream DISCO
  13. My feet forgot what shoes were for a while. I was glad of the garden during that stage.
  14. Cat colleagues make the best colleagues (see pic)
  15. Related: when an outdoor cat becomes an indoor cat you realise just how many furballs they cough up.
  16. There’s no way skinny jeans will ever be happening again. I’m ok with it.
  17. Despite clearing out loads of junk, I still have a lot of junk.
  18. I didn’t get the banana bread obsession. Still don’t.
  19. I am a lark and an owl. I am not a [whatever is most active in the afternoons].
  20. I want to be drunk in a field with friends again. That is very important to me.
  21. I miss spontaneity.
  22. You can walk almost anywhere if it doesn’t matter what time you arrive. And if you have the right shoes on.
  23. Binge-watching is really the only skill I have honed. But I am world-class at it.
  24. Nobody really understands what R is.
  25. There is a clear need for good graphic design in emergency response.
  26. That pandemic planning we had done has been immeasurably important, even if the government decided at the first juncture to chuck the plan in the bin.
  27. Doomscrolling is real. I had to learn on several occasions to just put my phone down.
  28. There’s joy in simple pleasures. I’ve now got a favourite local tree.
  29. We need to be better at learning ‘as we go’ rather than debriefing at the end. We need to be better at debriefing at the end too.
  30. People can come up with very creative quiz rounds when required.
  31. Local communities are great in a crisis, but turf wars with neighbours intensify.
  32. I despise voicemail but love a WhatsApp voice note.
  33. The thought of social interaction makes me a bit anxious.
  34. Time is elastic. I have no idea what day of the week it is. Blursday?
  35. Figuring out that I have an onion intolerance was useful and unexpected.
  36. I think I might be a hugger.
  37. I can waste a lot of time watching people doing stupid shit on TikTok.
  38. Lots of people have adapted to crisis quite well, but there are pockets that have struggled. We should focus future planning efforts on helping those who need help most.
  39. Being able to talk about work stuff in a non-worky way is important. The sideline chats in the kitchen, the after-work drinks. They are valuable.
  40. There is global overuse of the word unprecedented.
  41. Bad emergency management decisions have been made which could have been avoided if an entire profession hadn’t been gaslit. No doubt other professions will feel similarly.
Whitehall’s White Elephant?

Whitehall’s White Elephant?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

On 16 March, the UK Government released The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

Amongst other things (like the adoption of ‘Homeland Security’ language and assertions of a ‘whole society approach and a ‘reservist cadre’) the report confirms £9.3 million of investment to “bolster our national resilience with a new Situation Centre at the heart of government, improving our use of data and our ability to anticipate and respond to future crises.”

Lovely stuff.

A bit further into the document, at page 106, it describes the purpose of the Situation Centre is to “provide live data, analysis and insights to decision-makers on what is happening in the UK and around the world, strengthening our ability to identify, understand and respond to national security issues and crises.”

On the surface, this sounds good but it also has the potential to feed an illusion of control, control that may not actually exist. It could also become a facility which tries to be all things for all people and which becomes difficult and expensive to maintain.

Information is helpful (mostly)

One of the defining qualities of an emergency is that there is an initial information vacuum. I’ve mentioned in previous posts, that accurate information might not be available for some time. However, that cannot be a barrier to making decisions.

Attempts to speed up the availability of information can be useful in supporting decision making with evidence.

However, access to granular information could also result in COBR micro-managing rather than maintaining a strategic focus.

A Police Commander that I worked with described a similar situation with policing. With increased access to CCTV comes the temptation to ‘police by CCTV’, however, CCTV images alone do not give complete situational awareness.

I’m sure that it would be fascinating to collect the data and see what it shows. I attempted this myself several years ago (mostly as a proof of concept/experiment). Heavily inspired by Oliver O’Brien at UCL, I pulled together relevant data from existing feeds and presented this in a single dashboard. This went on to be the forerunner of a proprietary system that London still uses, but after 5 years without any maintenance, lots of the links in my own prototype are now broken. A relic still exists if you’re interested.

If I was able to knock this dashboard up relatively quickly with zero experience, I would be shocked (although not altogether surprised) if the bulk of the investment is going on this data tool.

Information can be misleading

The more data you have access to the larger your cohort of analysts and data scientists need to be.

But analysis can introduce bias into how information is presented and interpreted by others.

Tim Harford’s Cautionary Tales podcast touched on this recently in the episode Florence Nightingale and Her Geeks Declare War on Death. Harford described how Nightingale introduced data analysis to show decision-makers that deaths due to poor sanitation could be averted. However, in doing so she also showed that graphs can be persuasive whether or not they depict reality.

Similarly, after taking a module in my undergraduate degree called How to Lie With Maps with Professor Robert Mayhew I still find myself looking for clues that I’m being misled.

Unless there are some seriously competent and equipped analysts to support the Situation Centre (staffing of the centre isn’t mentioned in the report) then there is every possibility that incorrect conclusions will be drawn. And in times of national emergency, the consequences of that could be catastrophic.

My 3 hopes for the Whitehall Situation Centre

Towards the top of my wish list for a situation centre would be:

  1. Be Interoperable – the situation centre should be able to ‘talk”, in data terms, to other relevant centres. Collect the data once, use it many times. I suspect this will be built in for defence and security information, but there will be less interest in information gathered at the local level through Strategic Coordinating Groups. The report released last week covers a lot of ground – Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy and therefore interoperability across the range of responders would be helpful too.
  2. Be Open – the report makes it clear that significant shifts in policy are needed to fulfil the objectives.  This includes a ‘whole of society’ approach and therefore I think if members of the public are being asked to do stuff, they should be able to operate with a similar information picture. There will be situations that don’t allow for full transparency of information, but the default should be openness.
  3. Be Bold – I suspect the £9.3m will be quickly eaten up by consultants, and what we’ll end up with are some projectors and smartboards. Instead, the facility should look to use cutting edge technologies and innovations and be future proof. They won’t want to spend this type of money regularly, so it needs to anticipate what the trends and technologies are going to be over the next 10 years and be an early adopter.
Ramen Resolution – GGE Ramen Snacks

Ramen Resolution – GGE Ramen Snacks

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

Coronavirus has put paid to many of our traditions and customs this year. Around the world, people have adapted to find new ways to do old things.

As has become mtthwhgn tradition I was all set for my NYE lunchtime trip to Nanban. This would have been my fourth annual excursion, but it will have to wait until 2021.

Online ramen isn’t quite a thing yet, and I didn’t feel like cooking my own. However, I did find ramen crackers in a local Korean supermarket and so in absence of any actual ramen, I’ll be reviewing them instead!

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, is this just uncooked ramen?

The answer seems to be yes! But they have been kind is smashed up and reconstituted with some additional flavourings, a bit like if bombaby mix had been somehow glued together into a lump.

One version was described as a ‘cube’ but both versions were like small fat cylinders.

I tried two flavours, BBQ and Seaweed. To be honest, I’m not sure I could tell them apart, but neither pack lasted longer than a couple of minutes. They’re super crunchy but packed with flavour, even if that flavour seems to be generic! The brand, GGE (Good Good Eat) also make actual dried ramen for cooking, so my inner cynic thinks this is probably a ‘waste’ product that they have found a way to market!

The only downside really is the price, they were about £2.50 for an 80g packet, which felt on the expensive side. Although, after a quick google, you can get these beauties online for around half that price. I’ll definitely be getting more ramen snacks – there are at least four other flavours from the same brand, so that sounds like a project for 2021!

Ramen Resolution: Ramen At Home

Ramen Resolution: Ramen At Home

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

Here we are, teetering on the precipice of a second COVID lockdown. Whether it’s just a short ‘Tier 2 circuit breaker’ or something longer remains to be seen.

We’ve all learnt lessons from enduring the first few months of the Coronavirus pandemic. No doubt there will be many more to learn.

One lesson we should all aim to learn is how to make ramen as good as the ramen I was treated to on Thursday.

Cooking for other people can be stressful. Dietary requirements. Allergies. Timings. Striking the balance between cooking and entertaining. Add to that, cooking somebody one of their favourites foods AND one which they (ridiculously) review online.

And so it was, earlier this week when Nick decided he would make his signature chicken ramen for me. BOLD!

But you know, it’s October. The world is a mess; we could all do with a bowl of chicken soup!

Some ingredients arrived and the process began…

Nick started cooking at about 11:00. We ate at 19:30. A goooooood percentage of that time went into preparing the broth. There were a whole host of things simmering away for most of the day. My kitchen smelt (and still smells) wonderful!

Surprisingly for a chicken-based broth it was quite opaque and had more sweet, sticky, slurpyness than I had anticipated.

Years of searching and the perfect packet noodles still evade me. Some are too curly. Other too straight. I’m not sure what brand we had on Thursday (there was no English on the packaging at all) but they were good; not too soggy, even after being submerged in broth for a while.

Four types of mushrooms and homegrown spring onions bobbed around. Perfectly tender chicken thigh meat joined it. As did an egg.

Nick stressed over the egg. He appreciates that it’s arguably the showpiece of any bowl of ramen. He needn’t have worried, the slightly runny yolks and soft pillowy whites were glorious.

Was this authentic ramen? No, but does that matter? Well yes, to a purist I suppose it would. To me, the guy who enjoyed the addition of cheese to ramen in Washington DC, it was flavoursome and filling. Which is essentially what I’m looking for in my noodles.

Learn how to make ramen this good. Better, find someone to make you ramen this good. Take lockdown one bowl at a time.

Yummo!

P.S. here’s the recipe if you fancy giving it a whirl:

Ingredients

Chicken leg and thigh
Oyster mushrooms
Shitake mushrooms
Enoki mushrooms
Store-bought chicken ramen
Ginger
Star Anise
Garlic
Onion
Spring onions
Egg

Method

  1. Put the chicken stock, ginger, star anise, garlic, onion and chicken pieces in water.
  2. Slow cook for about 6 hours.
  3. Once done, shred chicken, cook mushrooms and noodles and spring onions in the broth.
  4. Serve with egg.
Ramen Resolution: Ramo Ramen

Ramen Resolution: Ramo Ramen

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

Let’s be upfront about this, lockdown has significantly affected my access to noodles. That, in turn, means I’ve had little to blog about. It’s been a tough time for everyone. There are support lines available.

However, the time has not been wasted and I’m the proud owner of a list of places to check out as restrictions are reduced.

With that in mind, when Nick had the genius idea of grabbing ramen I was quick to consider CoCoRo in Bloomsbury. CoCoRo self describes as ‘a space with a feel of genuine Japan in central London’. This authenticity sounded just the ticket after a few misguided attempts at making ramen at home.

But, sad news: CoCoRo remains temporarily closed until further notice. *shakes fist*

I turned back to my list and opted to go with a slightly off the beaten track (i.e. out of Zone 1) option, Ramo Ramen in Kentish Town.

My interest was piqued by the idea of Filipinx-Japanese ramen. What even is that?!

There seemed to be a slight nod towards a movie theme in the decor, which I did’t really understand. 

We’d both had a chance to study the menu in advance so we were quick to order the miso baked prawn gyoza, the squid karrage and two bowls of the award-winning oxtail kare kare ramen; 2018 winner of Battle of the Broths.

I braved it and opted to drink something called a Dragons Fizz. This turned out to be a tropical sherbety mocktail in a luminous green. Nick chose a large glass of milo with tapioca balls. I’m going to say it, lumpy drinks are not the one for me. 

The squid karrage isn’t listed on the online menu, so this was a nice surprise addition of tender squid and crisp and salty batter. 

Prawn gyoza sounds fairly typical, but the twist here is that they are baked and then smothered in bechamel sauce and cheese. It was an interesting concept, kind of like a tiny prawn lasagne. 

The ramen broth was a rich earthy brown colour, slightly oily but without the same stickiness of a tonkotsu broth. Dotted through the soup were plump shitake mushrooms, crisp spring onions, bamboo shoots, slightly sweet pea shoots and gloriously soft golden yolked eggs. Then there, slightly off centre, was a mound of deliciously soft and peanutty pulled oxtail which Nick agreed was “the perfect amount of meat” adding that the meat seemed to be the source of the peanuttyness. 

I also really liked the stoneware bowls! 

In a panic, I asked for the bill before we’d had a chance to order the mango peach pie for desert. So that’s the excuse for a return visit!

Randomly, the bill was presented in a Kill Bill 2 DVD case (why?!). At £12.50 a bowl it’s far from the cheapest you can find, but as a post-lockdown treat it was an absolute bargain! 

I have to dock some points for the music selection. Back-to-back Justin Timberlake is the last thing we need in 2020. Especially if not one of those songs is ‘Mirrors’.

So, drumroll…

I’m awarding Ramo Ramen a very strong 4.6 out of 5. 

81 things an emergency manager should know

81 things an emergency manager should know

Reading Time: 3 minutes  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:
  1. The capacity of wetlands to attenuate flood waters.
  2. How to guard a house from floods.
  3. How to correctly describe wind directions.
  4. The difference between radius and diameter.
  5. Henry Quarantelli.
  6. How to use the photocopier.
  7. Germ theory.
  8. How to give directions.
  9. Why Chernobyl was like that.
  10. And why Hurricane Katrina was like that.
  11. And why 9/11 was like that.
  12. And why Grenfell was like that.
  13. The NATO phonetic alphabet.
  14. A bit about genealogy and taxonomy.
  15. Wren’s rebuilding after the Great Fire of London.
  16. The history of the fire brigade.
  17. The history of the police service.
  18. Where to get good late night food near where you work.
  19. What makes you happy.
  20. Recognising burnout in yourself and others.
  21. Geography.
  22. Some geology.
  23. A bit of chemistry and physics.
  24. Capability Brown.
  25. Burial practices in a wide range of cultures.
  26. Serious doesn’t have to equal boring.
  27. What to refuse to do, even for the money.
  28. Three good lunch spots within walking distance.
  29. The proper proportions of your favourite cocktail.
  30. How to listen.
  31. How to behave with junior members of staff.
  32. How to manage upwards.
  33. Seismic magnitude scales.
  34. Wind speed scales.
  35. Air quality indicators.
  36. A bit about imperialism.
  37. The wages of construction workers and nurses.
  38. How to get lost.
  39. How to (politely) tell somebody to get lost.
  40. The meaninglessness of borders.
  41. Normal accident theory.
  42. How maps lie.
  43. A bit about IT disaster recovery.
  44. What went wrong with the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
  45. John Hersey’s Hiroshima article.
  46. Tuckman’s stages of team development. 
  47. What your boss thinks they wants.
  48. What your boss actually wants.
  49. What your boss needs.
  50. The airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.
  51. The rate at which the seas are rising.
  52. How children experience disaster.
  53. How disability affects disaster experience.
  54. Why women and girls experience disaster differently.
  55. How to quickly synthesise and draw meaning from multiple sources.
  56. How to corroborate information.
  57. Who you can turn to for help.
  58. How to respect what has come before.
  59. How to give a METHANE message.
  60. Kubler-Ross stage of grief model.
  61. The difference between complicated and complex.
  62. How to create an Ishikawa diagram.
  63. A bit about crowd dynamics.
  64. Which respected disaster researchers resonate with you and why.
  65. How to think critically about the status quo.
  66. How to perform CPR.
  67. Advanced google search techniques.
  68. Local emergency management and adjacent legislation.
  69. The seven principles of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.
  70. The difference between the Hyogo and Sendai Frameworks.
  71. The link between John Snow and modern epidemiology.
  72. Lord Justice Clarke’s four principles for disaster victim identification.
  73. How failures of imagination have had consequences.
  74. How to foster reciprocity.
  75. How to challenge disaster myths and Hollywood disaster tropes.
  76. Gestalt theory.
  77. Kahneman’s decision making heuristics.
  78. Swiss cheese model of safety.
  79. ‘No ELBOW’ contemporaneous record keeping.
  80. How to use conditional formatting in Excel.
  81. Murphy’s Law.
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.
Pandemic Anytown

Pandemic Anytown

Reading Time: 3 minutesRemember 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.

COVID-19: an experiment in peer support

COVID-19: an experiment in peer support

Reading Time: 2 minutesJust 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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Ramen Resolution: Kanada-Ya (again!)

Ramen Resolution: Kanada-Ya (again!)

Reading Time: 2 minutes

‘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.

Damn!

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.

COBRA: Episodes 5 and 6

COBRA: Episodes 5 and 6

Reading Time: 4 minutes 

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:

  • As the nation slides into anarchy, Sutherland considers extreme measures to take control.
  • Sutherland is forced to fight for his political career. Meanwhile, riots rock the nation. 

 

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.

Overall Thoughts

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:

  • Good start, weak middle, bonkers end. What started as a bit of dramatic licence quickly fell away to absurd management.
  • It was great to see a series about this kind of emergency management stuff on telly. I’m always going to be interested in watching the portrayal of my industry. With that though, comes the frustration that doctors and nurses and firefighters and police must experience on a much more regular basis.
  • I’ve essentially spent the past 5 Fridays screaming “it doesn’t happen like that” at a box in my living room.
  • I’ve also enjoyed having something regular to blog about, even if the actual content of the blogs got harder to find episode on episode.

And finally, just in case you were in any doubt about the Civil Contingencies Act, the characters themselves highlighted…