Browsed by
Category: Resilience

Decoding the Professional Language of Emergency Management

Decoding the Professional Language of Emergency Management

Reading Time: 5 minutes


A week ago my team organised an event which walked participants through an extreme heat scenario. It had taken around 6 months of planning and become known to us as Exercise Helios.

At the very start of the process a new colleague with little previous experience of the UK emergency management structures asked a very sensible question…

“why do we give scenario events like this names?”

I had to admit that I wasn’t really sure. I suspect that it has to do with the origins of the profession having military and uniformed service roots, but I can’t say with certainty that there aren’t other reasons.

Despite their initial opposition to a name, over time my colleague started to called it ‘Exercise Helios’. In the final weeks before the event, I started to notice senior staff in the organisation enquiring about ‘Operation Helios’, a term which was reflected in the media coverage. Those two aspects got me thinking about the theme for this post – the terms that we use, how we use them, and how other people might interpret that – the role of professional language. In reflecting on the language of emergency management I also wonder whether language might actually be the purest essence of resilience?

Side note: please can somebody commission a semantic review of the civil protection lexcion?!

What’s in a name?

As in other fields, the landscape of emergency management is a thicket of technical terminology. We’re as guilty as the next field in developing our own professional language and applying it inconsistently.

The world of emergency management is full of terminology that serves that purpose. In a UK context for instance, there are various terms which refer to a multi agency meeting; it could be a Strategic Coordinating Group, a Recovery Coordinating Group, a Mass Fatality Coordination Group or many other things. In this case, the use of jargon which might not be explicitly understood outside a fairly narrow profession is helpful. It clearly expresses what is being referred to and avoids the misunderstanding of a more vague description.

In those cases, training is really important because it socialises and reinforces the meaning that those terms have, and ensures a shared approach and understanding. Many years ago I completed a MIMMS course and over the course of 3 days had used and explained ‘METHANE‘ so many times that it was almost unconscious.

Clear and effective communication is the cornerstone of a successful emergency response. In a 2013 review of persistent lessons identified from emergencies, Dr Kevin Pollock found that of 32 events reviewed, ineffective communications was a key contributing factor in the common causes of failure.

Precision is important and the ability to convey critical information clearly and concisely to multiple stakeholders is paramount. Yet the ever increasing labyrinth of jargon, acronyms and terminology can bamboozle, and that’s before considering other types of communication.

A colleague recently shared an article about a recent military exercise, which is liberal in it’s use of abbreviations. I’m not suggesting that everything has to be written for a general public audience, nor that you can’t make some assumptions about what your audience knows. But one sentence in the article reads ‘As SMEs in CQB, K Coy was invited to act as the assaulting force for the serials’ which requires a reasonably high level of domain knowledge to parse.

Ever evolving language of Emergency Management

Where both parties understand each other, professional language serves as a shortcut, but what about where there isn’t an agreed understanding of a term?

Who is a victim? Where is a community? Who are stakeholders? What does it mean to have recovered? These are hotly debated matters with many intersecting interpretations. How we understand language varies based on geography, the cultural norms and our own experiences.

General understanding of the term ‘casualty’ might be a person who has sustained an injury. But in the maritime sector a vessel in distress can also be known as a casualty. Knowing that is really important to avoid searching for a missing person who is actually a boat!

Things become more challenging for new entrants to the field, or where we are trying to work with other sectors who don’t have the same shared language. It can be alienating in both directions to listen to people saying things you don’t understand.

There is a possibility that the use of jargon, unexplained acronyms and convoluted speech is some kind of power play. I don’t think most people intentionally set out to make things hard to understand, but we have to be aware of the possibility of power dynamics.

I wrote recently that ‘emergency planning is dead‘. Perhaps one of the reasons that we need to think differently about emergency management is that how we speak about emergency management has got us to this point. To engage wider we need to adjust the language we use to make it more inclusive, accessible and relatable. It’s partly why I’m not a huge fan of grab bag initiatives, the language of which seems tone deaf to the pressures many people face on a daily basis.

We should also check and confirm understanding. I’ve been on internal courses which espouse the importance of active listening. The trainer will tell you that ‘nodding indicates that you are engaged and attentive’. But to the person doing the communicating, that nod signals agreement or comprehension to the speaker. I remember one occasion in a meeting with an eloquent Government colleague who kept referring to people as ‘recalcitrant’. I nodded along in absolute agreement but googling the definition on my phone under the table! (Recalcitrant: having an obstinately uncooperative attitude towards authority, which incidentally has turned out to be one of my favourite words!).

The best advice that I have been given relating to this this came from a member of a community group. They challenged me after a meeting and said “just be real”. It’s feedback which I took to heart and have tried to reflect on since, making my own communication style more accessible and trying to cut through some of the opacity that language can create.

Language: the purest form of resilience

Language provides access to information, employment, and education. Language builds cohesion and increases access to social and economic resources. Language helps individuals and communities understand and help each other. And language helps us tell stories and share experiences.

Those are all aspects of ‘resilience’ and in the course of writing this I feel like I’ve inadvertently stumbled upon something I hadn’t realised before; that language might be the purest form of resilience.

Your favourite jargon?

I invite you to share your favourite emergency management term? A phrase that in any other context would be hard to understand correctly, or perhaps just one that entertains you.

In itself, the professional language of emergency management isn’t good or bad. It has it’s uses and limitations. We shouldn’t remove jargon, but we should think just as critically about how we communicate as what we communicate.


The image at the top of this post is taken from ‘Words Are All We Have’ by Jean-Michel Basquiat, who’s works often referenced the resilience and defiance of individuals.

Remembering the Unthinkable: Thoughtful Approaches to Disaster Memorialisation

Remembering the Unthinkable: Thoughtful Approaches to Disaster Memorialisation

Reading Time: 27 minutes


On a holiday to Boston, Massachusetts in 2018 I made a beeline for Puopolo Park. The aim of this excursion was to see the plaque commemorating the Great Molasses Flood of 15 Jan 1919.

A commemorative green plaque to the Boston Molasses Flood

On another trip, I walked for about an hour to the Chicago History Museum. This time it was to locate a lump of fused metal. This is all that remains from a hardware store, one of the thousands of buildings destroyed by the Great Fire of Chicago which killed 300 people and left 90,000 homeless in 1871.

A 7 ton lump of fused metal which is the remains of a Chicago hardware store after the great fire

To be honest, this is entirely typical behaviour for me. Whether on holiday or closer to home, other people will be searching out the best bars or restaurants nearby, I’ll have a considerably darker Google tab open.

Like scars on a body, memories of disaster all around us. From roadside flowers at the site of a fatal road traffic collision to the geometrical purity of the Cenotaph, from scholarships in somebody’s memory to works of art in galleries. Memorialisation takes multiple forms.

In this long-form post (don’t worry, there are a lot of pictures, but I seriously urge you to get a cuppa before you go further) I wanted to explore some aspects of disaster memorialisation. My specific interest in this comes from my advisory position supporting the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission.

This is an emotive, complex and wide-ranging activity. The objectives of stakeholders can be divergent and they change over time. It’s not possible to do justice here to the vast amounts of excellent research relating to the memorialisation of traumatic events (I’ve tried to link to as much as I can!). Little of that learning has permeated into the emergency management domain.

In my experience, the ‘command and control’ management structures familiar in the response phase are ineffective for the inclusive, messy and creative approaches in memorialisation. It’s important that Emergency Managers give this appropriate consideration as a part of recovery planning. I hope this post helps to broaden the conversation and build a deeper appreciation for the role of collective memory.

Importance of Disaster Memorials

Memorials (by which I mean physical or digital things), commemorations (by which I mean ceremonies and practices), and anniversaries (by which I mean events which coincide with significant dates) are terms which relate to how societies remember and honour victims, survivors and other people impacted by disasters or catastrophic events. These definitions are mine. I have no doubt they could be debated and developed, but for simplicity here I’ll collectively refer to memorialisation.

Disaster memorialisation is important because it serves as a reminder of past tragedies. It allows society to reflect on the cost of disaster, pay respects to those affected, and support future generations to remember the lessons learned (DeNoon, 2011). If done well, memorialisation may also have a therapeutic role in the healing of communities impacted by disasters by offering spaces for grief, remembrance, and collective support. Studies have demonstrated the capacity of memorials to support community recovery by reestablishing feelings of control, social solidarity and empowerment (Eyre, 2007 and Eyre, 1999).

Physical Memorials – Monuments, Sculptures, Architecture


Spontaneous shrines are becoming an expected public response. Flowers and candles (increasingly LED candles) are common, but any small items could possibly be left as tributes. Responding agencies should never judge the ‘worth’ of these items. Generally, shrines will emerge near an empty vertical surface and there will be accompanying messages of remembrance (and other emotions including fear, anger and blame).

The shrine space can often be viewed as sacred. For many people, placing a memento or writing a message at a shrine may be equivalent to lighting a candle in church. People will remember exactly where they laid their item, and what else was around it at the time.

The content of a shrine or the tone of messages can’t be ‘policed’ as it’s not the right or role of the responding organisations to dictate how people should feel. However, there may be a need for sensitive pragmatism, perhaps to remove expletive language if the location has high footfall from young people.

Members of the community who leave items will likely have concerns about the security of items left at a shrine. Responders should facilitate (but not necessarily lead) the care of the spontaneous memorial area. Communicating about any necessary changes is also critical, as unannounced changes could be distressing. Admittedly larger than most items placed at a shrine, one artist sued a New York church when their 9/11 artwork was moved without warning.

Paper and cut flowers are common but they are inherently temporary. Some people will attempt to protect against the elements by laminating paper, using permanent markers or using more durable materials.  These materials will become soggy, windblown, and tattered. It is therefore worth considering what sensitive approaches there could be to protecting and preserving ephemeral materials.

These shrines often feature as powerful backdrops for TV reports as well as in print, digital and social media (Grider, 2015). There will, of course, be a wider public interest in the incident, but there should be a balance struck between conveying the scale of the tragedy and not intruding on the privacy and dignity of those most deeply impacted.

Plan for the unexpected!

After the death of Her Majesty The Queen in 2022 mourners were asked by the Royal Parks to stop bringing marmalade sandwiches. This didn’t feature in any of the planning and was a spontaneous reaction, fuelled by social media, referencing one of her most recent TV appearances. There is a need to understand the mood and culture to predict and prepare for how people may respond.

Documenting and Removing the ephemeral

Shrines may persist for some time and will change during that period, but are ultimately temporary. It’s my recommendation that emergency managers and those involved in supporting ongoing recovery plan for periodic high-resolution photography. This is a minimally complicated method of documenting the items and messages which have been left. It may be necessary to store some items for safekeeping, which could have potential storage costs and will require an inventory setting out the details of what is stored where, as it could be some time before decisions are made and staffing changes could impact organisational memory.

After the 2018 van attack in Toronto, Canada, the authorities were quick to announce that the shrine at Olive Park would remain for 30 days and then a to-be-determined process would guide the way. By the time of the fifth anniversary in 2023, plans were still being finalised and apart from a modest plaque there are few visible signs of one of Canada’s worst mass murders. The authorities say this is to “take direction from the victims’ families…being purposeful and allowing sufficient time…to heal before making plans for a permanent memorial.”

This inclusive approach is much more empathetic than the situations where decisions have about spontaneous shrines without a similar level of engagement. However, each incident will be different and it may not be possible to be so clear at the outset.

The ship Sewol sank off the coast of southwestern Korea in 2014, claiming 304 lives, mostly high school students. For some time after the disaster ten “Memory Classrooms” inside Danwon High School were preserved as they were before the disaster, with clocks stopped at 4:16 in reference to the time the ship sank. In response to a controversial plan to clear out these classrooms parents and family members occupied the school grounds in protest.

For the fifth anniversary, the government announced a temporary wooden structure would be built as a memorial altar and a place to learn about the disaster ahead of a permanent memorial in the form of a National Maritime Safety Centre. Bereaved family members expressed their disappointment with the unilateral decision-making and limited consideration for other suggestions.

As of 2022, the centre dedicated to the disaster remains unfinished. The site remains cordoned off, and construction of the envisioned memorial has slowed due to conflict over funding between the central and local governments. As time passes, public attitudes are also shifting; some local residents have expressed that they don’t want the place to be associated with sadness anymore. At present, the official memorial is a small space in a council building where families have been able to hang photographs of their relatives. 

Ruins and Retained Materials

On the evening of 14 November 1940, 500 Luftwaffe bombers targeted the industrial city of Coventry, England. Over the course of twelve hours, 568 people were killed. As well as destroying over 4,000 Coventry Cathedral, dating from the 14th century, was left a shell with only its tower and spire standing.

The decision to rebuild was taken quickly the following morning. It wasn’t until 1951 that a design for a new cathedral was commissioned. Of the 219 entries received the chosen design of Basil Spence & Partners aimed to preserve the ruined shell as an integral part of the overall design. Work began in 1956 and the structure was completed in 1962.

Like other memorials, the journey from design, construction and opening was long and bumpy. The UK Government agreed only to fund the rebuilding of a ‘plain replacement’ and substantial donations from Canada, Sweden and Germany were required and the design also had to be modified to find savings. The final cost was double the initial estimate and there were disagreements between local stakeholders and the Government. Purcell (2020) provides an in-depth account of these challenges.

Prior to the War the medieval stained glass had been removed and stored for safety, and it was possible to reuse some of that conserved material in the glazing of the new cathedral.

Much like Coventry, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church or Gedächtniskirche is another example of incorporating the ruins of a damaged building into a new construction. This church, as with those in Hiroshima, Dresden and Volgograd features a ‘Coventry cross of nails‘ from the burnt roof timbers from Coventry Cathedral as a symbol of reconciliation.

To mark the fifth anniversary of the tsunami, the government of Ishinomaki, Japan, decided to preserve the ruins of Okawa Elementary School, 4 kilometres inland from the coast. This faced some opposition, however, some survivors have acknowledged the duality of emotions that the presence of the building brings. The memorial, which opened on its tenth anniversary in the spring of 2021, also serves as a disaster management training facility for teachers.

Gardens of Remembrance

Aberfan is a small mining village in south Wales, where heavy rain in 1966 caused a coal slag heap to collapse. The resulting landslide engulfed a primary school, killing 144 people, most of them children.

I was honoured to visit both of the small memorials to the Aberfan disaster in 2021; a memorial garden and a separate area of the local cemetery. Most signs of the former mining activity have disappeared and at first, the design of the garden may appear to be abstract, but paths and flower beds have been laid to follow the floor plan of the destroyed school, with parts of the original wall retained. This is a helpful example that ‘retention’ doesn’t just have to be physical, it can include the dimensions and positions of previous features.

In a secluded enclave near Ladbroke Grove station is a memorial garden opened in 1990 at the London Lighthouse HIV/AIDS Centre. With the growth of effective HIV treatment, the centre closed in 2015 and the site was re-occupied by the Museum of Brands. At the back of the museum remains the memorial garden, where many people who died at the centre had their ashes scattered.

Whether memorials incorporate ruins or not, a majority tend to be located at or close to the site of the incident, or in some location which is symbolically connected.

At 8.10 am on 14 October 1913, an underground explosion at a colliery in Senghenydd, Wales, killed 439 men and boys and another man subsequently died during the response. It is the worst mining disaster in British history and the third-worst in world history. To commemorate the centenary of the disaster the Welsh National Mining Memorial was unveiled in 2013 on the old colliery site, remembering the victims of that incident and more than 150 other mining disasters in Wales.

The memorial takes the form of a statue of a rescue worker helping an injured miner at the centre of a walled garden. Tiles lining the approaching ‘paths of memory’ were made at a series of community and school workshops and are inscribed with details of each mining disaster in Wales. Part of the unveiling included the sounding of the original Universal Colliery alarm, exactly as happened 100 years earlier, to alert villagers. Official floral tributes were laid by the First Minister of Wales and other politicians and dignitaries. The National Union of Mineworkers were in attendance but played no formal role.

Perhaps one of the most peaceful memorials that I have visited is the Hillsborough Park Memorial Garden which provides a place for contemplation for those remembering those affected by the incident at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium on 15 April 1989. The garden features a specially commissioned bright red rose called “Liverpool Remembers”.

The memorial for the Omagh bombing, where 31 people were killed by the explosion of a car bomb in 1998 connects two different locations. Sunlight falling on 31 elevated mirrors is reflected and used to illuminate a glass obelisk at the constrained site where the car exploded.

Place Naming

Determining street names is an administrative yet deeply political act. For an in-depth exploration of the process and politics behind what might otherwise be considered mundane, I recommend reading Dierdre Mask’s The Address Book.

For a time there was a proposal to rename Latimer Road Underground Station in recognition of the Grenfell tragedy, this had political backing but attracted opposition because of concerns about “encouraging ‘ghoulish’ tourists to the area”.

In Santiago, Chile, displaced people from a landslide in 1993 were relocated to a newly constructed neighbourhood developed by the housing authorities. This development provided housing for seven hundred families and was called ‘3 de Mayo’ (3 May) referencing the date of the incident. Residents criticised the lack of participation resulting in a feeling that “they didn’t need help from the state to remember the disaster by pointing to them when it happened”.

Commemorative Events, Digital Archives and Online Remembrance

National Days

Like commemorative monuments, the observance of national days has a role in the transfer of collective memory about a disaster. Two examples include:

  • 1 Sept – Disaster Prevention Day, observed in Japan to coincide with the date of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.
  • 14 Dec – Chornobyl Liquidators Day, observed in Ukraine to remember the military and civil personnel who responded to the nuclear disaster in 1986.

National days often contain formal elements and official protocol including wreath-laying, political speeches and commemorative rituals, but over time can incorporate elements of entertainment too.

Marschall (2013) suggests, in the context of post-apartheid South Africa, that the observance of national days has “largely failed as containers and transmitters of memory”. The recommendation is made that these days only work in conjunction with other forms of memorialisation, notably “monuments and emotionally loaded spaces”.

Moments of Silence

Commemorative silence has its roots in the early 20th century when a silence was held to mark the death of King Edward VII in 1910, and in 1912 to mark the sinking of the Titanic.

Sir Percy Fitzpatrick suggested that commemorating the loss of life in the First World War needed to respect the national mood, which as well as grief for those lives lost saw many people in hardship and with industry crippled. On November 7, 1919, King George V proclaimed:

That at the hour when the Armistice came into force, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, there may be, for the brief space of two minutes, a complete suspension of all our normal activities. All locomotion should cease so that in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.

The 2-minute silence on Remembrance Sunday has continued ever since. Moments of silence for disaster may also coincide with candlelight vigils.

In 1996 a 2-minute national silence was held for the 16 children and 1 teacher who were killed at Dunblane, Scotland. Following the terrorist bombing of trains in Madrid, Spain, in March 2004, was Europe’s first 3-minute silence. There have been a small number of other longer-duration silences since, which have drawn criticism from military veterans about a perception of diminishing war deaths.

There are increasing occasions where applause is used as an alternative to silence (Foster and Woodthorpe, 2012 and Winterman, 2007), typically associated with the death of an individual and stemming from an impromptu crowd reaction rather than something premeditated.

Technology-enabled memorials: Virtual and Augmented Reality 

Memorialisation can, perhaps surprisingly, be a place for innovation too.

When designing the granite fountain for the memorial to Princess Diana the architects, engineers and stonemasons used the latest computer-controlled machines to carve and sculpt the granite.

Launched in 2005, the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank sets out to collect, preserve, and present the stories and digital records of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The collection, which continues to grow, currently contains more than 23,000 items ranging from oral histories, photographs, stories and community art. In browsing the archive for this post I was struck by Francesco DeSantis’s hundreds of portraits and the handwritten annotations of each subject which record “autobiographical slivers intersecting upon a major transformative event”.

On June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed in a terrorist attack and hate crime at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Planning and community consultation by the onePULSE Foundation for a National Pulse Memorial & Museum and pedestrian pathway known as the ‘Survivors Walk’ continue but have hit a hurdle in terms of land ownership. In the meantime, a virtual memorial has been made available using 3d imaging technology to provide anybody with access to the ‘ribbon wall’ of tributes and to sign a digital book of condolence.

Similar virtual experiences are available for the location where Flight 93 crashed in September 2001 and there were some early suggestions that virtual reality could assist in the design process for the Grenfell memorial (sadly, I’m not aware that this has progressed beyond an idea).

Literature, Poetry and Performance

Disasters can be memorialised in written, recorded and performed works. There are far too many examples to note fully here but a handful of examples include:


Disaster anniversaries are often characterised by impacted people coming together, public officials making declarative statements and the media reconstructing the disaster experience in the context of current understanding (Forrest, 1993). Anniversaries are also one of the periods (along with birthdays, holidays, resolution of court cases and publications of reports about the disaster) when the memory of the disaster and associated loss may trigger an emotional response requiring professional support. Practical support is likely to be available in the short term but requires ongoing consideration many years later.

Anniversary events are likely to involve a mix of remembrance and outrage that questions relating to the deaths remain unanswered (Eyre, 1998) or that progress is too slow. Anniversaries are therefore a time of heightened complex emotions and require empathy and compassion.

The video below provides an overview of the range of activities marking the tenth anniversary of the Lac Magantic derailment in Quebec, Canada.

I have first-hand experience with the anxiety that some communities can experience about what it is appropriate to call a significant milestone, such as the passing of a year since a tragedy. Whether it’s a commemoration, anniversary, remembrance, memorialisation or something different altogether, the most important advice is to listen to the impacted communities on what they feel comfortable with and to try to meet as many wishes as possible.

(As a slight aside, the formal word for a commemorative event taking place on a monthly basis is ‘mensiversary’ but despite my attempts, I haven’t been able to get anybody to refer to events with that term!).

Personal Stories, Letters and Tributes

I had the privilege of meeting Charlene Lam from Curating Grief at the London Design Festival in 2022. Whilst not talking explicitly about disaster, we discussed the ability that everyday objects have to become memorials once somebody had died, and she told me the sentimentality behind why she chose to keep airline tableware following a family bereavement.

Much of what we know about the Great Fire of London we owe to the diaries of Samuel Pepys. Likewise, on March 28, 1944, the Dutch government-in-exile appealed to citizens to hold on to diaries and letters to chronicle life under German occupation. From this, Anne Frank created one of the most powerful memorials of the Holocaust.

The worker bee, the previously rather neglected symbol of Manchester, became prominent after the attack in 2017. Just days after the attack Guardian journalist Tony Naylor described the bee as “the perfect unifying symbol: secular, non-tribal, peaceful, community-focused but ultimately not to be messed with”.

As well as appearing in lots of street art, it is estimated that within 6 weeks of the attack around 10,000 people had been tattooed with bees (Perraudin, 2017) in commemoration and creating feelings of membership and togetherness. Perhaps less known is that Manchester City Council submitted trademark applications for six different bee designs in the two weeks following the bombing and were criticised for ‘memejacking’ (Merrill and Lindgren, 2021).

Stakeholders and their Perspectives

Involvement of Survivors and Affected Communities

Orthodox approaches concentrate power in the hands of ‘experts’ and can sideline the people most impacted. Contemporary memorials generally make attempts to involve communities from the outset. This can take various forms including formal Commission structures or less formal working groups that include direct representation from bereaved families, survivors and local people.

I had the privilege to visit the Manchester Together archive which conserves, preserves and documents the extraordinary outpouring of public grief and solidarity following the terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena in 2017. They have taken a rather unorthodox approach that if members of bereaved or survivor families visit the archive and want to take something of the 10,000 objects away, they are welcome to do that. This moves the collection away from being managed and regulated like a museum to more facilitated and participatory archive.

A memorial which is currently in construction and due to be unveiled on 11 October 2023 remembers the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 which killed 146 garment workers. The participatory approach used here invited members of the community to share their personal stories in connection with the fire, which impacted recent Jewish and Italian immigrant communities, and to collectively create a 300-foot-long ribbon, formed from individual donated pieces of fabric. The patterns and textures produced from this will be etched into the steel of the permanent memorial into which the names of the deceased will be cut and the stories archived at the Kheel Center at Cornell University, a specialist historical collection of United Stated workplace and labour relations.

Government and Local Authorities: Balancing Commemoration and Practical Considerations

The UK National Covid Memorial Wall is comprised of hundreds of thousands of hand-drawn red hearts, each representing a life lost during the pandemic. In some ways, the use of red hearts echoes the use of poppies for commemorating war dead. It stands opposite the Houses of Parliament to continually remind those in power of politicians’ accountability.

Politics also has a role in determining the form and location of a memorial.

The designs and proposals for the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre continue to face an uphill struggle between architects, the government, and planning authorities. In 2022 planning approval was quashed by the High Court on the basis of contravening the London County Council (Improvements) Act of 1900 which requires the chosen location at Victoria Tower Gardens to be maintained as a public garden. The current solution appears to require the enactment of new legislation, the Holocaust Memorial Bill, specifically for this memorial.

Memorialisation is not a neutral activity, it selects certain aspects and excludes others, and exists in the context of historical processes of injustice and marginalisation of certain social groups (Fuentealba, 2021).

Architects and Artists: The Role of Creativity in Memorial Design

The 2019 exhibition Making Memory at the Design Museum centred on the work of British-Ghanaian architect Sir David Adeje.

The first room of this exhibition arranged photographs of memorials across the world and themed into various categories.

  • Ancient (Stonehenge, the pyramids)
  • Arch (the Arc de Triomphe, Thiepval memorial)
  • Obelisk (the Cenotaph, Nelson’s Column)
  • Spatial (Berlin’s Holocaust memorial, Yugoslavia’s spomeniks).

Memorials can, of course, take multiple and different forms but I’ve found it a helpful classification.

The work of architects in rebuilding after a disaster was considered at the 2016 RIBA exhibition Creation from Catastrophe and as with Adaje the emphasis was on humility and true collaboration with affected communities.

The Clearing is the name of the memorial to the 20 children and 6 teachers killed in a school shooting at Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in October 2022. In their research, chosen designers Dan Affleck and Ben Waldo found “traditional monuments – stone objects in a civic space – are really not doing justice to the complexity of trauma, of memory, of emotion…after experiencing an event like this. Their design of a London plane tree on a small island within a lightly swirling water focuses more on the landscape and is intentionally designed to look different on each visit as “a conceit for the individual experience of grief itself”.

Taking a similar form, the Glade of Light memorial to the Manchester Arena Attack was designed to be a living memorial, a tranquil garden space for remembrance reimagining a “previously under-utilised area of the City“.

A circular halo of white stone, referencing the eternal, floats above an ever-changing abundance of native plants. Inlaid into the stone are bronze hearts beneath which are memory capsules which contain meaningful mementoes left by families of the bereaved.

Artists as well as architects and landscape designers can bring a significant contribution to the development of memorialisation.

Nathan Wyburn created the sculpture “21.10.1966 144 9.13 am” using concrete and steel the work features 144 clocks each stopped at 9:13 in reference to the date and time of the Aberfan disaster, and the number of people who were killed when a colliery tip collapsed on the village. This piece is on permanent display at the Welsh Coal Mining Experience, a tourist attraction around 11 miles from the site of the tragedy.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by NATHAN WYBURN ART (@nathanwyburnart)

Another example of the powerful contribution of artists could include the ‘Fallen Leaves’ installation by Menashe Kadishman at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. The floor of the gallery space is covered with 10,000 flat iron disks, pressed and cut into crude face shapes with contorted eye, nose and mouth features as though they might be screaming. The only way to pass through the space is to walk over the faces. I visited some years ago and still remember the reverberating sound of the metal-on-metal sound which perhaps recalls forced labour or trains arriving at a concentration camp.

Artist Lorrie Veassy started making and hanging ceramic tributes on a rusty chain-link fence opposite a hospital that many people were taken to. Other local potters and artists joined in and before long the Tiles for America Memorial was established; to date, more than 2,500 tiles have been produced.

Similarly in North Kensington, ceramics has been a key memorialisation material, including installations of ceramic hearts in little loved spaces, coordinated by artist Paprika Williams as well many mosaics installed near the base of the damaged tower and around the local community as well as a range of mosaics throughout the area.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Peter Morey (@petermoreysketches)

Speaking about the seeming impossibility of meeting the range of different stakeholder requirements in Omagh, O’Toole (2007) provides a reminder that ‘the impossible is what art does best” and that we may “need public art to do what politics struggles to achieve”.

Public Perception, Controversies and Timelines

The memorial to the Sampoong Department Store collapse of June 1995, in which 502 people died and 937 were injured, was moved from its original location to a park at Yangjae Citizen’s Forest, due to “backlash” from residents of apartments near the incident site.

Based on the advice of Hiroshi Harada, an atomic bomb survivor and the former director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum that “memories will eventually fade away generation by generation,” the Miyagi prefectural government has committed to wait until at least 2031 before letting future generations determine whether the shell of a government building, formerly its disaster management centre, should be retained permanently.

Ethical and Social Considerations

Cultural Sensitivity: Ensuring Diversity of Victims’ Backgrounds Are Heard

I acknowledge that this post is overwhelmingly Western. It is the product of seeing memorialisation through my own lens. Whilst I’ve tried to pick a range of different memorials to illustrate the different nature they can take, that selection process means things have been excluded.

Grieving behaviour in the UK remains largely informed by the Victorian ideal of solemnity (Howarth, 2007), but this is not true of other cultures. It’s vitally important to consider how other cultures acknowledge loss and make collective memory.

The ways in which different cultures interpret and experience memorials can also be different and should be considered during their development. The memorial to the 202 people killed in the Bali nightclub bombings of 2002 has been the subject of a specific study looking at the ways in which people use the memorial space differs depending on their own culture.

Closer to home, the UK memorial to the Bali bombings occupies a prominent space outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and features 202 dives engraved into a granite sphere. There is little information available about the process of selecting this location but the involvement of the UK Bali Bombing Victims Group seems to have been a major consideration.

Some people may feel (and indeed, be) marginalised or excluded from the memorialisation process on grounds such as religion, geographical distance, inability to attend due to disaster-related injury or simply due to practicalities of logistics (Eyre, 1999). Additionally, dynamics within and between representative groups may reinforce a sense of a hierarchy of grief.

Efforts should be made to engage with all communities to ensure all voices are heard. This requires involving communities in decision-making, which can be challenging for organisations and structures which have limited experience in that way of working.

Avoiding Exploitation and Commercialisation of Tragedies

The September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City has attracted considerable controversy for having a gift shop. The shop sells merchandise like t-shirts, umbrellas and phone cases emblazoned with images of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. Proceeds from the shop and museum admission fee go towards the maintenance of the memorial, which did not initially receive any government funding for ongoing maintenance.

After a USA-shaped cheese platter attracted additional negative reaction a decision was made that relatives of victims who sit on the memorial board would conduct a ‘smell test’ to approve future items for sale, which continues despite a federal funding grant for the memorial now being available.

The 9/11 museum is not the only memorial which has a gift shop, they are also present at the Oklahoma Memorial, Pearl Harbour and the Washington DC Holocaust Memorial.

Charging for entry to a disaster memorial isn’t a uniquely American idea. The Monument commemorates the Great Fire of London which destroyed most of the city in September 1666. For the price of £6 visitors can climb the 311 spiral steps inside the column and take in the view from the observation deck at the top and on their way back down are rewarded with a certificate. So maybe there is something about the passage of time, and that commercialisation feels less distasteful the longer ago the incident was.

Etiquette at memorial sites is another consideration. This is best exemplified by the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin.

According to its designer, Peter Eisenman, the “enormity and scale of the horror of the Holocaust is such that an attempt to represent it by traditional means is inevitably inadequate” so an abstract form of 2,711 large concrete blocks was chosen, avoiding all symbolism and encouraging visitors to create their own interpretation. This is an interesting example because memorials typically present a dominant narrative and exclude remembering differently (Legg, 2007), which this memorial rejects.

This absence of symbolism however may be linked to the phenomenon where a proportion of the 10,000 daily visitors take selfies or jump between the slabs and have been shamed for inappropriate conduct. This phenomenon inspired a project YOLOCAUST by German-Isreili artist Shahak Shapira.

Balancing Grief and Hope: Conveying the Message of Resilience

Perhaps the disaster memorial which has had the most profound impact on me was my visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. In particular, I was moved to tears by the confronting and visceral remains of ruined buildings.

On 6 August 1945, at 8:15 a.m the nuclear weapon “Little Boy” was dropped from an American plane, directly killing at least 70,000 people (rising to 90,000–140,000 by the end of 1945 as a result of injuries and radiation exposure) and destroying or damaging 75% of the city’s buildings. The bomb exploded almost directly overhead the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, the heat consuming the entire building. The ruins of the building including its walls and the wire framework of the dome survived and have been preserved as a symbol of the need for abolition of nuclear weapons. The A-bomb Dome, as it has become known, was registered in 1996 on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

How memorialisation is evolving: learning from the past, informing the future

In themselves, memorials are unlikely to reduce the impact of future disasters, but they can help facilitate conversations or new ways of thinking about prevention, preparedness, and response. 

The processes connected to memorialisation are also in continual flux. The huge volume of flowers placed in commemoration of Princess Diana’s death and the children who play in the fountain dedicated to her mark different ways of commemoration and memorialisation. We could be seeing some signs of a trend towards rejecting Victorian solemnity and customs that point toward public restraint in death.

These more ‘vernacular memorials’, that is, memorials which are in the language of the impacted community rather than the state, seem to be increasingly common.

COVID Memorialisation

A few memorials exist to plagues of past centuries, including the Pestsäule or ‘Plague Columns” in Vienna (pictured), Baden and Klagenfurt, Austria, the Immaculata in Košice, Slovakia, and if you know where to look, the 1854 cholera outbreak in London.
There are very few memorials to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. There is a small stone bench in a cemetery in Vermont and in 2019 the New Zealand Government installed a zinc plaque at an existing war memorial in Wellington.
It’s interesting to consider questions of if, when, how and where the memorialisation of the Coronavirus pandemic will happen.
Ofri noted in 2022 in The Lancet:
Official memorials may take years to materialise and can entail contentious wrangling among stakeholders. But once erected, they assume the role of a defining locus of mourning.
Memorials that have emerged so far have typically been very human in scale. In a similar grassroots approach as the painted hearts in London (above), Argentines have been piling up small stones with names of those who died in Buenos Aries, and Italians in Bergamo have been planting trees.
There are a range of online activities, which include
Memorialisation is a crowded space, there was criticism for co-opting the red ribbon after the BBC aired an insensitive segment on World AIDS Day encouraging people to remember COVID victims by tying a red ribbon around a tree.
A larger scale but still very personal memorial includes the 200,000 white flags planted on the National Mall in Washington DC. This directly echoes the inaugural display of the AIDS quilt on the same lawn in 1987.

There have been some more ambitious ideas about COVID memorialisation, including architectural firm Gómez Platero’s design for a sleek metallic disk off the coast of Uraguay as the Global Memorial to the Pandemic.

Ensuring Long-Term Preservation and Care

The Paddington Rail Disaster occurred on 5 October 1999. Two years after the incident a 10ft tall memorial sculpted by Richard Healy (who also designed the memorial for the 1988 Clapham rail crash) was unveiled overlooking the scene of the crash. Less than six months after being unveiled the BBC reported that the site was “being used as a rubbish dump by fly-tippers” and protective railing were added. As can be seen in the image below, the memorial was in need of some care ahead of its 20th anniversary in 2019.

Memorials require upkeep, maintenance and repair. Somebody has to cut the grass, there will be bins to be emptied and lights to be switched on. There is a compromise required between artistic intent and practical considerations.

These aspects can, if not properly considered, result in significant ongoing operational costs. For example, the Diana Memorial Fountain has required new sealant and water jet fittings for the fountain, intensive cleaning, replacement of footpaths, as well as stewards and gardening. 


Emphasising the Importance of Memorialisation

Memorialisation is incredibly sensitive but also inherently political, perhaps even being a form of government communication (Nicholls, 2006). There are questions to be asked about what we choose to memorialise, and what doesn’t get that recognition. Following media coverage about a proposed tapestry to be developed as part of the UK COVID Inquiry, there are signs of a “troubling trend where artistic memorialisation efforts are presented and pitted as emotional rather than political” (Purnell, 2023).

You probably don’t know about the fire at Denmark Place. It took 32 years for a small plaque to be unveiled “because the 37 people killed didn’t matter”. There is no reference on the developer’s website for ‘Princess Park Manor’ to its previous history as the Colney Hatch Asylum, let alone the 52 lives lost there in a fire in 1903; the worst peacetime fire in London until the Grenfell fire in 2017. An ongoing campaign from relatives of those impacted by the Battersea Funfair Disaster seeks to ensure a permanent marker to the 1972 incident where 5 children died. These are just a handful of incidents in London alone which weren’t deemed significant enough to warrant a memorial. Families and relatives of those impacted are now coming forwards to ensure there is a physical reminder, but as emergency managers, we should ask ourselves questions about who has access and power in the decisions about which incidents are memorialised, how and when. this supports the idea that recovery from disaster has a very long tail.

Memorials often quite literally “concretize” a dominant interpretation of a disaster and could constrain other interpretations. Therefore those charged with supporting memorialisation should allow for a variety and change in narratives to be present. However, this can be a source of contestation between different stakeholders so needs delicate and empathetic approaches.

Research into memorials after the Great East Japan Earthquake has recommended that it is better the pursue several ways of memorialising “rather than a single stone” (Boret and Shibayama, 2018). Whilst it can be administratively convenient to have a single memorial, a strategy which embraces multiplicity is likely to be key in meeting the diverse needs of affected people. Memorials that resist processes of transformation risk losing their significance in the future. Young (2010) notes that they “should not enshrine any particular interpretation of the past but prompt visitors to engage”.

As the Remember Me project found, memorials to disasters and other traumatic events are an escalating phenomenon and combine personal, public, spontaneous, planned, formal and informal elements. This is something that emergency managers should be aware of and consider the best approaches to engage with multiple projects simultaneously.

Shaping Collective Memory and Resilience

Public memory cannot be supplied by the elite and comes from genuine public demand. The practice of remembering is one of the ways communities decide what is important.

Maybe the role of memorialisation is also partly about helping us to forget. Visit any park or square in any town or city in any country around the world and you’ll likely find statues, plaques, dedicated benches and commemorative fountains. But do we really engage with the purpose of each: to keep their subject from falling into memory?

How long should a memorial last? In my experience the most common answer is ‘forever’, but eventually everything returns to the ground. So perhaps the purpose of a memorial or monument is partly to help ease that transition too. As Bishai (2000) stated, “We must remember in order to know who we are, and forget in order to become what we may be.”

Emergency managers won’t usually be involved in the detailed discussions of what for, a specific memorial might take. They will likely have already moved on to be considering the next calamity. I think there is, however, a role for emergency managers who are responsible for mapping out what recovery from any disaster might look like to engage with the process and challenges of memorialisation. The approach required for this sensitive activity is not the same as the ones which invariably get written into plans.


Note: I’ve found it hard writing this post, which tries to capture the range of ways that people memorialise, without seeming to trivialise the pain associated with each of the examples selected. In making those selections, I’m aware I have excluded many other incidents and their memorials. I hope that through considering memorialisation, experienced emergency managers can support future disaster-impacted communities to memorialise better than they often have been. 

81 more things emergency managers should know

81 more things emergency managers should know

Reading Time: 5 minutes


The debate about professionalisation of emergency management continues , including this through-provoking blog by Jeff Donaldson.

I recently described emergency management as a ‘proto-profession’; it entertains ambitions of professionalisation and expends (a lot) of energy in the development of professional standards and there are bodies which govern entry to the club. However, a significant proportion of the debate feel that without an agreed corpus of knowledge it can’t truly be a profession and that there should be greater role for the bodies in determining entry (whilst not wanting to risk being excluded themselves).

The argument typically follows that medicine and law have self-regulated education, training, and standards, underpinned by collective knowledge and ethical principles. My perspective is that there whilst there needs to be agreement on some core knowledge, both medicine and law which are held as shining beacons are professions which seek to change and learn. Their knowledge isn’t fixed and has evolved considerably over time (I’m looking at you trepanning the skull!).

In my view it’s better to do something and make some progress than it is to debate over the finer detail at the detriment to the field and it’s people. We are entering a new dawn for emergency management and should be approaching it head-on.

So what is the body of knowledge for emergency management?

Several years ago (in a rage-fuelled post) I attempted to set out my thoughts on what I would include.

The original list of 81 things and emergency manager should know was all mine. I knew then that it was incomplete. The beauty of emergency management is that everybody brings something to the table (as I said similarly in this recent post for National Careers Week).

Therefore I’ve revisited and supplemented the original list with the wonderful and brilliant suggestions of friends and colleagues, some of whom I know well, and others I’ve yet to met but who felt compelled enough to add their thoughts to the list as it has been shared online.

  1. The key languages spoken in your relevant communities (and ideally a greeting and thank you in each).
  2. How to use Resilience Direct/other platforms to share documents and maps.
  3. How to provide and take information in a clear structure way (eg. METHANE or IMARCH).
  4. How to say no politely (at first) to things that aren’t your remit.
  5. A sense of humour.
  6. The best snacks to keep you going at 2am.
  7. How to ‘lower your hand’ on teams/zoom etc (see also: how to use mute/unmute).
  8. The key roles and ranks indicated in emergency service and military uniforms (tabards, rank markings, what that gold string means etc).
  9. Key acronyms, when to use them and when to avoid them.
  10. That senior management likely won’t be interested until the wheels are starting to fall off.
  11. How to think outside the box and capture the rationale for doing so.
  12. Who you can call when you don’t know who else to call. And what number to call them on.
  13. Know your local significant infrastructure and the risks presented by its failure.
  14. Limits of any delegated decision authority.
  15. Understand the direction of the wind (both literally and figuratively).
  16. Water (and blame) flows downhill.
  17. The sticky bun that nobody else has eaten will come back to haunt you 2 hours later.
  18. You are not an island.
  19. Requirements of the COMAH and Pipeline Safety Regulations.
  20. Turner’s Disaster Incubation Theory.
  21. Who the FEMA Administrator is.
  22. How to make use of ‘screenshot’ to share information without having to wait for it to be circulated by the originator (and when not to do this too).
  23. How to turn a document in to a PDF, and how to reverse it if needed.
  24. ‘You can’t fix stupid’.
  25. Something (anything!) about bioterrorism.
  26. The importance of infant feeding in emergencies.
  27. The difference between personal safety and process safety.
  28. The most dangerous place is between the fire service and the catering van.
  29. A brief history of civil protection and the formative events in it’s evolution.
  30. How to recognise signs of trauma (and vicarious trauma) in yourself and others.
  31. At least 4 different routes to your place of work, using different means of transport.
  32. That COBR doesn’t have an A.
  33. Key response operation names and what they mean.
  34. 1917-1920 flu epidemic.
  35. Basics of crowd psychology.
  36. A rough idea of what different 999 service specialists/vehicles do.
  37. A rough idea of what happens behind the scenes when you call 999.
  38. Where to find the keys.
  39. Read old Inquiry/Inquest/prevention of future death reports like they’re your favourite genre.
  40. How to spot and counter a microaggression.
  41. Respect the news images, they have different access to information to you.
  42. The importance of searching out lived experiences.
  43. Vital importance of effective communication.
  44. Something about structural stability and the technical terms for standard building components.
  45. Something about asbestos.
  46. Know what you don’t know.
  47. Know that there is no accounting for politicians.
  48. Remember that saying it once is usually not enough, repeating it frequently helps.
  49. Know the history of your profession in your country (and elsewhere).
  50. Find ways to cope (or thrive) in the messiness of trans-disciplinary working.
  51. Take time to reflect, and understand your own ethics and the ethics of the organisation(s) you work with.
  52. How to be open to challenge and constructive criticism.
  53. How to defend yourself against criticism which is just mean.
  54. Decision makers won’t always follow your advice – figure out how you deal with that.
  55. There is always something you won’t know so you should always be looking to learn.
  56. What spolia is.
  57. A bit about the insurance industry.
  58. How to forward your phone.
  59. How to block your number from coming up if you have a suspicion somebody is screening your calls.
  60. A little about the ‘chain of custody’ and steps to preserve evidence if required.
  61. How to communicate when normal methods fail.
  62. Grounding techniques that work for you.
  63. Tips to keep your typing speed at a minimum of 60 words per minute.
  64. An understanding of the difference between prudent business continuity and panic buying.
  65. The maturity of language to talk about crowd incidents whilst being aware of the myth of panic.
  66. What the Sphere standards are.
  67. Signs of organisational trauma.
  68. Lencioni’s 5 disfunctions of a team.
  69. The difference between important and urgent.
  70. A little about disaster capitalism.
  71. There isn’t always a single right answer, but there can be many wrong answers.
  72. Why it’s important to read the detail of the forecast, not just reach to the ‘colour’ of the warning.
  73. The difference between a lesson identified and a lesson learnt. 
  74. How to describe what your job is succinctly at social engagements.
  75. What happened in the Carrington Event and why it’d be different now.
  76. How El Nino and La Nina have global effects.
  77. The pros and cons of lean processes and efficiency.
  78. Know when a situation needs simplicity and when it needs detail. 
  79. Enough about your stakeholders to be able to manage the politics of seating plans
  80. How to connect the projector/printer/label making machine to your computer.
  81. Parkinson’s Law of public administration.


I expect this list could continue to grow, and will be refined as people make a case for what is in/out of the corpus. I wholeheartedly encourage that – help us define what an emergency manager needs to know.

Careers Week 2023: Emergency Management

Careers Week 2023: Emergency Management

Reading Time: 5 minutes


I thought I’d share a couple of thoughts for anyone who might be interested in a career in emergency management, during National Careers Week, taking place between 6-10 March.

How did I find emergency management?

When I was little I wanted to design rollercoasters.

There wasn’t much call for that in the UK, so my school work experience aged 14 was in a car factory! I realised there would be a huge requirement for engineering knowledge and recognised that my mathematics skills probably weren’t up to scratch, so it was back to the drawing board.

With wall-to-wall media coverage of the Millennium Bug, I spent a lot of time hearing about the apocalyptic events that would happen on 1 January 2000. I became interested in how to prepare and respond to those kinds of major disasters. I didn’t know it was a career option but knew it was an area of work that I wanted to be involved in. The terrorist attacks in America in 2001 were a significant and formative event for many in my generation of emergency management.

I suspect that there is a whole swathe of people, who, having lived through COVID are also considering how they might get involved to reduce the impact that these events can have on our lives.

Image of a person wearing a tabard which reads 'Emergency Manager'Emergency management has become more popular but remains a niche profession which doesn’t have much airtime. I hope this post gives a bit of a flavour of what emergency management is like as a job, as well as my tips on breaking into the field.

What do you enjoy about your job?

We generally like order and control. Disasters and emergencies are messy. Disasters are terrible events that affect many people in unimaginable ways. However, I have seen so many examples of the best in people and communities when they are going through the worst times.

I view my role through a lens of supporting and facilitating that natural human response to look after each other. A large part of being an emergency manager is about bringing some coordination to a chaotic situation. There is a lot of satisfaction which comes from being involved in making sense and supporting the management of a chaotic situation.

What is an emergency manager?

The good people at Prospects have a page on emergency management, which sets out that “you’ll play a role in protecting and maintaining public safety” by anticipating and planning for major incidents “in local or central government, or in a public body”.

But it is so much more than that!

During the pandemic, I wrote a list of 81 things an Emergency Manager needs to know. The breadth of things included on that list gives a flavour of the many different directions that emergency management can take you in, and in which you can come into emergency management.

Emergency management is risk management. It is health and safety. It is security. It is communication. It is about data. It is logistics. It is policy development. It is training. Depending on which sector you work in the balance between those things will be different, but fundamentally, emergency management is about people.

For a long time emergency management was the domain of retired military and firefighters. That experience still has incredible value, but there are more diverse pathways into the field than there used to be, which is brilliant, because with new people come new ideas and a more effective and inclusive response.

What does a typical day look like?

Gosh, that’s a tough one. The thing about emergencies is that they are inherently unpredictable (although some are more predictable than others). There tends to be a fair amount of variability day to day depending on what might be happening or risks that are the current concern.

A typical day also looks different depending on what organisation you work for. However, generally speaking, a typical day will involve lots of teamwork and communicating with different people both within your organisation and beyond. In my experience, there are a lot of meetings, but also frequent external site visits and equipment checks too. Obviously, there are incident response days too. Whatever plan you might have had for the day goes totally out of the window and it’s all about doing your bit to support the people impacted, and then the ongoing recovery and learning processes.

Where to seek out more advice?

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking there is just one route to your chosen career. Or that there is a factory which spits out carbon copies of emergency managers.

The beauty of emergency management is that it touches the edges of so many other functions. This is also it’s Achilles heel – it is hard to define and codify. Where possible, try to use that to your advantage. Everyone has something valuable they can bring to emergency management, what are you bringing?

If you’re interested in working in emergency management then here are my top 5 tips on steps I would take with hindsight:

  1. Talk to people working in the field. Be prepared that many people simply won’t respond to your emails or prospective emails. But somebody will somewhere. Find emergency managers on social media (there’s a small community of us on Twitter, but probably hold off on sending lots of LinkedIn requests until you’ve met people in person). Volunteer to attend scenario training events to meet potential new colleagues. Join a professional body, like the Emergency Planning Society, as an associate or student member and attend their events (which is a bit easier now with more online events).
  2. Take advantage of work experience placements and any training. Don’t worry too much about it being in a directly relevant field. You’re not going to become an emergency manager in your two-week placement, but you can start to learn about yourself, about workplaces and about what you are looking for. Whilst there may be restrictions based on age or location, try to take advantage of the free training by bodies such as Skills for Life. Simple things like having a first aid qualification, awareness of information handling principles or data analysis skills can set you apart from others.
  3. Research what potential future employers are looking for. Think about how you can demonstrate that you are a good candidate. Entry-level emergency management roles will generally be looking for people with great organisational skills, the capability to prioritise work, project management skills and effective communication. What examples can you use to so you can do that? What things could you do to build even more skills in those areas?
  4. Talk to a careers advisor. Whether you’re still at school or college, progressing through university, unemployed or looking for a change in career direction at a later stage, careers advisors can offer support and signpost to opportunities. They probably won’t know the ins-and-outs of emergency management, but can help you make high-quality applications and help you to identify skills you may be less aware of.
  5. Learn and reflect. Employers will want to see that you have some understanding of the field, but you don’t need to memorise Wikipedia articles, you won’t be tested on that. You might choose to read about things, or watch documentaries on Netflix, or listen to podcasts. Keep an eye out for the lessons from notable disasters and what the current risks might be and why. This can be referred to as ‘seeing the bigger picture’ and it’s a skill given how broad emergency management can be.

A bonus tip – follow the National Careers Service on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn or Instagram.

Good luck!

UK Government Resilience Framework – thoughts on launch

UK Government Resilience Framework – thoughts on launch

Reading Time: 4 minutes


Remember in Neighbours when one day Cheryl Stark was played by Caroline Gillmer and then without any mention in 1993, Collette Mann took over? Or in Eastenders, where (so far) the character of Ben Mitchell has been recast a staggering six times?

Each time there is a recasting, audiences are expected to just get on with it and not draw attention to the obvious changes.

And so it is with the publication of the UK Government Resilience Framework earlier this week. Previously this was lauded as a “national resilience strategy” which set out a “proposed vision” to “make the UK the most resilient nation”. But the process of recasting now sees the strategy as a “government framework…to strengthen…systems and capabilities that support our collective resilience”.

Over recent years we’ve lurched from one crisis to the next, punctuated with emergencies and disasters along the way. Without action, pledges and strategies for reform are meaningless. Maybe a framework provides a clearer articulation of the steps required. But the narrowing of the field of vision, taking this from a ‘national strategy’ to a ‘government framework’ is something to watch out for.

In July this year, the Cabinet Office ‘call for evidence’ sought views on a draft strategy to gauge the UK’s appetite for “an ambitious new vision for our national resilience” to help prepare for current and future challenges.

The government received 385 responses (86 from individuals, of which 1 was my response) and in their public response to the call for evidence noted:

  • Strong support for the vision and principles of the strategy (which were, frankly, hard to disagree with).
  • Majority agreement that more can be done to assess (82%) and communicate (80%) risk at national and local levels.
  • 76% of responses thought everyone should have a part to play in improving the UK’s resilience – taking learning from the individual, community and voluntary sector responses to COVID.
  • Less than half (47%) agreed that the current division of roles and responsibilities between Central Government and local responders is correct.
  • 93% believed the resilience of critical national infrastructure can be improved.
  • And a whopping 98% believe regulation has some role to play in testing and assuring resilience.
  • Slightly more than half of respondents (57.7% – why have they started using decimals at this point in the analysis?) agreed that information-sharing arrangements are insufficient.
  • 78.1% of respondents believe the Government should have duties for information sharing (which they currently don’t under this Act).
  • And a majority (percentage not given) recognised funding limitations as a key factor in the ability to deliver emergency preparedness.

33 of the 38 Local Resilience Forums in England responded to questions on the Civil Contingencies Act. It’s a shame that more detail on responses isn’t provided; it would be interesting to know why 5 LRFs didn’t submit a response.

The cover image for the Resilience Framework tells you a lot. Let us take a look.

Cover of the UK Government Resilience Framework shoing the Thames Barrier on a blue sky day

It’s a blue-sky day. The Thames Barrier is one of the key flood defences which will have a role to play in a changing climate. There are no people present. The perspective calls to mind Zallinger’s March of Progress.

March of Progress alongside Thames Barrier

Maybe I’m overanalysing. Let us move on to the meat of the document.

The call for evidence was structured around 6 thematic areas. These have been distilled into 3 fundamental principles which will guide the Government’s approach to resilience to 2030:

  • a shared understanding of risks ;
  • focus on prevention and preparation and
  • a whole-of-society approach.

When the Government launch a ‘new thing’ if often comes with a list of actions which have already been taken. This framework is no different, setting out that the disbandment of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat and formation of a new Resilience Directorate in the Cabinet Office is something more substantial than another ‘recasting’.

Whilst the framework frequently comes back to the 3 fundamental principles above, for me, so much of it is about being more accountable. That’s a brilliant thing.

Emergency management in the UK is separated out across many organisations and layers of governance, which adds diversity of thought but also significant complexity. The byproduct of the Government being more accountable to itself through initiatives such as an annual statement on preparedness and enhancing the use of standards will provide much-needed clarity at the local level. Are those things enough? I expect not, but they are a starting point and perhaps a path towards greater year-round scrutiny.

There are interesting thoughts on leadership and accountability for resilience at the local level. The main suggestion is to explore “evolving the nature of the LRF Chair role” to a “full-time Chief Resilience Officer” and for enhanced integration with local place-making. In theory, I can see this working well in some areas and less well in other areas. It will be interesting to see how positions such as this are appointed, trained and what powers they are provided with. On the surface, it seems similar to the Police and Crime Commissioner model. There is less detail on the Head of Resilience role, and what relationship this will have with Chief Resilience Officers and practitioners. Does it feel a bit like the Chief Coroner role perhaps?

Some more recasting occurs later in the form of the Emergency Planning College being rebadged as the UK Resilience Academy. The good news though, is that it sounds like there will be some coming together or a federation of existing provision and improvements to the accessibility of training.

There are some aspects such as a “greater role for Defence reserves” and aspects relating to working with insurers and regulators which could have been elaborated on. Unsurprisingly, the framework is light on detail in terms of funding and how wider organisations and communities will be involved. Those aspects are critical to ensuring the right resources are in place and that the circumstances of everyone in our communities are considered in planning and response. Whilst the call for evidence noted the limitations of funding, the framework does little to set out what will actually change.

But I have to say that I’m excited by this new era (and maybe I wasn’t overthinking it before with the evolution comparison); I look forward to seeing this recasting coming to fruition and playing my part in enhancing future resilience.

Future Leader Scheme: Module Four – knitting things together

Future Leader Scheme: Module Four – knitting things together

Reading Time: 7 minutes


Not long ago I was looking back on a couple of days spent in York for module three of the Civil Service Future Leader Scheme. Previous modules each considered leadership through the respective lenses of self, team and environment. Between the last module and this, I’ve changed job roles. This has meant a bit of a transitional time and being more intentional about the leader that I want and how best to support my team, instead of feeling limited to minor adjustments whilst the vehicle is already in motion.

The objective of this final session was designed to knit together those separate strands into a more complete awareness and understanding. On arrival in Coventry, I was greeted by this poster, which guided me through the following few days.

Sharing your emotions doesn;t make you 'too' sensitive

As with the other modules, I found bits of Day 1 challenging. I felt myself react emotionally to some of the discussions; it’s helpful to be able to reflect more objectively now some time has passed. Like other modules, I pushed through and found things did click together on Day 2.

Things that I learned:


  • I’ve shared how valuable I found co-coaching before so I was pleased to see it form part of this module too.
  • Again, I was struck by how insightful their comments were even after such a short period of time, in particular, their observations about me weighing up different things and ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to contribute, which is something I feel myself doing so it’s good to know it’s recognised!
  • It’s such a great way to get in-depth and honest feedback coming from a place of total impartiality. FLS is a scheme of motivated and ambitious individuals yet because it’s mixed groups and not connected with the day-to-day work, it doesn’t feel at all competitive.

Recap of course so far

  • We had a quick review of the range of tools, techniques and theories that we have touched on over the previous modules. When seen as a collective there is a lot of new information that has been shared…

Slide showing range of models and theories discussed

  • We discussed the Plan/Do/Reflect/Think loop, and the different communication styles required at different stages. I have to confess to being a little confused (and bored) by the ‘four-category models’, so many management and leadership theories seem to boil down to that, and I worry about oversimplification. I would also like to better understand whether/how this particular cycle is different to others such as Plan/Do/Check/Act and Observe/Orient/Decide/Act.
  • There can be a disconnect between what we know of ourselves and what others know, and sometimes others can know us better or differently than we might assume. Most people were familiar with the Johari window, but this discussion took that further and introduced the ’56 adjectives’ exercise.
  • Inspired by Anna Shipman’s experiment, I’ve also asked co-workers for their views via a google form. Partly I hope to be able to use this evidence in the submission of the end-of-course assignment, but it’s also opened my eyes to another way of seeking quick feedback.
  • One of the tutors talked a bit about ‘making the unconscious conscious, and we’ve all heard ‘ignorance is bliss‘ but are those two things sort of in competition? Or at least you have to accept that not being ignorant is hard both practically and emotionally.

Serious Play

  • An early task in this module was to play with Lego! (my kind of activity!) We were asked to create something which portrayed ‘the leader you want to be’ as individuals and then as a group build something to show ‘the support required in our leadership journey’.
  • I found the different approaches that people took to the challenge interesting. Did they get stuck in straight away and build from the heart, or did they take time to consider and build from the head? My own approach, based on a lego piece that spoke to me (a ladder), was to build based on a broad idea about leadership as a series of connections and relationships.
  • In the group build (picture below), I was nominated to take the lead, which I was initially a little uncomfortable with – it felt like a lot of pressure to try to create something which spoke to what others had imagined. The approach to this was different, more planned and collaborative – asking people what they felt and whether I was getting things right or if anything needed to change. DONK! It’s only just dawned on me that it in itself was a leadership lesson about inclusivity and asking for feedback!
  • Playing with Lego won’t be for everyone, it’s a case of having to pick and choose the moments for serious play. It could become a gimmick which loses its value, but I think it could be useful in the right circumstances.

Organisational Trauma

  • This session generated intense debate and reflection. It’s also an area that could have been difficult to discuss, so I commend the tutors for handling it sensitively.
  • I was surprised that for such a human-centred concept as trauma, the definition we were asked to consider had zero reference to people and was all about serving the bottom line.
  • I definitely can see that organisations themselves can be vulnerable to and impacted by both shocks and chronic stresses, and this can compound and be compounded by the stresses of individuals within the organisation. This is an area that I want to learn more about as I think it’s highly relevant to emergency management, and found this guide which looks very helpful.
  • We were asked to think about potential ways of addressing this trauma, and one of the discussions was to be more creative and get outside of our existing comfort zones, perhaps by holding discussions in new environments.
  • I’m unclear from the course what agency any one person has to do anything about organisational trauma, which did leave a bit of a feeling of despair.

Using Your Voice

  • Excitingly, and following on from our own advice in the previous discussion, we were in a different environment for this part of the module – Coventry University’s TV studio.
  • If you’ve ever been accused of having a telephone voice, then somebody has noticed you varying your communication style, and that’s what this section was exploring, based on feedback from a survey which we had completed earlier.
  • With so many examples of good and bad communicators, it’s a slight shame that there were;t more opportunities to dissect examples and look at what made them good/bad.
  • We were asked to form small groups and provide a 5-minute briefing on the topic of “returning to the workplace post-COVID”. No further instructions were given, and our group decided to experiment with a ‘directing’ style of communication.
  • Being filmed added another layer, and I found myself being far more conscious of my body language than I would have been in just a presentation and being concerned that I was fidgeting. I really enjoyed the opportunity to practice in a safe space, and to have feedback from peers. Interestingly, they also commented on my body language, however with the opposite observation; I was too still! Having access to the recordings means that we’re also able to go back and review these presentations, and I expect to see other things watching it more dispassionately.

How am I getting on with my earlier FLS commitments? 

Another run-through of whether I’ve kept my promises to myself…I committed to:

  • Be more intentional about reflection. Update: 8/10. A slight decline by one point. The protected time for reflection in my diary remains, however a change in job role means that my weekly Team emails have slipped in the last couple of weeks. I wonder if there is a way that I can continue to document my reflection – I’ve found those emails helpful in the sense of having a ‘deadline’ and having built a level of expectation, and I think I need that structure so that I commit to reflecting.
  • Ask my team and colleagues for more feedback on how I work. Update: 9/10. I’ve made great strides in this area over the last few months. Partly that has been as a result of changing roles and inviting feedback as part of my handovers and exit interviews. I also took a more intentional approach to asking for feedback after challenging meetings. Perhaps this exposes a bias towards the negative and I should seek feedback irrespective of how I feel an interaction went.
  • Review my personal objectives to make them more values-based. Update2/10. I am still struggling quite a lot with this. I have convinced myself that traditional objectives don’t sit well with me, and it’s been helpful to hear similar perspectives from others in my FLS cohort. However, I haven’t yet determined or documented values-based objectives, which should probably happen before the end of the course.
  • Push myself to be more forthcoming at an earlier stage. Update: 7/10. This is still an area that I know I need to work on. Going into Module 4 I decided to specifically explore this and made a conscious effort to be more forthcoming. I contributed more in lecture sessions (about both content and my feelings), took leadership roles in group activities, nominated myself to provide plenary feedback and put myself forwards for the on-camera activity. It was therefore interesting that my co-coach still observed that “you can do this rapid evaluation and always have something of value to add but sometimes I feel that you want to speak up but don’t”.
  • I want to take advantage of co-coaching. Update: 4/10. I had good intentions but then with moving jobs between modules I have to start again with finding my ‘tribe’ of peers that I work with and connect with. I’ve already started doing that, but it has slowed progress on this particular objective.
  • Practice using other conflict approaches to build muscle memory. Update: 2/10. I try to avoid conflict where possible, so haven’t really been able to practice this. I’ll continue trying to find ways of approaching this.
  • Be a bit more vulnerable. Update: 8/10. I’ve really tried quite hard to do this. What I’ve realised is that vulnerability doesn’t always have to mean bearing your soul, but can also be seen as weighing up options, explaining decision-making processes and offering more information than is required. Like most things, the more you try the less daunting things become, so this is still a work in progress in terms of effectiveness, but I’m scoring myself highly on the basis of effort!

This isn’t the last of my FLS blog posts; I’ve still got some ‘homework to do’ and want to give myself a window of time to explore concepts from this recent module, but if you’ve been following the journey then thank you, and look out for the next post in the New Year.

Highlights from Emergency Management Twitter

Highlights from Emergency Management Twitter

Reading Time: 7 minutes


Elon Musk’s arrival at Twitter was already something to be concerned about. The option to purchase a verified account was a major sign that things were hanging in the balance. Then he started with the all-staff emails and layoffs (which look shonky in terms of employment law). For emergency management this raises all of the red flags; sounds all of the alarms.

There’s currently a lot of doom on my timeline; and in classic twitter style, a lot of memes! If anything, I’ve noted a slight reversal to the Twitter of old, more conversation and camaraderie.

I joined Twitter in 2009 and have been a heavy user ever since. It’s become my go-to place for information of all kinds, as well as how I’ve built connections and friendships.

The anticipatory grief about the loss of Twitter is real. My hope for Twitter is that the disruption settles. Similarly to my hope for the NHS, it’ll reform, rebrand and things will change, but it will ultimately endure. However, on both counts, I think it’s a case of wait and see…

In an attempt to avoid doom-scrolling here are some quick thoughts about Twitter highlights in an emergency management context. (Note: I’d typically embed tweets but with the speculation, I’ve included screengrabs instead)

Breaking News

The shift from having TV news at programmed intervals to rolling news channels in the late 1990s was huge. Those channels then had to find content to fill their airtime, and so emerged the idea of ‘citizen journalism‘. This was linked to rapidly increasing access to mobile phones which gave journalists the ability to speak to people in the midst of a breaking story.

The rise of social media was another step change in how we consume news. The speed and scale of Twitter (and perhaps the original ability to send tweets via SMS) made it the place for breaking news and a kaleidoscope of real-time updates.

As an emergency manager, this is extremely helpful to help us build ‘situational awareness’, and we enhanced our skills in verification and validation to process information from a wide variety of sources.

For major broadcasters and publishers, Twitter is still a major part of their newsgathering strategy. Both they and viewers will need to adjust to another new way to consume news.

Where it all began (for me at least)

One of my earliest Twitter memories relates to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008, and I’m not alone in that experience:

I joined Twitter in November 2008, so 14 years ago. I vividly remember using it to follow the Mumbai attacks that unfolded that month. It was a fresh and visceral way to consume news. And even now, watching the curation of Telegram channels documenting Kherson, it still is.

Countless disasters and crisis events since have been live-tweeted. I couldn’t list them all, but the replies to this post do more than I would ever be able to collate.

Tweet reads: When is a time you used Twitter to help you during a disaster?

Even pop singer @OllyMurs tried to get in on sharing disaster news in 2017.


With Twitter emerging as a place for breaking news, there was an early adoption by Emergency Managers.

Communities developed around shared interests and found new ways to have distributed and often asynchronous conversations.

  • #SMEMChat – provided an organised, facilitated, and moderated discussion every Friday, with key emergency management topics or developments being debated in public
  • #EMGTwitter emerged as a way of categorising emergency management tweets

Tweet reads: Here’s something I’ve wondered… What is the G for in #EMGTwitter?

  • #EUCivPro initially seemed to start as a promotion of the European Union’s disaster response arrangements, but then got adopted by emergency managers working across Europe.

Sharing knowledge and increasing visibility

Twitter allows us an insight into users’ lives, or at least what they choose to share. Whilst this hasn’t always been a good thing, and some people have been better at it than others, here are some things I think are good:

  • For a long time, the official @NHS account handed the keyboard to actual members of NHS staff to share frontline insights.
  • Similarly, many Police, Fire and Ambulance services provided ‘from the control room’ days – giving a first-hand account of the types and numbers of calls received
  • Live tweeting from conferences.
  • Live tweeting through TV shows and Movies – such as the popular #EPMOVIENIGHT created by yours truly, or DisasterologistsAtTheMovies headed by John Carr and Samantha Montano from the USA.
  • It has revolutionised politics with the rise of the ‘Twitter presidency’ and the ability to speak directly to any other user. But on a more local level, it has allowed emergency managers to see behind the curtain of senior leaders who use the platform, and for emergency managers themselves to become more visible (until they were ignored).

Raising awareness

Quite how effective Twitter-only campaigns are is a bit of an unknown, but there have been a variety of long-running initiatives to leverage social media to spread awareness. This is important because it represents a change in approaching these sorts of campaigns – meeting people in the spaces they are already using.

  • Twitter has been used to share details of the post-disaster impacts of a range of different crises, and to raise money to support recovery projects. No better example than this from Britney Spears:

tweet reads: I’ve teamed up with @RedCross and @crowdrise to raise funds for the victims of the horrible flooding in my home state of Louisiana.

  • It’s regularly used to share details of disaster anniversaries, helping to ensure that both the people affected and the lessons from those incidents are not forgotten.
  • Strike action on the London Underground in 2014 was an opportunity for Leonard Cheshire to raise awareness about the accessibility of the tube network.
  • Awareness campaigns often took a three-word slogan #TestItTuesday, #RunHideTell, and #HandsFaceSpace which often got appropriated by Twitter users with varying degrees of support or snark.
  • There has even been an attempt to introduce September as ‘preparedness month’ spearheaded by the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency (CRESA) 30 Days 30 Ways campaign. The UK adopted this in 2015 and it’s been nurtured by my colleagues Joanne Maddams and Monika Al-Mufti who established @30Days30WaysUK (whose month of activity in September 2022 experienced its own ’emergency’ resulting postponement of scheduled posts)

Out of respect we are pausing #30days30waysUK until further notice


a screen grab of a tweet with the test: Happy 11th Birthday #VOST! Thanks to @_JSPhillips @CherylBle @sct_r & all the original #SMEMCamp #140confNW & National #VOAD era #VOST-ies

Disaster Memes and other fun things

The post-disaster fake news shark became a common theme, with some notable sightings in the floodwaters of Sydney in 2014, Houston, Texas in 2015, and then Belfast in 2017. People became wise to it though and called the UK Government out when they posted this:

Tweet which reads: Flooding is a real problem in many parts of the UK, but @hmtreasury is irresponsible posting graphics like this. Sharks do not attack houses in Britain.

In case you were worried about its welfare, the post-disaster shark was most recently spotted back in Sydney in 2022…A manipulated photo posted with a tweet which reads:Parramatta railway station in Sydney flooded. Bull shark out of the nearby river.

And what would this post be without reference to the original disaster meme and link to the Quarantelli Meme Thread?

Tweet which reads: A big part of our digital holdings are what we, broadly, refer to as “Disaster Memes”. We only started officially collecting these a few years ago- prior to 2016, they would have been cataloged more generally under “disaster humor”.

Without Twitter, would we have had such scintillating office conversations as “is the dress blue and black or white and gold‘ or ‘are there more windows or doors in the world‘. And not forgetting this mic-drop moment (the actual tweet has been deleted but this fan account continues its legacy)!

Tweet reads: Arrogant and offensive. Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters?

Connection, support & challenge

Crucially, perhaps most importantly of all, Twitter has been a support channel, especially in times of trouble. It has helped people to connect with their tribe to discuss issues, seek advice, build confidence and form friendships.

Sometimes tribes have clashed, and Twitter’s inaction to combat hate speech (and provide a solution to the edit button saga) is certainly a factor in the platform becoming more adversarial. However, in my experience, the good times massively outnumbered the bad.

An exchange on twitter regarding a difference of opinion on 'grab bags'

Your highlights

I’ll be sticking around on Twitter for as long as possible. I don’t think the alternative platforms offer the same experience. However, as a good contingency planner, I have now got an active account on Mastodon, which I’m learning to use and connect with other twitterers in exile.

How have you used and seen Twitter used in emergencies? What are your highlights and what do you think will happen next? Share with me @mtthwhgn…for as long as you’re able!

Infant feeding in emergencies

Infant feeding in emergencies

Reading Time: 6 minutes


My knowledge of infant feeding is scarce. I’ve got a few friends who’ve had babies recently, including one whose child is fed by nasogastric tube, so I’ve picked up some bits along the way, but haven’t given it much explicit thought, certainly not professionally. As a consequence, much of my own language around this is likely to be a bit clumsy, apologies upfront for any insensitivity; I hope that by talking about it I can learn more.

An image showing a 2007 booklet titles Infant and Young Child Feeding in EmergenciesThe issue of feeding babies and the link with emergency management gained a bit of attention this summer linked to a shortage of formula in the United States, and there are a couple of previous incidents which provide indications that this is a potential issue worthy of further work including:

  • the 2008 Chinese milk scandal where infant formula (and other products) were deliberately contaminated with melamine causing kidney issues for infants or,
  • the 2013 New Zealand recall of milk products used in the production of infant formula after suspected botulism-causing bacteria were found in 1,000 tonnes of product.


I first became aware of human milk banks through the Midland Freewheelers a ‘blood bike’ scheme where volunteers distribute blood and blood products in support of the NHS. But despite their name, blood bike schemes also transport human milk from milk banks (and solution for Faecal Microbiota Transplants, but I’ll let you have the pleasure of googling that).

This post pulls together my thoughts from a recent workshop convened by Gillian Weaver and Dr Natalie Shenker from the Human Milk Foundation. I’m sharing my reflections on the workshop to bring awareness to those who (like me) might not have thought about infant feeding in emergencies before, and to try to break down what is a complex and convoluted area.

There are two principal ways that infants can be fed – breastmilk or formula. This is a highly highly sensitive area of discussion; donated breastmilk helps to save the lives of premature and sick babies, supports those with feeding challenges, unable to lactate or who have no breast tissue, milk donors may be very recently bereaved, and there are cultural issues at play too. The priority of an emergency manager is ensuring needs are met rather than making any value judgements, in this case about how children are fed.

Risk Identification

Discussion at the workshop revealed the potential for a range of different types of emergencies that could impact both ways of feeding in different ways. Thinking about these different scenarios quickly becomes a bit overwhelming. Two solutions to that, firstly to temporarily ‘take the human out of the equation’ and look just at the problem, and secondly, to try to break down the problem into more manageable chunks. There are lots of different scenarios which could impact infant feeding, but there are fewer ‘common consequences’, so it makes more sense to consider those. 

It also makes sense to consider risks in the context of acute and chronic stressors, for instance:

  • Acute stressors could be things like electricity disruption, which has short-term implications for keeping frozen milk frozen and perhaps the ability to communicate with milk donors.
  • Chronic stressors could be attributes such as an apparent lack of common operating model and resource pressures, these have longer-term impacts on the day-to-day services and exacerbate, and can be exacerbated by, the acute stressors.  

During the workshop discussion, I was drawn towards thinking about a trifecta of supply/demand imbalance, pinch points and interoperability, something like this… 

Image of a hand drawn diagram on lined paper showing a triangle of factors, supply/demand, pinch points and interoperabilityEach risk scenario has differential impacts on each of those parameters; some are more obvious than others. For instance, lockdown restrictions might impact the ability to donate milk (supply/demand) but perhaps less obvious is research which shows that the stress of an emergency may impact the ability to donate milk (also supply/demand)

Having considered the risks based on those three factors, I would then move towards building resilience in each area – take each factor in turn and explore what could be done to mitigate the impact of risks:

Pinch points

Some people mentioned that there could be issues in terms of insufficient freezer space, so there is a very practical step of looking at options to increase capacity – the obvious place is to buy more freezers, but perhaps there are other options to consider the shelf life of human milk, ability to rapidly scale up and down donation services and to consider other storage options (there is exciting work to consider whether freeze-dried milk might offer a feasible alternative solution). Another aspect which came up as a potential pinch point related to supply chain issues affecting commercially produced infant formula, which could perhaps be counteracted by exploring options to increase domestic production.


That’s a bit of a jargony title, but essentially means working together. Not all risks will be geographically dispersed like a pandemic, some which be much more local. A degree of resilience would come through being able to turn to/offer help to other milk banks facing issues. However, different milk banks seem to do things differently, which means they’re less able to lean on each other for support in times of pressure. It could be a useful step to explore this starting with a kind of buddy system.


There is a background context of changing usage to be aware of here, milk bank use has increased over recent years and continues that trend. In addition, there could be situations where there are short-term changes to supply. The most recent fuel supply issues in the UK had a notable impact on donations, presumably because people couldn’t travel to drop off or collect donations. Supply chain issues for formula (such as those in America, China or New Zealand) may lead people to divert to milk bank usage, increasing demand. As mentioned already, the stress of an emergency can impact milk production – so another ‘easy win’ would be for there to be better support on this issue for people who are displaced, perhaps considering deploying lactation support workers to rest centres?

The contamination of formula with cronobacter sakazaki and the complexity of the infant formula production network received specific consideration from Simon Cameron from Queens University Belfast; this links to existing food chain biosecurity considerations (as described briefly on page 61 of the National Risk Register).

Charting a course to overcome the challenges

Many of these issues are business continuity issues for the milk banking and formula sector to resolve, and better data would help understand the scale of the challenges and the costs of action and inaction. However, they have friends in the public health, environmental health, healthcare and emergency management communities. A large part of emergency management is making friends before you need them rather than when you need them.

In my experience, current arrangements for supporting breastfeeding and infant feeding in an emergency in the UK are inadequate. People affected by an emergency may be taken to a ‘survivor reception centre’ or ‘rest centre’, they might get a cup of tea and a pamphlet explaining what support is available. It is unlikely that there will be specific, adequate and appropriate facilities for preparing infant formula. Making sure these locations are accessible for people with mobility needs is standard, why isn’t that the case for infant feeding needs? Emergency planners should give this greater consideration.

There is international guidance on this (from UNHCR in 2007, and more recently this guidance from the Philippines and this guide from the US CDC in 2022), so this isn’t starting from scratch, and there is clearly a wealth of experience in the human milk and infant feeding sector that should be tapped into. However, the most shocking thing to me is that this is all voluntary, seemingly run by volunteers. That there is no national service for human milk is astounding, and perhaps the most effective risk mitigation would be for the importance of this service to be recognised. 

Another area where I think emergency managers could assist is to invite milk bank and infant feeding representatives into relevant conversations and exercises. It’s not just the practical element of feeding infants, but also the psychosocial impacts on parents, and considering this practical issue may help reduce distress for adults. We agreed to explore opportunities for observer attendance at rest centre exercises to start building stronger bridges between sectors, so I look forward to reporting back on that before too long.

Finally, perhaps each of us can take action as individuals too:

  • Learn more about human milk donation – the UK Association of Human Milk Banking is a good place to start.
  • Ask friends and family with children under 5 years old what steps they have taken to consider emergencies. Encourage them to join the Priority Services Register of their energy company to get extra support.
  • Find your local milk bank and consider making a donation (they accept donations of cash as well as milk!)
  • Consider writing to your MP to bring this issue to their attention and ask them to lend their support to this much-needed service.  
Future Leader Scheme: Module Three OR… When training courses give you lemons

Future Leader Scheme: Module Three OR… When training courses give you lemons

Reading Time: 5 minutes


Earlier in the year I blogged about my experience and reflections at the first module of the Civil Service Future Leader Scheme. I made a commitment to share blogs after each module, and promptly failed to blog about module 2! Not a great start, but let me explain…

In June, Network Rail and 13 Train Operators took strike action. That caused difficulties to travel arrangements and the decision was taken to shift to virtual delivery. There was much opposition, given the additional benefits of meeting in person, but ultimately the decision had been made.

2 days of training from my dining room was about as far from stimulating and thought provoking as it’s possible to get. Frankly I just didn’t feel inspired to write about it.

The great news is that Module 3 was back to in person delivery in glorious York, and was enlightening (and a little provocative). As with the first module, I’m documenting my early reflections ( subject to the group agreement about confidentiality) after two days of examining and challenging concepts relating to partnership working.

In 1642 the Dean of St Pauls Cathedral, John Donne, gave a sermon and said

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; is a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

There’s some heavy irony given Brexit, but this really encapsulates my views about partnership working. Everything is a partnership, or a collection of partnerships, or a complex, interdependent system of partnerships. We champion qualities such as independence and self-reliance, but non of us can exist without others, nor would we want to. Partnerships are fundamental to how society functions.

Things that I learned:


  • An early activity was to highlight a personal strength and match with somebody who’s strength was an area for your own development.
  • I’m good in a crisis (helpful, that!) and comfortable with ambiguity, shades of grey, messiness and shifting sands. I matched with somebody far more disciplined, boundaried and goal oriented to be my co-coach, providing feedback on our observations at the end of the course.
  • This built on the Module 1 advice that self reflection isn’t enough, it is helpful to hear feedback from people who are not like us.
  • This was incredibly powerful and I’m very grateful to my co-coach and it was fascinating what they observed about me within just a couple of days, it all rang true but was delivered in ways which would have taken me far longer if I was just navel gazing.


  • Picciotto’s definition that partnerships are “a means to an end – a collaborative relationship toward mutually agreed objectives, involving shared responsibility for outcomes, distinct accountabilities and reciprocal obligations” generated much debate, particularly about whether they are a means to an end, or could be an end in themselves.
  • We talked about whether partners were equal and how power relationships affect the relationship and ways of working.
  • Considering how we might improve on Picciotto’s definition we covered factors such as trust and transparency, but also recognised that there would be limits to that, and that different partnerships might need different things as a result of their context and personalities.
  • There were suggestions that the definition also needed to reference clarity, but I’m less sure about whether that is the goal, or if understanding would be more suitable – in some respects it’s easy to have clarity, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people understand.


  • Various activities and scenarios were presented where we were invited to consider rules and assumptions.
  • The first activity related to an escape room challenge. I love an escape room however, this activity rubbed me up the wrong way because it seemed to suggest that rules don’t matter, which I feel opens the gate to anarchy. If the objective was to ask us to consider what assumptions we might be making, rather than suggesting if we don’t like the rules then change them then the exercise failed for me.
  • Other activities related to ‘trading’ and ‘making a case’, both of these were interesting explorations and it was interesting to get feedback from the trainers that our our cohort collectively took a different and more collegiate approach, especially to the first scenario.
  • The most useful learning for me came from approaching the same negotiation but from different mindsets (avoidance, accommodation, collaboration, compromise and competition), where both individual preferences.
  • We considered the role of the Civil Service and it’s relationship to Government, democracy and morality. One particular conundrum is whether it’s better to work on something you’re passionate about or if that can present challenges to objectivity. I also have an emerging question about the use of consultants and contractors and whether this client-supplier relationship also impacts on objectivity.

Negotiations and Conflict

  • Distributive vs Integrative negotiations – each have their advantages and uses, but also limitations. Need to consider in advance what might style might work best for a particular negotiation.
  • For me there was a lot to learn from the session on preparing in advance for a negotiation. I frequently witness people doing this but rarely seem to find time to do it myself. A useful structure provided to structure negotiations was Process/Behaviour/Substance. In my world things like the Joint Decision Model provide a helpful process, the developed plans or emergency responders represent the substance, but perhaps the bit that is missing relates to behaviours. A useful technique to develop further.
  • There was also a connection, for me, back to the ‘VoicePrint’ work of Module 1, where different negotiations can literally require a different tone of voice.

New Commitments: 

  • I want to take advantage of co-coaching – exploring options for that and to learn how to get better at giving and receiving feedback
  •  I will practice using other conflict approaches which I’m less comfortable with – I currently feel anxious about using these which is a negative feedback loop, so if I try using them more, maybe I’ll change how I feel also.
  • I’ll attempt to be a bit more vulnerable myself – this also doesn’t come naturally (and maybe should explore that further separately), but it seemed to be a useful negotiation technique to build rapport and empathy.

How am I getting on with my earlier FLS commitments? 

A quick stocktake on whether I’ve kept my promises to myself…I committed to:

  • Be more intentional about reflection. Update: 9/10! I have allocated a weekly half hour slot, late-ish on a Friday afternoon, to consolidate my thoughts, what has gone well, what could have happened differently, what I’ve learned and what’s stood out in the things I’ve read. I’m capturing these reflections and sharing with my team and have received feedback that it’s often the favourite email of the week – perhaps because I make extensive use of emoji’s. 🤷‍♂️
  • Ask my team and colleagues for more feedback on how I work. Update: 6/10. I have tried to do this, prompting my team in their quarterly development conversations to consider this and seeking their input on an essay relating to leadership but still find it a little awkward. On the advice of my coach, I also asked some friends how they see me, and whilst there were differences, there are some consistent themes in their observation of my behaviour.
  • Review my personal objectives to make them more values-based. Update: 2/10. I haven’t fully completed this yet, it’s harder than I thought to marry my personal values to some objectives and activities in the workplace.
  • Push myself to be more forthcoming at an earlier stage. Update: 6/10. To be honest this has been hit and miss. I volunteer to get involved and to lead pieces of work, I make my views known and try to bring balance to discussions. However, I recognise that my comfort zone is to listen before speaking. Lots of things you read encourage listening before speaking and when I hear ‘be more forthcoming’ I internalise that as ‘speaking without thinking’. That’s not helpful, but I think the feedback is actually about being a bit more transparent, and that’s something that requires more work.

The next module is in November, so come back then to check on my progress and latest musings!

Future Leader Scheme: Module One

Future Leader Scheme: Module One

Reading Time: 4 minutes


Last year I was encouraged by my manager* to apply for the Civil Service Future Leader Scheme. I applied without expectation, was invited to a selection interview and heard I’d been selected towards in the autumn. And then…nothing!

For months there was a confusing barrage of messages, emails, virtual meetings and online platform messages, but little-to-no directed learning activity.

In part delays have been due to the COVID pandemic, and I suspect that wrangling 400 students and multiple levels of technology competence is no mean feat. But the course didn’t give me good vibes.

However, I’m writing this post on the train back from Coventry and can honestly say that it was one of the most stimulating courses I’ve attended in some time and a privilege to spend time with an array of people with massively interesting positions and unique challenges.

There were two consistent themes in the discussion for me, one about reflection and one about accountability. Which is why I’m planning to blog about my experience of the scheme; to force myself to reflect on the learning activities, organise my thoughts and set intentions, openly, about putting learning into practice. I can then come back and review these to see whether I have followed through on my intentions, and I welcome that challenge externally too.

As a group we agreed some rules, one of which was about confidentiality. Definitely don’t read this series of blogs looking for the latest scoop! They’ll be high level reflections rather than my verbatim notes and I won’t quote anyone directly. Where possible I’ll try to credit any intellectual property, but it’s not always obvious what is/isn’t IP! If I’ve inadvertently reproduced something without attribution or permission then I’d be happy to edit or remove.

Objectives and Overview of the FLS Module 1 course:

  • Outline the structure of the programme and define a working agreement.
  • Define critical reflection and explore links to self-awareness and leadership.
  • Reflect on values, biases and assumptions which underpin leadership.
  • Consider the impact of a leader’s behaviour on others.
  • Form an Action Learning Set and practice the skills needed.
  • Reflect on aspirations and outline steps needed to achieve them.

We were also asked, as part of the course to ‘share an image of leadership’. There were some great contributions and rationale given, and I’ve made a note to look into the pack behaviour of wolves as a result!

The image that I chose was of the part-submerged US Airways flight 1549, which made an emergency landing on water in January 2009. The pilot of the plane, Chelsey Sullenberger, said in a later interview that “it was comforting to me to know that [the cabin crew] were on the same page, that we were all acting in concert” and about creating the conditions for other people to perform their role effectively.

a plane, US Airways flight 1549, shown half submerged in water following an amergency landing in January 2009 on the Hudson River, New York

Things that I learned (sorry this is a lot of bullet points):


  • Holding up a mirror to ourselves isn’t enough – mirrors can be distorted and we might need some constructive, objective feedback
  • A working agreement is a charter between a group which sets out the norms for how the group intends to operate. It helps to create a safe, supportive space.
  • Try to recognise where your feelings are (and label them – ‘name the demon’) before responding.
  • Reflection is a helpful diagnostic tool and way of embedding learning. We all do it differently and what works for one won’t work for another. Think about getting a better balance between mandated reflection (formal development conversations) and situational or spontaneous reflection.


  • Are our relationships with people different, is knowing people different, as a result of the pandemic? What does leadership look like in that context?
  • The Johari Window wasn’t new as a concept, but it was the first time that I’ve seen it in this way, with the focus being not just on understanding where different traits sit, but what actions we can take through self-disclosure, external feedback and shared exploration.
  • ‘Knowing’ is not just what people tell you or is documented. There are things we know which it is hard to define or articulate.
  • Find ways to seek more information using open questions and strategically deployed silence.
  • We each have values, but those values exist in a hierarchy. Can also consider ‘anti-values’.
  • Where do values come from in a secular society?
  • Emotional intelligence varies, be aware of, accommodate and support neurodivergence.
  • Can also use empathy to find common ground and positives. Where does somebody get their energy from? Doesn’t always have to be a negative emotion/situation that is being empathised with.

Values and objectives

  • What do you want, and what are you prepared to do for it?
  • As you get more senior more people are looking towards you. It’s lonely at the top and you can trust feedback less. Find a tribe who can give the honest feedback you need.
  • Make one change at a time so you can determine cause and effect.
  • There are leaders and there are influencers. If they’re not the same people, find and connect them.
  • Consider the influence of culture on how you present yourself and how other people interpret you.
  • When the rate of learning > rate of change = thriving conditions.

Things I’ll (try) to do differently as a result:

  • Be more intentional about reflection – allocate a half day each week
  • Ask my team and colleagues for more feedback on how I work – including perhaps asking them to draw a picture of my leadership!
  • Review my personal objectives to consider where I can make them more values-based, which feels more natural and comfortable to me than what I see as destination-based goals.
  • Push myself to be more forthcoming at an earlier stage.

An activity that I enjoyed was to draw ‘our vision of a leader in the 21st century’. My contribution is below, without interpretation because I’d be interested in how this is perceived! Drop me a tweet or leave a comment (not about my artistic prowess please)!

drawing of a figure with brain and heart identified and linked with a green arrow, a series of connected dots, some of which are obscured by a dark shape and some are illuminate by light

The next module of the course isn’t until the summer, but there are virtual events and sessions interspersed so I intend to cover those in much the same way.


* I have a slight philosophical issue with ‘manager’ which I’d like to explore more some other time. To me, the idea of ‘managing’ carries a connotation of coping, rather than excelling and improving. For that reason, I’m more drawn to leadership than management.