Resilience Strategy – An Open Response to the Call for Evidence

Resilience Strategy – An Open Response to the Call for Evidence

Reading Time: 15 minutes


The UK Government has just closed a ‘call for evidence’ seeking views to inform the development of a new National Resilience Strategy, setting out the vision for resilience to 2030.

This process was (technically) open to anyone, so I put in my own response. It runs to slightly less than 9,000 words. The management of emergencies is something which should be important to everyone, especially after the last 18 months and in the face of a changing climate.

The call for evidence was structured into sections. I only answered relevant questions (in italics below) and fully expect that my views won’t be shared by everyone. That’s a good thing, it means we can have more debate, which is one of the biggest things that I think is missing; talking about this more openly.

Questions on Vision and Principles:

Do you agree with the proposed vision of the Resilience Strategy? Is there anything you would add, amend, or remove?

It is encouraging that the Government is reflecting on COVID experiences and has recognised that change is required.

A UK National Resilience Strategy would go some way towards meeting one of the six Sendai Framework objectives. That Framework also runs to 2030 and therefore it should be considered whether this is an opportunity to more formally set out the UKs approach to meeting the remaining objectives.

The vision reads as political manifesto rather than as actionable policy. What does the ‘most resilient nation’ mean in practice? The UK being the most resilient implies a league table situation which some nations are judged to be at the bottom of. How does the Government  propose to measure and report on its resilience compared to that of other nations? The UK model is quite different to many other nations and this would make comparison tricky. This is borne out through existing international programmes such as UNISDR Resilient Cities.

Whilst a convenient image, I feel that terms like ‘bounce back’ or ‘return to normal’ don’t really capture the difficulties, challenges and complexities of the post disaster situation, and can generate a condition where learning is not a fundamental part of the process.

Do you agree with the principles laid out for the strategy? Is there anything you would add, amend, or remove?

Risk Assessment

  • The recognition of the impact of vulnerability as well as risk impact and likelihood is positive. Communities are not static not homogenous and different factors influence how people respond to risk. 
  • Twigg (2007) offered a report to DFID with some perspectives on the characteristics of a disaster-resilient community.
  • Taleb (2012) also offers some considerations on the status of being anti-fragile, which could be helpful for reframing and taking a more vulnerability informed approach.

Prevention, Mitigation and Recovery Investment

  • There needs to be more national energy put in to creating a culture of learning where people feel safe to share lessons without fear of blame. Failure to learn from past incidents is well documented (Pollock (2013), Kernick (2021)) and I couldn’t see explicit references to learning in the documentation.
  • The work of Resilience First (2020) is also helpful for considering the ‘ingredients and enablers’ of resilience in an urban context, but with broad applicability.

Empowering Everyone

  • The significant contribution of volunteers (both formal and informal) to the COVID response is evidence of untapped capacities. However, the approach needs to be sensitive and recognise that many people may have felt obligated to volunteer due to shortfalls in statutory response. Therefore ‘empowering’ could be seen as dismissive of their COVID experience.
  • Similarly, sensitively managed but open and honest public debate would assist in keeping the Resilience Strategy grounded as well as manage public expectations (Braw 2021).

Questions on Risk and Resilience:

Is there more that the Government can do to assess risk at the national and local levels? If so, what?

Since being introduced there have been methodological issues with the risk assessment process. A great deal of progress has been made however, gaps remain.

I anticipate that other responses may recommend making risk information more public-friendly (i.e. risk registers should also be the vehicle to inform of actions that can be taken to mitigate and reduce risk). I disagree with this and would rather see comprehensive and technical risk assessments, the output of that analysis then being taken to inform specific risk communication products. I don’t believe that the risk register itself should be a the only risk communication channel.

The Anytown model which I initially developed in 2013 (Hogan 2013) has been used effectively in London to explore understanding of cascading failure across different sectors arising from interdependencies. This models is noted (NIST 2016) as a useful way to visualise system interdependency impacts among multi-disciplinary teams.

Significant  inequity in COVID impacts has been widely reported (House of Commons 2020, ONS 2020). This is evidence that risk is a more complex and nuanced equation just the product of impact and likelihood. Consideration needs to be given to vulnerability assessments (Twigg 2007) within the wider determination of risk.

The risk assessment process and policy which follows, is also vague in relation risks which arise as a result of the action or inaction of the Government. For instance, is Brexit considered an emergency if it was a policy choice and the implications were anticipated? Similarly the inaction of the Government with regards to building safety remediation.  

Is there more that the Government can do to communicate about risk and risk appetite with organisations and individuals? If so, what?

There has been a great deal of local risk-related messaging, however it may assist behaviour change if there was a nationally coordinated approach informed by risk communication evidence (for instance, Lofstedt 2010). The SF72 initiative (SF72 2021) represents an accessible and empathetic approach towards risk communication, which contrasts with more paternalistic approaches which dominate. There has been no all encompassing communication activity since the Preparing for Emergencies booklet in 2004. There are some discrete communication campaigns, lead by individual organisations (e.g. WeatherReady (Met Office 2021)) or by local resilience areas (30 Days 30 Ways UK, 2021). However it would be helpful for all of these activities to form part of a larger coordinated and coherent strategy.

The Government should put in place processes to avoid risk information being shared via the media which is only accessible via paywalls. There were many examples during COVID where important announcements were made via the broadcast press but the detail could not be accessed without a subscription. This is inappropriate.  

How could the Government make risk assessment and data more accessible by frontline personnel in an emergency?

I’m unclear about the purpose of this. There needs to be more consideration of what data and information it is helpful for frontline responders to have ‘in an emergency’ as opposed to sharing that information more proactively to enable risk to be mitigated where possible.  

How could the current local risk assessment process, managed through Local Resilience Forums, be strengthened to help local partners?

The Royal Academy of Engineering review into the National Security Risk Assessment is welcomed and I understand that this includes recommendations on the interface between the national and local risk assessments. There have been previous explorations of the methodology also, including recommendations in the Blackett Review (GO Science 2011) relating to the ‘reasonable worst case scenario’.

Personally, I also welcome the continual methodological changes which incorporate feedback on the process from resilience partners. However, it may be helpful to explore options for a risk management module available via Resilience Direct so that formatting changes etc can be managed centrally leaving local capacity the time to focus on the assessment and local context.

Questions on Responsibilities and Accountability:

Do you think that the current division of resilience responsibilities between Central Government, the Devolved Administrations, local government, and local responders is correct? If not, why?

The responsibilities of Local Resilience Forums have evolved but have also been confused during the response to COVID and Brexit. Government’s conception of LRF’s as ‘delivery’ bodies (Gillespie, 2020) is contrary to their stated role of being ‘cooperation’ (Cabinet Office 2013a) or ‘planning’ bodies (Cabinet Office, 2013b).

Responsibilities between different levels of response, national, regional and local, as set out in the CONOPS are out of date and require review (Cabinet Office 2013c). The CONOPS also describes levels of emergency, however this concept does not appear to translate through to any other central government emergency response policy.

I would be interested to understand how the National Situation Centre will be utilised, including how information it generates will assist response and recovery at the local level. I would welcome an update from the Government on the announcement regarding a Civil Disaster Response Taskforce (Hansard 2017) . Both of these structures sit outside of current policy and guidance and therefore it is important that there is wide understand on how they will operate.

How can the UK Central Government, DAs, local and regional forms of government and local responders better collaborate on resilience?

There is a need for trust and openness between national and local tiers and the broader emergency management profession with regards to risk and resilience arrangements. Government has no obligations under the Civil Contingencies Act and this should be addressed, perhaps by elevating all Lead Government Departments (as a minimum) to Category 2 responder status.

It is helpful that the UK Resilience Forum meeting minutes are published, however there could be greater transparency and utility made of this forum to enable organisations with national footprints to have a more sensible route for engaging.  

What role, if any, should the UK Central government have in assuring that local areas are effectively carrying out their resilience responsibilities, whilst also respecting local responsibilities?

Whilst there are some indicators of good practice (Cabinet Office 2013d) for local area resilience and recently published resilience standards (Cabinet Office 2020), it would be helpful in establishing overall assessments of resilience if there were greater coherence between existing assurance mechanisms.

Use of locally elected representatives could offer another route for assurance and scrutiny of resilience arrangements. There are some examples of this (GLA 2021a) however the Government could provide central guidance on scrutiny of resilience by elected representatives.  

What do you consider the advantages and disadvantages of the current legislative basis for resilience?

The CCA provides a structure for planning and assigns duties on organisations. I feel this is a more inclusive and therefore offers a more holistic approach to emergency management than creating a new agency which has power of direction over other entities, which could undermine the generally cooperative approach.

However, there have been numerous examples during the response to Brexit and COVID where plans and local capacities have not been utilised, and where new emergency legislation has been introduced when the Part 2 of the Civil Continencies Act may have been sufficient and had more opportunity for parliamentary process.

Questions on Partnerships:

Do you think that the resilience of CNI can be further improved? If so, how?

CNI resilience is typically focused on acute shocks at the expense of more chronic issues.

The age and capacity of some CNI systems and the compounding effects of resource pressures should be considered carefully. 

I’m pleased in the call for evidence documentation to see references to systemic resilience. I would again point to some good practice in this area in the for of the Anytown model from London LRF (Hogan 2013, NIST 2016).

What do you think is the most effective way to test and assure the resilience of CNI? To what extent do you think regulators should play a role in testing the resilience of CNI systems and operators?

I believe that there would be huge benefits to working collaboratively with regulators/industry and local resilience areas to ensure a comprehensive approach to testing and assurance.

During an emergency, what do you think should be the role of the operators of CNI in ensuring continued provision of essential services (e.g. water, electricity, public transport)? How can the Government support CNI owners or operators during an emergency?

I would strongly recommend the Government consider increasing the responder status of some CNI operators, such as some transport providers and operators who already have well established operational ‘response’ roles and are critical to effective integrated emergency management. In an urban setting especially, there is a requirement for transport involvement in most emergency response, so that should be reflected in the legislation.

Academic and research organisations

What can the Government do to make collaboration between academic and research organisations more effective?

There need to be closer relationships between Government, Professionals and Research communities so that research can be commissioned which feeds in to national objectives, and has impactful operational impact where possible.

The independence of the academic sector needs to be respected and there should be an ability for research to be determined beyond what is helpful for UK Resilience. However, the UK could set out broad research themes and provide funding and access for research activities. One example of this is the National Institute of Health Research’s Health Protection Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King’s College London (NIHR 2015).  

Are there areas where the role of research in building national resilience can be expanded?

I would like to see academic accreditation of all EPC courses and other national training and the possibility of development of modular graduate programmes.

Questions on Community and Local Resilience:

Do you agree that everyone has a part to play in improving the UK’s resilience? If not, why not?

Empowering local communities to be part of the conversation about resilience and engaged at the appropriate times in response and recovery will assist in the objectives of the Resilience Strategy being met.

Do you know where to access information about emergencies that could affect you?

There needs to be a greater focus on education. Initiatives such as the London Curriculum (GLA 2021b) to provide locally specific resources and teaching materials targeted at different Key Stage levels is a good example of what could be possible. If each LRF or region could produce resources to assist school children to, for example, consider local flood risk it would embed resilience thinking and approaches at the earliest opportunity.

Have recent emergencies (e.g. COVID-19 pandemic, flooding, terrorist attacks) made you think differently about risks or changed the way you prepare for emergencies?

COVID and Brexit have made me consider resilience differently.

My main reflection is that I feel insulted that the Government demonstrated such little awareness of existing plans and/or confidence in local responders.

Are there any barriers in accessing local volunteering schemes or finding community groups that discuss local emergency planning? If so, what are the barriers?

Where volunteering worked best through COVID it was where existing relationships existed with the voluntary sector and agile local groups were able to bring capacity quickly. More coordinated approaches to regulate and control volunteering (and philanthropy) were unsuccessful because they moved to slowly.

I would encourage the Government not to discount the unseen and informal volunteering that will have taken place during the last year also.

The largest constraint relates to having sufficient resource (time and investment) to engage meaningfully with the voluntary and community sector.

Questions on Investment:

Are there examples of where investment (whether by the Government, by businesses or by individuals) has driven improvements in resilience?

The development of city resilience strategies in several UK cities was reliant on private  financial support from the Rockefeller organisation.

The UK Government should make more funding available on a business case basis for specific resilience projects. This would generate innovation at a local level and would likely inform wider approaches so would have a trickle down effect. Funding for Anytown was provided by Defra as a Community Resilience project funding, but it’s application and legacy has been far beyond what was expected (Hogan 2013).

Questions on Resilience in an Interconnected World:

Where do you see the UK’s resilience strengths?

I love the diversity of the UK Resilience Sector. It’s so all encompassing that I don’t even know where it’s boundaries are. Resilience is a whole society issue and therefore the sector is and should be similarly broad. This approach can mean complexity and blurred lines, however it provides the most holistic approach.

I would have serious reservations about a move to create a UK FEMA, which would likely serve to absolve other organisations/functions of their responsibilities.

Are there any approaches taken by other countries to resilience that you think the UK could learn from?

It is possible that there is learning, but international models require research and analysis to determine applicability. It would not be effective to just lift an idea from another nation without having considered how it would be implemented in a UK context.

Which of the UK’s international relationships and programmes do you think are most important to the UK’s resilience?

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

What international risks have the greatest impact on UK resilience?

The Global Risk Report (WEF 2021) provides a good articulation of strategic global risk, and regularly highlights the importance of climate change and the impacts to food and water scarcity and global migration.

Questions on the Civil Contingencies Act

The CCA (section 1) defines an emergency as:

  • an event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare in a place in the United Kingdom,
  • an event or situation which threatens serious damage to the environment of a place in the United Kingdom, or
  • war, or terrorism, which threatens serious damage to the security of the United Kingdom

Does the above definition reflect your understanding of an emergency, and if not how does the definition need to be expanded within the CCA?

No concerns about the definition, however it may be helpful at the outset for the definitions to include references to the prevention, mitigation and recovery phases, not just response.  

Is the current designation of Category 1 and 2 responders appropriate? If not, what would be the merits of changing the identities and/or status of responders within the CCA?

Government departments should be designated as Category 2 responders as a minimum, but with some additional responsibilities regarding risk assessment.

I would also recommend that strategic transport operators, all CNI operators, strategic financial institutions, relevant parts of the justice system and the Met Office are made Category 2 responders.

I would not propose making a change to the non categorisation of the Voluntary Sector and the Military, however, it would be useful to review the guidance relating to these sectors as their positions have evolved.

Should elected local figures (e.g. Council Leaders, MPs, Metro Mayors, Police and Crime Commissioners) have greater involvement in emergency planning and preparative exercising, response and recovery and in what way?

Enhanced scrutiny on resilience matters (from elected local figures) may assist in driving progress and change through having a more open public conversation.

Are the current duties on Category 1 and 2 responders, as described in the CCA, appropriate?

The current duties are appropriate in relation to preparedness and response, however there is insufficient guidance and description of duties in the response phase or on the requirements regarding lessons learned processes.

Does the framework set out in the CCA provide sufficient clarity of the different roles and responsibilities of Category 1 and 2 responders?

The CCA is sufficiently clear in terms of its duties. However, it should be noted that responder organisations have duties outside of the CCA in relation to resilience. There would be some benefit in understanding how all the legislative aspects fit together.

Are existing mechanisms for oversight and assurance of organisations involved in resilience adequate?

Respective inspecting bodies undertake organisation or sector specific assurance. The gap is in assessing whole system resilience arrangements. There were some good attempts at this as part of the Olympics in 2012, and there was potential for the National Capabilities Survey to focus on this.  

Do the arrangements as set out in the CCA provide the LRF Chair and Secretariat with sufficient means by which they can effectively coordinate contingency planning of Category 1 and 2 responders in their area?

The processes and structures are included, and barring some local variations, and generally applied consistently. However there is wide variation in available resoyrce, it’s application and local delivery. It would be helpful for the guidance relating to the operation of LRFs to be updated to match Government’s position and for there to be an greater allocation of centrally provided funding for cross-cutting issues.

A Minister of the Crown may use High Court or Court of Session proceedings to enforce duties under Part 1 of the CCA upon a Category 1 or 2 responder. Is this the right way to enforce obligations under the CCA if duties are not met?

These arrangements have not been implemented, so there is no practical evidence, but they seem appropriate.

Does the CCA sufficiently consider recovery arrangements? If not, how could this be improved?

No, the Act doesn’t even include the word recovery. 

Are the responsibilities related to information sharing and cooperation sufficient for ensuring an effective multi-agency response?

Duties are appropriate for the listed organisations, however as recommended earlier, the Category 2 duties relating to information sharing should be extended to Government Departments to assist effective local planning.

Are LRFs/Strategic Coordinating Groups (SCGs) fulfilling a sufficient role in terms of planning, response and recovery? If not, what are the barriers to this?

The blurred lines between the LRF and SCG (planning/response) have been a source of concern during COVID. This implies a lack of understanding at national level about arrangements which have been developed nationally. There is a lot than can be achieved through cooperation and collaboration, and in my view LRFs do not need to be made legal bodies.

Should specific duties be placed upon central government in Part 1 of the CCA, and if so, what would these be?

Yes, I would see this as being largely similar to Cat 2 organisations but with some specific additions with regards to setting national policy and providing risk assessment information and data.

The CCA sets out strict conditions which must be met for emergency regulation to be made – this is known as the ‘triple lock’. Are these conditions still appropriate and, if not, how could the ‘triple lock’ be improved?

Emergency Regulations were not invoked under this arrangements for COVID. The Government should set out the rationale for the approach it took and provide clarity on when it sees the Part 2 arrangements being invoked. These should be tested through exercising with local level responders.

Should the regional coordinator role be retained? If yes, why is this the case, and who should be eligible to fill the position?

This role is unclear and would benefit from greater definition, linking with further clarity on Part 2 powers in general. However, anyone fulfilling such a role should be able to demonstrate suitable experience, training and qualification.

Are there institutions and positions that have come into existence after this CCA was developed which should be included in the statutory guidance? For example, Police and Crime Commissioners and Combined Authority Mayors (‘Metro Mayors’).

The range of organisations will always be dynamic. Could the Act be written in such a way as to avoid regular updates just to add organisations?

Would you like to note anything in regards to the statutory guidance of the CCA?



30 Days 30 Ways UK (2021) About Us.

Braw, E. (2021) Swedes are expected to prepare for emergencies. Coronavirus shows why Britons should be too. The Guardian, 13 March 2021.

Cabinet office (2013) Lexicon of UK Civil Protection terminology version 2.1.1.

Cabinet Office (2013b) The role of Local Resilience Forums: A reference document.

Cabinet Office (2013c) Responding to Emergencies. The UK Central Government Concept of Operations.

Cabinet Office (2013d) Expectations and Indicators of Good Practice Set for Category 1 and 2 Responders.

Cabinet Office (2020) National Resilience Standards for Local Resilience Forums.

Gillespie, J. (2020) Guide for Local Authorities and Local Resilience Forums on the system to support those who are clinically extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. 24 March 2020.

GLA (2021a) Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee. Greater London Authority.

GLA (2021b) London Curriculum. Greater London Authority.

GO Science (2011) Blackett Review of High Impact Low Probability Risks.

Hansard (2017) HC Deb. Vol 783. Column 72. 22 June 2017.

Hogan, M (2013). Anytown – Infrastructure Interdependencies and Resilience. London Resilience.

House of Commons (2020) Unequal impact? Coronavirus and BAME people. House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee. Third Report of Session 2019–21.

Kernick, G. (2021) Catastrophe and Systemic Change: Learning from the Grenfell Tower Fire and Other Disasters. London Publishing Partnership.

Lofstedt, R. E. (2010), Risk communication guidelines for Europe: a modest proposition, Journal of Risk Research, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 87 – 109.

Met Office (2021) About WeatherReady.

NIHR (2015) National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Emergency Preparedness and Response

NIST (2016) National Institute of Standards and Technology Special Publication Guide 5: Assessing Energy System Dependencies U.S. Department of Commerce.

ONS (2020) Coronavirus and the social impacts on disabled people in Great Britain: September 2020. Office for National Statistics.

Pollock, K. (2013) Review of Persistent Lessons Identified Relating to Interoperability from Emergencies and Major Incidents since 1986.

Resilience First (2020) A Resilience Guide for Our New World.

SF72, (2021) SF72 In An Emergency. Department of Emergency Management, San Francisco.

Taleb, N.N. (2012) Antifragile. Penguin Books.

Twigg, J. (2007) Characteristics of a disaster-resilient community: A guidance note produced for DFID.

WEF (2021) Global Risk Report 2021. World Economic Forum.

Book Review: Catastrophe and Systemic Change by Gill Kernick

Book Review: Catastrophe and Systemic Change by Gill Kernick

Reading Time: 4 minutes


Every now and then a book comes along that is so spot on, you can’t believe it hadn’t already been written.

That’s the case with Gill Kernick‘s book Catastrophe and Systemic Change: Learning from the Grenfell Tower Fire and Other Disasters.

Book cover: Catastrophe and Systemic Change by Gill Kernick

Gill lived on the 21st floor of Grenfell Tower between 2011 and 2014. We all have our own recollections of the morning of 14 June 2017. Like many of us, Gill watched the Tower burn. Unlike many of us, her former neighbours were amongst the 72 people who tragically died. Her book is dedicated to them.

In part, the book is an exploration of the systemic issues behind why we don’t learn from disasters. Kernick has worked in high hazard industries and brings examples from there as well as from other disasters to show repeated failures to bring about post-disaster change. But her book is also intensely personal, and in parts reads like a diary, like she is making sense of her own emotions and thoughts, and processing all of this during a pandemic when other learning is also falling by the wayside.  I didn’t expect the book to make me emotional, but it did.

Before discussing what I found particularly resonant about the book, a little disclaimer. I’ve been involved in the response to Grenfell since the early hours of that night in 2017. I’m still involved now. The Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry is continuing. For those reasons, I won’t be commenting on chapters 1 and 2 which consider the specifics of Grenfell, but will focus on the themes of learning and systemic change.

The book catalogues failed opportunities to learn. There is a whole swathe of documents, reports, investigations, inquiries and research that show that despite assurances rarely do ‘lessons identified’ translate to ‘lessons learned’ at either the scale or pace required. And this continues, on 24 June 2021 at the Manchester Arena Inquiry, there was considerable discussion about the collective failure to learn lessons from an emergency exercise. 

Right there on page 6 my frustration is in black and white “the system is designed to ensure we do not learn”.

My biggest personal professional frustration is the repeat lessons. To ‘learn’ something, again and again, is to demonstrate that it is not actually being learned or addressed sufficiently. I’ve worked in organisations where the focus is on putting in place systems and processes to ‘help’, but which all too often just result in shuffling bits of paper around.

Kernick draws a distinction between piecemeal change (which involves looking at the system and making changes within it) and systemic change (which considers the conditions and cultures within which the system operates). She asserts that systemic change requires disruption of the status quo, but observes that kindness can be more disruptive than aggression.

We live in a complex, messy, often unpredictable world. I think it gives us a sense of comfort to think that we are ‘in control’ and can forecast what will happen in a given situation, but the reality is that emergent behaviours and complex dynamics between systems mean that we are only just scratching the surface.

I’ve blogged previously about work to understand emergent behaviour (‘sit in the messiness’ and ‘pop up emergency planning’), interdependencies between systems as well as my desire to see more empathetic approaches towards emergency management. It’s heartening to see that somebody outside the emergency management field also sees the same issues. It gives me a new resolve to try to address them.

To operate effectively in an increasingly complex world, Kernick suggests that governments need to change how they approach public engagement. I’d go further; this is not limited to engagement, governments need to embrace flatter, more organic structures for emergency response and move beyond ‘command and control’.

Emergencies and disasters often have high levels of uncertainty. This calls for what Kernick refers to as ‘the democratisation of expertise’. None of us individually have all the answers; we need to work together to make sense of a situation and determine a course of action. It’s an unspoken principle that runs through emergency management. That’s why we have COBR, once described to me as “Whitehall in miniature”, which brings together a bunch of people to find a collective answer. The same applies to Local Resilience Forums and Strategic Coordinating Groups. They are structures that allow knowledge and expertise to be pooled.   

And those structures need to be more representative of the communities they serve. We need people with different lived experiences to shape a response that will be better for everyone.

Kernick moves then to consider the role of accountability and scrutiny in Government. The conclusion generally seems to be that structures for scrutiny are okay, but the willingness or ability of governments to act on that scrutiny is low. There is no structure that can compel public inquiry recommendations to be addressed. Similarly, the Prevention of Future Deaths reports and rail industry incident reports and many others too. They all swirl around, unaddressed, in a soup of known issues ready to boil over the next time there is an incident.

So, why don’t we learn? It’s a question I come back to a lot and which this book has helped me to explore. Through the book Kernick goes on a journey about learning, expressing what initially seems to be curiosity, but then becomes increasingly frustrated and ultimately becoming incredulous. I’m not quite at that stage just yet, but I do think that there is a requirement to turn the mirror on ourselves and really examine the conditions and beliefs which we hold on to, which might be stopping us from making more progress.

And so, we come back to where we started, that systemic change requires “a tribe of disrupters” and I hope this book galvanises emergency managers across the land to be braver and to disrupt with kindness.

Book Review – The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun

Book Review – The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun

Reading Time: 2 minutes


Hot on the heels of my last book review here comes another!

The Disaster Tourist by Korean autjor Yun Ko-eun tells the story of Yona, who’s worked for Seoul-based travel company Jungle for 10 years, offering package holidays to destinations in disaster zones.

The Disaster Tourist: Wish You Weren't Here book cover by Yub Ko-eun

When she tries to quit after a #MeToo incident, her boss tries to buy her silence with a free trip to Mui, a remote Vietnamese island home to one of the company’s least popular disaster tours. In return, all she needs to provide is a full report on how to improve the itinerary.

To begin with, all seems okay. She joins 5 other people on the trip and has a bit of an adventure out to see some volcanoes. But things start hotting up when she becomes trapped on the island and begins to figure out what is happening around her – a tale of surreal conspiracy and powerful corporate entities plotting to stage a plausible disaster.

First published in Korean in 2013 but translated into English in 2020 by Lizzie Buehler sometimes it feels like the characters are a bit thin; we hear nothing of Yona’s life outside of work and her love story comes across as just lukewarm. Of course, as an emergency manager, I also naturally took issue at the use of ‘natural disaster’ throughout (see here for why natural disasters don’t exist).

There were also sections of the book, later in the story, which I found myself reflecting on in ways other readers perhaps wouldn’t. As emergency managers we develop similar stories for training exercises, and the faceless/nameless identities of the characters in those exercises seemed all too familiar whilst reading this.

It’s a short book at just 180 or so pages. I read it to a background of TV news showing Hurricane Ida making landfall in Louisianna, which seemed especially resonant. As Yona herself contemplates “disaster lays dormant in every corner, like depression. You never knew when it might spring into terrible action”.

The Disaster Tourist is thought-provoking throughout (especially as an emergency manager) but I suspect it takes on a slightly different relevance for everyone now contemplating post-pandemic travel.

And finally, it’s unlikely that other readers would draw a similar parallels, but this section seemed prophetic having been written in 2013…

Section of text extracted from The Disaster Tourist

Ramen Resolution – Goto

Ramen Resolution – Goto

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I was passing through the south west of the UK last week with some time to kill. Naturally, I took to Google to find some noodles!

The first recommendation was in Exmouth, but on further investigation it wasn’t ramen, just regular noodles. No thanks. Not this. 

In a mysterious place, the oft neglected page two of Google, I found a news article singing the praises of Goto in ExeterGoto in Exeter. It wasn’t completely out of my way, so off I set!

There were free tables when I walked in, but it was approaching 19:30 and they had some bookings so I was asked to wait outside for a few minutes.

After what felt like forever (but was actually about 12 minutes) I was beckoned back inside, with a wave which, I imagine, they keep for regular patrons!

Hand painted murals adorn the walls, they’re pretty cool, and remind me of the ramen joint I visited in Boston.

I’d had time to study the menu so ordered as I sat down – restauranting like a pro!! 

The starter selection was a little limited, but I chose the vegetable tempura. The courgette was deliciously crispy but the sweet potato seemed to lack a bit of flavour. 

Tonkotsu then arrived before me. However, I have to be honest, it was a bit disappointing. The bamboo shoots were really tasty and the chasu slice was well cooked. But that thick, stick-to-your-mouth broth was nowhere to be seen. This was more like brown onion soup, thin and watery. And it had iceberg lettuce in it?! 

The table opposite me raved about their sushi though, so maybe ramen just isn’t Goto’s speciality?

If you’re passing through Exeter then definitely check it out, the customer service was great – quick, friendly and for the table who were a bit unsure of what to order they gave lots of recommendations. However, manage your expectations, this is not tonkotsu as you might know it elsewhere.

Book Review: The Premonition by Michael Lewis

Book Review: The Premonition by Michael Lewis

Reading Time: 5 minutes


This is the first book review I’ve written since being in secondary school, which…well, was a while ago, so go easy on me. I was inspired by a tweet a few weeks ago…

There has been some chatter both online and offline recently about the ‘visibility of emergency management’. Professor David Alexander’s article last summer asked “where are the emergency planners?“. The Emergency Management Growth Initiative has been seeking to bring greater awareness. And there have been recent challenges to the narrative that ‘plans didn’t exist’ for the UK response to the COVID pandemic. 

Generally, there’s a view from within, that that emergency management needs to be more mainstream, especially in the minds of political leaders. 

Over the last 9 years I’ve also tried to use this blog as a way to bring greater visibility to emergency management issues; most directly in an early post about breaking out of the bunker, which is simultaneously the natural habitat of the Emergency Manager but can also be what holds us back as a profession.

It was with great excitement that I ordered Michael Lewis’ book The Premonition, about a group of like-minded (and like-frustrated!) individuals who know that something serious needs to be done about pandemic planning. The book tells how a small group initiated and then performed repeated course corrections to US pandemic planning in the face of indifferent, layered, and fragmented bureaucracies. Speaking about the Swine Flu pandemic of 2009 one of the cast notes “there was no one driving the bus” and that despite pockets of good work across the country, the formal bodies people looked to for leadership (the Centre for Disease Control gets an especially scathing review) were deeply dysfunctional.

The book repeatedly asks the question “What happens when the people in charge of managing the risks have no interest in them?”. Pretty much every time it circles back to passionate people fighting to be heard and finally breaking through (often to be un- or under-appreciated).

Like Love Actually, there are several intertwined stories at play. Initially, each of the main characters (they’re actually real people) are doing their own wonderful things in splendid isolation, solving local problems using local means. But characters are brought together through chance meetings, introductions or happenstance, and realise their collective power.

One observation is that for a Public Health Officer in the States, there is no defined career path. I’ve heard similar representations about Emergency Management. This is thought to represent a problem because it means such a diversity of approaches and backgrounds and therefore a lack of a common approach. However, I would argue that this allows multiple perspectives to be more easily readily and more organically, but agree that some standardisation could be beneficial.

Like in an emergency, rapid response is vital to control and reduce the impact of disease outbreaks. The response to outbreaks and emergencies often needs to be instinctive, Kahneman’s ‘System 1’ rather than the more considered ‘System 2’. As one of the protagonists remarks about a Hepatitis C outbreak “if we had waited for enough evidence to be published in journals then we would have already lost,” and similarly, later in the book talking about wildfire response, someone remarks “you cannot wait for the smoke to clear – once you can see things clearly it’s already too late.”

Active vs passive choice seems to be another recurring theme throughout The Premonition, reminiscent of the Trolley Problem:

In particular, there is a chapter that considers a response to potential health issues following a Californian mudslide and one of the stars of the book is described as “She processes information quickly and spits out a decision fast, that makes people nervous. You don’t find people like that in government.”

Considering the profession, or at least the decision-makers background, there is an observation that the Homeland Security Council was “staffed by military types who spent their days considering attacks from hostile foreigners, not the flu” and that this had the effect of cognitive narrowing, choosing to not see the things which were unfamiliar. 

One of the characters talks about how they wanted to try to get the President, then George W Bush, to pay attention to the widespread impact that a serious pandemic could have across all society, not just healthcare. I was particularly amused that rather than formal submissions and briefings, actually what got the President interested was providing him with an annotated history book.

An intensivist doctor talking about touch clinical decisions remarks that “I felt like my best when shit hits the fan. I focus like a laser when everything is going to shit” and someone else mentions “You are going to make mistakes. The sin is making the same mistake twice and best is to learn from other people’s mistakes.”

The Premonition isn’t a popular science review of pandemic interventions and response strategies. Although, if there is a Hollywood adaptation (like Lewis’ Moneyball) then there would be parts for Selena Gomez to reprise her role in explaining dense public health theories and concepts. There’s an extended section which compares 1918 influenza pandemic interventions in Philadelphia and St Louis and supporting evidence which indicates “cities that intervened immediately experienced less disease and death” and further that cities which “caved to pressure from businesses to relax social distancing then experienced a more severe second wave.” 

Lewis also presents research that concludes that you “couldn’t design a better system for transmitting disease than the school system,” which got me thinking about perceptions, and why there is a persistent view that closing schools is a bad idea? Surely it’s only a bad idea if it is done badly?

The book notes how we are notoriously bad at understanding statistics and complex dynamics. Exponential growth is hard for us to visualise beyond the first few steps. Lewis provides an example of folding a piece of paper 50 times being able to reach a distance of 70 million miles. It just doesn’t seem right.

What comes through most clearly is that more often than not this doesn’t come down to expertise or evidence. Success often is the result of people who work around the system. Individuals with passion projects that compensate for the failings and deficiencies of their organisations.

My own passion project has been to try and better surface and understand interdependencies between different systems. It’s easy to become a specialist in your own field, but to see how that connects and relates to other areas is less common. My Anytown project started off as a way to try and convey the ‘whole society’ impact of various scenarios. The Premonition covers some of this in a short section that identifies the pressures on the production of nasal swabs which are only manufactured in three locations worldwide and are in extreme demand during a pandemic.

However, Lewis also makes the observation that decisions can no longer be made purely on the basis of technical evidence and draws the book to a conclusion noting that “greater attention needs to be paid to how decisions might appear to a cynical public.”

There are some wild claims throughout, such as “The US invented pandemic planning in 2005”, which I’m not sure would stand up to much scrutiny. And I’m sure that trying to tell a history of COVID whilst we are all still living through COVID means there is more to be uncovered. But overall, The Premonition is an easy to read yet insightful book which casts light on, more often than not, the failings of government-level risk management and the commitment and passion of public health and emergency management professionals, noting that some are “so committed it’s more of a mission than a job.” 


Next on my reading list: Catastrophe and Systemic Change by Gill Kernick

Ramen Resolution – Nanban (3)

Ramen Resolution – Nanban (3)

Reading Time: 3 minutes


One of the (many) shows I’ve watched on Netflix over the last year is Million Pound Menu. Hopeful restauranteurs set out to impress judges to secure funding for a new eatery.

The pandemic is far from over, but we have reached the stage that the Government is once again permitting people to eat indoors at restaurants. So the plan was to track down one of the successful contestants and support small businesses.

Trap Kitchen in Balham was top of the list. But after looking at the prices and portion sizes it felt a little extravagant for a Tuesday.

So instead, we returned to old faithful Nanban in Brixton. Not a Netflix winner, but the founder did win Masterchef some years ago. I’ve blogged about previous Nanban visits here and here.

This is was my first time eating in a restaurant since October 2020. Things are different in many ways, socially distanced tables, eMenus and app ordering, staff in PPE. But things are also the same too, relaxed atmosphere, delightful smells wafting from the kitchen, and clever marketing which appeals to your senses and gets you to order more than is really needed!

We ordered the Angry Birds wings and padron peppers, a Lazy Goat ramen and a The Leopard ramen.

That was all washed down with some unusual sounding drinks – a Kinnie (think a fizzy non-alcoholic negroni) and a Cloudwater soda (apparently pineapple and yuzu flavour, but you had to search hard for any kind of flavour to be honest).

Nanban is one of my favourite ramen spots in London. What they offer is Caribbean/Japanese fusion, so this isn’t somewhere for an authentic experience but is good for trying out new things.

First up was half a pound of angry birds chicken wings. I wasn’t really sure how many that was but it sounded like a lot. In reality, eight. The outside of the wings was crispy and drenched in a sweet yet spicy (like, lips on fire, fire emoji) sauce.

The padron peppers were, well, padron peppers, which brought a little hit of freshness after the fried chicken.

Two bowls of ramen then got delivered to our table. Nick had the Lazy Goat ‘fusion’ although his review was “I enjoyed it but didn’t get a Japanese vibe”. The meat was very tender but it was a bit lacking on the broth front. The scotch bonnet bamboo shoots were also a teeny bit too spicy for us.

It was only when I stirred my bowl that I understood it’s name ‘The Leopard’. Burnt garlic oil spotted through the creamy broth like a leopards coat. Clever. Surprisingly the broth wasn’t the sticky pork bone broth I was expecting, more of a thick sesame milk. The toppings (tea pickled egg, bamboo shoots, garlic chips, spring onion) were great and the chunks (rather than slices) of chasu pork were meltingly soft. Finished off with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, which didn’t dissolve into the broth but softened and sank into a cheesy lump. This sounds like a bad thing, but it was a nice surprise at the bottom of the bowl!

We rounded off the meal with a Nanbanana, a miso fried banana with cinnamon ice-cream and crispy noodles. In my experience hot banana can be hit and miss. This was a resounding hit! The banana kept its texture in the warm butterscotchy sauce.

My first ramen after a very weird period was great, and Nanban remains high on my list of favourite ramen spots (even if it did turn out to be about 20% more expensive than Trap Kitchen…which we turned down because of prices! #fail)

Ramen Resolution: UH K-DOGS N JUICY

Ramen Resolution: UH K-DOGS N JUICY

Reading Time: 2 minutes


It can sometimes be hard to escape the swirling vortex that is the TikTok algorithm. Such was the case when Korean Corndogs popped up on my friend Nick’s ‘for you page’ a few weeks ago.

I hear what you’re saying. Corndogs are not Ramen. Why am I reviewing them? Well, it turns out Korean corndogs come served with a variety of toppings which include crushed ramen noodles. I’m listening…

Avid readers will remember that I discovered dry ramen as a snack earlier in this whole lockdown situation. Some bright spark has basically decided to incorporate that into the batter/dough for a corndog.

Before this weekend I’ve only ever had one corndog in my life. It was from a concession in Pennsylvania Station in New York City. I was underwhelmed, so the bar was relatively low.

Here’s the TikTok that whet our appetites:

@foodysumzKOREAN HOT DOGS at Uh K-Dogs n Juicy London 🌭🌭 BUSSSSIN 10/10😍 #fyp #koreanhotdog #bussin #food #halal #london #viral #yummy #cheesey #cheese #yes♬ Copines – Aesthetic sounds

Yes. I had to Urban Dictionary what lengggg is too, don’t worry.

Due to the pandemic UH K-DOGS N JUICY are only taking pre-orders, so we arranged our order via Instagram (modern! engaging! interactive!) and headed to Parsons Green to collect.

The collection process was WEIRD! This is not a restaurant. It’s not even a food truck pop-up thing. This is direct from somebody’s actual kitchen in their house in West London. You wait outside the block and somebody comes down with your order.

Our order was broad enough so we got to try a bit of everything, but I’m focusing this review on the ramen coated corndog in an attempt to stay somewhere close to my brand!

Korean corndog with ramen topping

It was incredible! I’m not sure exactly what made it Korean. However, the fried dough was crispy and didn’t taste oily, the sausage inside was soft and the ramen obviously added a crunch. Flavour came in the way of spicy siracha sauce and parmesan flakes.

It was a trek to get there. I think that would put me off going again as it’s not a part of town that I know very well or can access easily. However, they are looking at moving to more traditional premises so I would pay them another visit if it was more convenient. One of the toppings for your savoury corndog is sugar, and I would be keen to try that!

It’s only vaguely ramen, so I’m not sure it warrants a score, but this is a definite levelling up of my previous corndog experience if nothing else.

Reflecting on a pandemic year

Reflecting on a pandemic year

Reading Time: 3 minutes


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

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

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

Whitehall’s White Elephant?

Reading Time: 3 minutes


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

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

Lovely stuff.

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

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

Information is helpful (mostly)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Information can be misleading

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

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

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

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

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

My 3 hopes for the Whitehall Situation Centre

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

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

Ramen Resolution – GGE Ramen Snacks

Reading Time: 2 minutes


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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