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Help me find a wild goose!

Help me find a wild goose!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

What started as a good idea has got me stumped, and I need your help! I’m on the hunt for the first edition of the London Emergency Services Liaison Panel Major Incident Procedures Manual. Snappy title huh?!

It was published in hard copy only in, or around 1986, and was the first attempt to describe the multi agency response to a civil emergency.

  • Are you an emergency planner with an extensive library?
  • Do you know any ex police/fire/ambulance staff? Are they a bit of a hoarder?
  • If so, share this post with them or encourage them to contact me!

Why am I after a document that’s as old as I am?

LESLP started life in different times. Whilst many of the risks that London faced in 1973 are the same in 2015, others have changed and more have been identified (hello: cyber hacking). However, it’s not just the risks that change, the capacity and capability to respond have also changed.

It’s hard to look at how things have changed when you weren’t there to experience it first hand. From the outside the police in 2015 is markedly different to the Life on Mars image I have in my mind. Similarly for the other emergency services, there has been massive change not just in terms of what can be done, but also in how things are done.

A couple of years ago, as a response to Lady Justice Hallett’s inquest report, the Home Office initiated the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme. The aim was to develop national consistency regarding major and complex incident response. However, in London LESLP has been in place for over 40 years, and there was a sense from some corners of ‘we already do that’. True, the LESLP procedures do call for joint working and articulate organisational roles and responsibilities. However, I thought, wouldn’t it be an interesting exercise to compare Version 1 with Version 9 to see how things have changed? How have lessons from incidents have been incorporated into policy? What about international best practise and changes in national response capability, have they been included? And most importantly of all, wouldn’t this sort of historical analysis make for a fine blog piece!

However, tracking down the first edition is proving to be more problematic than I initially thought! The Met Police are the document owners, but the my colleagues there don’t have a copy. I’ve contacted the Cabinet Office and Emergency Planning College (who were able to send me a copy of Version 2, but didn’t have version 1). I’ve also contacted the Met Police Heritage Centre, the London Fire Brigade Museum and the Emergency Planning Society. I haven’t heard back from those organisations yet but I’m beginning to think that Version 1 might be a wild goose.

I hope that you’re able to help me in my search. I’m a big believer in the six degrees of separation. I know I’m only a connection away from finding someone who has what I’m after!



Right Royal Resilience

Right Royal Resilience

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I’ve been thinking lately, motivated by on-going projects at work, about what influences our resilience. My ponderings tend to wind up at etymology, what did the word or term originally mean and what does that tell us, if anything, about how we should or could understand it.


Whilst many people believe ‘resilience’ has roots in 1970s environmentalism, in his paper (Resilience and disaster risk reduction: an etymological journey) David Alexander suggests resilience traces back considerably further to classical cultures, I therefore got to thinking about the broader history of resilience.

Fittingly, I visited Rome earlier this year and recognised the symbolic nature of the Colosseum – both as a reminder of the destructive power of the 1349 earthquake, but also that such destruction doesn’t always equate with decline. Similarly London has also exhibited significant ‘ability to endure’ and to prosper in the face of catastrophic events. Flooding, Fire and Plagues have befallen the city, but it remains standing as a leading world power.

My first post on this blog nearly a year ago concerned Doomsday Preppers, who have taken preparing to the next level compared to the general public. Staring across the River Thames at the Tower of London today, I realised that the notion of a ‘Prepper’ isn’t new.

The Tower of London is typical of medieval castles, and employs some similar strategies those of modern doomsday preppers.

  • Multiple layers of defences (see image above), including ditches and moats, fences, stone walls and towers – even the ancient wall of Roman London also served a defensive purpose – and the origins of The Barbican are in a fortified outpost or gateway to the city
  • Self sufficiency – in order to withstand a prolong siege, the area inside the castle was used for farming, water, and small industries.

As important as the Kentish ragstone walls, pots of boiling tar or portcullises no doubt served to be, they alone do not define resilience. As I reflected on the link between royalty I realised that the parallels weren’t just in the hard measures either.

The British Monarchy has demonstrated resilience as an institution (having had it’s fair share of low points from which it has ‘bounced back’) but I wonder whether monarchical rule itself exerts any influence on wider resilience? Does it represent continuity between the past and the present, or provide hope of stability and order during times of uncertainty and change.


Image Source: Wikipeadia

Plague and Progress

Plague and Progress

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Following incidents responders undertake debriefs to identify lessons for the responder community; I’ve participated in and facilitated many such events. However, investigation of past disasters can also reveal information on how they were caused, contributing factors and identify options for prevention or mitigation – essentialy progress is (at least partly) driven by past experience.

black death

Cries of “make way for the Plague Doctor” were heard from the back of the auditorium as Dr Carole Reeves (UCL), in long coat, beaked mask and hat, made her way to the lectern. It’s safe to say that not all lectures start as dramatically as the one I attended today, entitled Plague Bones: how London’s Black Death became a tropical disease.

The Museum of London (arguably one of my favourites) has amassed quite the collection of bones, sourced from plague pits or during the construction of the London Underground, which are made available to researchers to help analysis of past events, including the Black Death.

As a term, “Black Death” didn’t arrive until relatively recently in the 19th Century, with “plague” or “pestilence” the terms in 14th Century vogue. As an emerging (or re emerging) infectious disease there was little or no inherent population immunity. It was therefore devastating.

At the time, Plague (Yersinia pestis) was seen as a sign of a displeased deity (interestingly, Islamic doctrine at the time was that Plague was the will of God and was to be endured). However, through providing ministry to the dying, the clergy had a higher degree of exposure and was one of the hardest hit populations, with 1 in 3 perishing.

Plague doctors, their leather beaks stuffed with herbs and spices to ward off evil airs, were in short supply in the Middle Ages. However, other professions rolled up their sleeves to provide diagnosis and treatment, notably barbers (have you noticed the red and white striped pole outside some barbers – this has it’s roots as an advertisement of the practice of bloodletting). Treatments of the day included purging, cupping, cauterisation and lancing. Some more outrageous suggestions were also suggested including placing a frog on the buboes, rubbing oneself with a chickens bottom, drinking snail tea or chopping up a puppy and applying it, still warm, to the victims chest.

On the authority of the Pope, top Parisian doctors concluded the conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in the sign of Aquarius in 1345 was the cause of the pestilence – causing the earth to “exhale poisonous vapors”. Offering some prescription, the same report advised:

No poultry should be eaten, no waterfowl, no pig, no old beef, altogether no fat meat. . . . It is injurious to sleep during the daytime. . . . Fish should not be eaten, too much exercise may be injurious . . . and nothing should be cooked in rainwater. Olive oil with food is deadly. . . . Bathing is dangerous.

With such helpful medical advice, it’s no wonder that people turned to religion and ritual; there was a strong reliance on charms and lighting of fires of juniper and rosemary to ward of the mal arias (or bad air, from which we get “malaria”).

The significant numbers of fatalities put extreme pressure on burial space, and in London, saw the construction of large emergency cemeteries, the final resting place of some 20,000 victims, some in coffins, but many in burial pits 6 deep.

Infections don’t emerge (or re-emerge) in a vacuum, their mutation is linked to climatic and, ecosystem factors, levels of health and immunity and coexisting infections. It’s thought that a contributory factor to the Black Death could have included a series of famines including The Great Famine 1315-1317, movement of military and opening of trade routes between Europe and Asia, and coexisting infections of tuberculosis, lice and intestinal parasites.

The modern plague doctor has a much more sophisticated range of tools at his disposal:

  • Border Biosecurity – ships suspected of coming from infected areas were turned away. Today, much effort goes into maintaining bio-secure borders – partly the reason that there are restrictions on what you can take on holiday with you
  • Containment – some settlements isolated themselves from the disease through isolation for 40 days (hence the term quarantine). Whilst this was only minimally effective at the time, containment was one of the response strategies during the 2009 Swine Flu Pandemic
  • Surveillance – absent in the Middle Ages, we now have vastly improved international schemes to monitor the epidemiology of human, animal, insect and plant diseases which mean that decisions can be taken much further in advance
  • Medical Treatments – a significant step on from the ‘frogs and dogs’ approach, with a continually developing understanding of the body, pharmacology and disease we now have access to a much better range of effective treatments
  • Protection – with advances in materials and understanding, we’re now able to protect ourselves against infections through hand and respiratory hygiene and barriers such as gloves and masks rather than beaked leather masks stuffed with herbs and spices.
  • General Health – again rooted in understanding of disease, the notion of germs and the rise of cleanliness, we now have access to clean water, flushing toilets and it’s difficult to imagine a situation where public health authorities recommend exercise being injurious!

plague doc modern doctor

Much of this has progress has been the result of learning stemming from past incidents. Whether the Black Death hundreds of years ago, or recent outbreaks of SARS, lessons from the past must continue to shape our preparedness for the future.


Image Credits: Corbis, Paul Fürst, Brian Thomas Humek,