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What Comes Next: Future Nostalgia

What Comes Next: Future Nostalgia

Reading Time: 4 minutes


As we move into late-stage-pandemic I’m reflecting again on what has been learnt (here are my previous musings), and what lies ahead.

Four days after the first set of lockdown rules were introduced in the UK in March 2020, British pop star Dua Lipa dropped her highly anticipated second album, Future Nostalgia.

Future Nostalgia Alternative Cover Art shows a black high heeled boot treading on a melted disco ball against a grey background

That album features extensively in the soundtrack to ‘my pandemic’ and now, coming up to two years on, listening to it has the effect of evoking some very strong memories. Explaining the title to NPR it was confirmed that ‘future nostalgia’ was meant to describe a future of infinite possibilities while tapping into the sound and mood of something older.

The next few years will see us re-examining and re-evaluating the COVID response to shape what comes next. In much the same way as this album, looking backwards serves as the basis for looking forwards and creating something new. In this blog, I’ve set out my observations and tried to put that in the context of future nostalgia and the possibilities that lie ahead.

I ate a lot of chickpeas. I see a future that involves less meat for me. That’s better for the environment as well as animal welfare. I need to diversify my recipes though! 

I indulged in way too much doom scrolling. I have become better at setting personal boundaries with social media. I’m not great at it yet, and the recent ‘wizard author’ controversy tipped me back over the edge for a moment into rage, but it’s a journey of progress! 

I really missed hugs. I’m going to hug more (consenting!) people more often.

The long tail of delayed and postponed events is something I hadn’t considered in my own planning. I’ve had concert tickets that have been postponed for nearly 2 years. Adjusting will continue to require flexibility, patience and acceptance. I have decided to just see that as part of the rich texture of recovery, which emergency managers know is far more complex than the response phase.

I found both enjoyment and assurance in the creativity of online events and lockdown birthday celebrations. They’re not the same as in-person events by any means, but the future should embrace the creativity that has been shown (L Devine’s URL tour where she live-streamed on a different streaming platform each week, Sophie Ellis Bextor’s Kitchen Discos on a Friday evening, Drag Queen Bingo on a Saturday, Kylie Minogues Infinite DISCO extravaganza, the pivoting to recipe boxes by local restaurants, online virtual museum tours or gin tastings) and look for these to sit alongside more traditional events in the longer term.

Emergency managers knew with fairly high accuracy and confidence, what would happen, yet were ignored. Other professions will feel that too. We need to build our profile both within and between our organisations but also directly with society so that it is harder to ignore us next time. This isn’t about having the answers; all responses will be difficult and complicated, but about using the expertise, experience and capacity available.

Eat out to help out. Hands. Face. Space. Stay alert. Flatten the curve. Support bubble. Rule of six. Shielding. Clap for Key Workers. Control the virus. Protect the NHS. Lockdown. Our messaging has been far too simplistic. A global pandemic is bloody complicated. The implications are going to vary across both space and time. It is impossible to distil messaging to a three-word slogan without losing meaning and nuance. Simple messages need to play a part in a much more in-depth communications strategy. Instead of the Government telling us the rules, more time should be spent on explaining the science to allow individually informed judgements. People should listen to experts. Experts need to listen to people too (some of the SPI-B work has been fascinating but could have played a large role). In my view, this would make rules easier to implement (and could boost compliance) but might also help avoid the conspiracy, politicisation and fetishisation of future response.

I’ve started to feel nostalgic for lockdown. The clear blue skies, peace, the weather (of summer 2020 at least), the slower pace. Aspects of the last two years have been awful, but I can choose to spend more time in nature (like when we were only allowed one government permitted walk per day). I can choose to spend more time checking in with friends and loved ones. The intensity of my own nostalgia is driven by the ‘get back to normal’ messaging. I don’t want to go back to a normal that depleted PPE stocks to a bare minimum. I don’t want to go back to a normal where existing health inequities mean you’re more likely to die if you’re from a particular community. I don’t want to go back to a normal where office presenteeism is the measure of effectiveness. If we go back to normal, everything we have all been through has not been learned. We have an opportunity to remember and learn from the silence, stillness and incredible loss.


I’ll leave the final words to Dua Lipa herself:

You want a timeless song, I wanna change the game.



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.

Unified Response: did I follow my own advice?

Unified Response: did I follow my own advice?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Last week saw the culmination of over a year of planning for Europe’s ‘largest ever emergency exercise‘.


Coordinated by London Fire Brigade, the exercise simulated the collapse of a building in central London punching into an underlying tube tunnel as an underground train was passing.  Check out the @LDN_prepared Storify below for a collection of tweets from participants as the exercise progressed.


Since 2014 my involvement, as workstream lead for the Command Post element of the exercise was to make sure that participating organisations achieved their own objectives as well as the overarching objectives of the whole exercise. This meant that, in addition to emergency response and rescue, the scenario included strategic consideration of

  • disruption to transport services, utilities and the environment
  • distribution of casualties and fatalities across and outside of London
  • requests for national and international support and
  • considering the information and long term support provided the public, businesses and to individuals and communities affected.

Did I follow my own advice?

I’ve blogged previously about how, if not managed appropriately, the value of exercises can be limited. If I wanted Unified Response to be different, I needed to follow my own advice, which boiled down to six key points

  1. Use locations you would use in reality
  2. Make it no notice as far as possible
  3. Draw participants from what’s available on the day
  4. Don’t let the scenario win out over objectives
  5. Speaking of objectives – have lots of specific ones rather than sweeping generalities
  6. Evaluate. Evaluate. Evaluate.

During the four days of the exercise many lessons were learned dynamically. Undoubtedly there will be lots more learning to come out through the debrief processes. It’s not the intention of this post to debrief the exercise, but to revisit the points from my earlier blog. Did I follow my own advice? In hindsight, have I got any additional thoughts on getting the best return on investment from exercises?

Objectives and Scenario Fidelity

Developing SMART style objectives rather than “to exercise our major incident response”  became my own personal crusade for a while at the start of the planning process. In the long-run this made developing the scenario easier and we were able to tie all injects (nearly 2000) to objectives, which will support ongoing evaluation.

From the outset my starting point was to develop the highest level of fidelity as possible. Over the past year I found myself continually asking “but what would happen in reality?” or “If this incident took place today what would actually happen?”

It’s easy when planning something on this scale to let creativity get the better of you. However it’s a fine balance and it wasn’t always possible to simulate reality without a consequential effect on the ability to meet exercise objectives.

For instance, one objective related to the activation and integration of international specialist rescue teams, but the scenario also included a ruptured water main and sewer which provided grounds for participation for a wide range of organisations. In reality, the presence of these hazards would have impacted on the ability to implement the technical rescue (as responder safety has to be a consideration) however in the exercise, water and sewage were notional.

Where there were simultaneously elements of live and notional play, there were challenges in how well they meshed together. Further to this, many organisations chose to use real-world conditions alongside exercise scenario. In addition to the incident at Waterloo, real-life traffic accidents and train delays all added to the complexity and realism. This is the first time that I’ve seen, first-hand, this attempted in an exercise. The closest I’ve seen are Emergo exercises which use real hospital bed states and staffing to determine capacity challenges for mass casualty management. Limited to one organisation it’s difficult enough to cross-check the impact of the scenario on the real world, but with so many participants this became very complex.

Locations, Dates and Times

This wasn’t always possible due to operational conditions or extent of participation, but by and large venues used were those which would be used in reality. This means that anything learned relating to the operation of those facilities is valuable and can be actioned. Not all of the learning is technical in nature. Softer, skills-based aspects (for instance, teleconference etiquette) is something which can develop with repeated practice. Familiarity with processes, technology and each other in non-incident conditions will improve crisis response.

In order to make sure that decisions taken at a strategic level were appropriate it was necessary to warn senior representatives of the exercise dates. However, I strongly resisted demands to schedule meetings in advance. Establishing the ‘battle rhythm‘ is a key incident management skill. If we’d pre-planned meetings the learning opportunity would be reduced.

I also made sure, by having a relatively small but empowered planning group, that the integrity of the exercise was preserved. Nobody involved in exercise play, not even my own management, knew the full extent of the scenario. This meant unanticipated questions seeking assurance that the exercise would be sufficiently challenging. Such assurance was provided by exploring parallels to past incidents and exercises with subject matter experts to develop the most comprehensive exercise I have been involved in. (We went as far as developing complete documentation for a fictitious construction company and producing staff records for fictional injured responders).

Participants and Advance Notice

As mentioned already, some representatives were essential and therefore did have prior notice. However, even when they knew the date of the exercise, they did not know anything about timings or scenario progression. There were short-notice requests and demands to be in multiple places at the same time, as there would be in reality.

Arguably these issues could have been avoided through advance notice, but then we would have been generating a false environment and actual learning about how to resolve those problems would not have been identified.

The ability to prioritise and dynamically allocate resources is another crisis management skill, one which many of the participants in the exercise had the opportunity to practise.

What else did I learn? 

I think my own personal learning relates more to the role of exercise control during an exercise of this scale.Having a good team with all the necessary expert knowledge and most importantly a problem-solving approach is absolutely essential.

If there was one aspect that I would look to improve next time, it would be to ensure communication between players and facilitators. So my seventh rule for exercise planning, would be to consider structures for exercise control earlier in the planning phase.

Synchronising an exercise with 30 different locations, 85 organisations and over 4000 participants was always going to be a challenge. Over the course of the exercise I spent more than 106 hours in Exercise Control, managing command post activity, resolving issues, creating simulated material and ensuring ‘my activity’ kept in step with all other exercise activity. The responsiveness of my Exercise Control team to roll with decisions made in exercise play was crucial, but this could have been made easier with a more complete picture of the response.


There were some challenges along the way, but I thoroughly enjoyed Exercise Unified Response. Whilst I hope we never have to do it for real, the learning that will be taken from it will improve emergency responses in London and further afield. As my own reflections solidify I’m sure there will be more posts on Unified Response, but if you do have questions please get in touch.

Interoperability: out with the old

Interoperability: out with the old

Reading Time: 2 minutes

This is the first in a series of blogs (three I think) in which I’m trying to organise my thoughts on Interoperability ahead of being a panel member at the 3rd UK Resilience Conference. That means it runs the risk of being a little bit word-vomity…sorry.

“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Abraham Lincoln, 1862.

That’s how I feel about interoperability. Whilst current ways of working have done us well we’ve reached a tipping point where a new paradigm is required to meet present challenges.


A combination of reduced public sector resource, increasing demand and rising public expectation for services means the “we’ve always done it like this” attitude doesn’t hold water. I’m not a believer in change for the sake of change, but we do need to accept that not enough has been done to learn from the past.

At the Global Resilience Summit this week John Arthur used a mobius strip to illustrate a point about continual development, refinement and evolution in resilience. The same metaphor was used by Abcouwer and Parson in their Adaptive Resilience Cycle model.


We’ve been stuck too long in the status quo corner. Luckily there have been relatively few crises (especially in the UK). However, where disasters have happened systems have lurched forwards from their equilibrium state to new conditions. Post Katrina America is a good example – for all it’s flaws, the reforms have generally been positive, as this PBS clip explains.

Whilst the crisis may not have taken expected forms (i.e. emergencies or disasters) the financial pressures to deliver more for less means provides the imperative to explore innovative approaches to old problems.

Interoperability shouldn’t be difficult. There are some great examples coming out through JESIP that go to show that if you have the commitment to work together it’s do-able. The joint doctrine is just one step towards embedding interoperability. New combinations and better understanding has been initiated, but let’s not stop there. We need to continue to push the boundaries, challenge the orthodox and innovate. It can be scary, but we’ve proven that ‘the way we’ve always done it’ just isn’t sustainable.

What can annoying kids teach emergency planners?

What can annoying kids teach emergency planners?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

If you were following my tweets last week you’d have noticed a constant stream from the Emergency Planning College ‘The Art of Really Learning Lessons’ seminar. An issue I blogged about two years ago!


Whilst this sounds like the sort of event that would be organised by the W1A Way Ahead Taskforce it was actually the most engaging and thought provoking event I have attended at the EPC. A special shout-out to Dr Lucy Easthope who was magnificent as Master of Ceremonies!

Reflecting on the past couple of days, I think we need to be more like children. Whilst there can be few things more exasperating than a child that persists in asking “Why?”, it’s actually a pretty great strategy for learning.

Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.

Well yes, Bismark was probably onto something that lessons are often transferrable, but as several speakers pointed out; they are also highly contextualised and are viewed with the benefit of hindsight. There’s probably some deep psychology at play here about why we learn from our own experience more, and why ‘stories’ are more persuasive than ‘facts’. This linked in to comments made during the seminar about the balance between tacit and explicit knowledge.

Dr Kevin Pollock’s comments on Mock Bureaucracy really seemed to resonate with the audience – organisations with a front designed to impress key stakeholders with principles and well ordered practices whilst hiding internal fragmentation and ad hoc operation’

It’s undoubtedly positive that there’s such interest in really learning lessons. However, I had two frustrations

  1. That we’re often overly critical of actually how much progress we have made. Although people might moan about it, the reason that the UK is so highly regulated (building codes, health and safety, child protection, care quality etc) is as a direct consequence of learning from past incidents and implementing procedures which reduce recurrence.
  2. That we don’t make the most of existing knowledge. Safety critical industries such as aviation and nuclear have been grappling with these issues for decades. It was therefore fantastic to hear from Paul Sledzik of NTSB on learning from the transport industry in the United States.

Are we really learning anything?

Many of the speakers asserted the need for a ‘safe space’ to share information, the trust and candour to be able to share lessons without fear of repercussions. There are already examples; for example the ‘Chicago’ meetings of the NTSB and the CISP structure for cyber incident recording. Will JESIP Joint Organisational Learning or the forthcoming Lessons Emergency and Exercises Platform provide the same level of safety? I worry that they could add to the ‘mock bureaucracy’ if not simultaneously accompanied with cultural change to embrace lessons.

Identification of a lesson is easy. Where that relates to a system or a process the fix is also relatively straightforward. However, double loop learning, where the root cause of the issue relates to the culture, values of beliefs of an organisation is much harder.

The overriding message of the NTSB keynote was not to forget who we’re doing all this emergency planning for. It is impossible to plan for (or even to concieve of) every eventuality. All emergencies are different, and all people are affected by them differently. However, we should not loose sight that at the end of the processes that we use are people, families and communities.

Emergency Planning is typically based on risk. As Lucy Easthope was speaking today, and reflecting on Paul Sledzik’s comments on expectation vs reality, I wondered about an alternative approach:

So in addition to developing capability to respond to flooding/zombies/whatever we could build public narratives…for instance…

  • When a building collapses and kills my loved one
  • I want to get their personal possessions returned to me quickly
  • So I can process grief in the least traumatic way

Now that’s just an experiment, and I’m sure it could be further developed, but would that sort of approach help refocus on ‘why’ we’re doing what we’re doing rather than ‘how’ we’re doing it?  

And…just like that annoying kid at the start of the article…we come back to why.

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,

Daring to learn lessons

Daring to learn lessons

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Lessons Learned

The public sector does lots of good for a great many people, but occasionally it doesn’t perform as well as it should. Sadly, it’s easy to recall examples of this. We increasingly live in a culture which doesn’t tolerate failure, so how is this Preppers applicable to emergency planning?

It’s a tricky semantic road to navigate, but a cause of personal frustration is that lessons are repeatedly ‘identified’ but less frequently are they ‘learned’.

I recently developed a database of lessons from exercises dating back to 2004. It’s a beast, but it was actually a really rewarding piece of work to undertake; helping identify common patterns and themes, which despite being identified over the course of multiple exercises, are yet to be resolved.

Communications is probably the prime example (ask any emergency planner!). Countless exercises and incidents have identified issues with communications, and yet despite all the investment in bespoke equipment and training, it still features in exercise and incident debriefs.

So why do some lessons remain unlearned? Are there bigger obstacles in the way? Are we aiming too high? Are there complex cognitive factors at play which stop us learning from history and experience?

I’m yet to read Seth Godin’s latest book, but having heard his comment that “nobody cares about all the hours you spent with the committee whittling your best work…cause a ruckus” I’ve added it to my wishlist.

The public, quite rightly, wouldn’t tolerate impaired emergency response where an exercise had previously highlighted issues, which hadn’t been subsequently acted upon. Even if that lesson had been debated and discussed at length in public sector boardrooms.

Perhaps Godin has the answer for addressing those lessons which fail to be learned? Maybe resilience practitioners need to be more daring, more imaginative; to overcome these hurdles and achieve the art of learning lessons.

In any case, my commute reading for January is sorted!

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