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Pop Up Emergency Planning

Pop Up Emergency Planning

Reading Time: 3 minutes

From one off exhibitions and sample sales to short term high-concept bars and restaurants, the trend for temporary, ephemeral retail and leisure has gripped London, and many other places, in recent years.


The cynic in me knows not to be drawn in by the marketing and hype, but then I get a serious case of FOMO and hop aboard the ‘for a limited time only’ train. From eating deep fried crab in petrol stations, to sipping rum from watermelons in a faux 1950’s holiday resort; it’d be fair to say I’ve participated in the trend.

However, it wasn’t until this week that I thought about transitioning this from a retail context to resilience.

Emergent behaviour in response to disasters is nothing new. There are countless stories of unplanned, improvised and spontaneous responses which should give us all a warm feeling: despite not knowing our neighbours, community spirit really is alive and kicking.

Perhaps though, there is room to develop, enable and facilitate these pop-up responses in the event of an incident? Are there any lessons to be learned from retail for our own pop-up planning, both within the responder community but also at the individual and community level?

In a study conducted in 1983, Quarantelli identified a typology of emergence, shown below.







Task Emergence


Structural Emergence

Group Emergence

Remember the London Riots Broom Army? The task was new, the clean-up of the mess and debris left by several days of consecutive looting and vandalism. The structures used were also new and so this would be classified as Group Emergence.

With the Volcanic Ash Cloud of 2010, people near airports offered spare rooms to stranded passengers – a new task (the provision of shelter), but using existing structures (people’s homes rather than camp beds in a village hall), giving rise in this case to Task Emergence.

Whilst this is a useful model for understanding different motivating factors behind emergent behaviour, as with most things, I expect there is a degree of overlap between the different groups, and it’s hard to classify all examples of emergence as just one of these types.

However, in thinking about this typology, where can we help enable emergence in the future? It’s easy to identify the ‘old’ structures and tasks, this is  what we do every day and in the way that we currently do it. Even identifying ‘new’ tasks isn’t that complex, as whilst they may not be everyday tasks, they’re likely to be foreseeable. I think it’s the identification of ‘new structures’ which presents the challenge. (I have a feeling that VOST could be one of these new structures, and I’ll get round to blogging more about the use of volunteers to support operations soon!) It’s easy to say ‘communities’ but who? What are the factors which make someone a community leader, how do they get people onboard with their vision? How do they coordinate spontaneous activity?

There is a tendency for emergency planners to seek to ‘control’, when actually that’s both extremely complicated and largely not desired by affected communities. We need to dispel two myths, that the public is incapable and that we can solve everything alone. There is going to be emergence in disasters, so we should include emergence in preparedness activities.



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Resilience Fieldtrip 2013

Resilience Fieldtrip 2013

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Did you notice the lack of blog posts over the last few weeks? Well, here’s a long read to make up for it (and official work post over here)!

I’ve just got back from my holiday to Iceland, New York and San Francisco (which, right from the outset, is quite the Disaster Tour!) and I managed to meet up with some resilience colleagues along the way. Each of these places has a strong history of disasters so it was a great opportunity to investigate similarities and differences.

Regardless of where we are in the world, or what our risks include, resilience specialists face common challenges. Whilst volcanic eruptions, super storms and earthquakes feature low down on UK risk registers, I could relate to the complexities of working with large organisations and the grey-space between politics, strategy and operations.

I was interested to learn about emergent community responses to volcanic activity, and how that is being encouraged in Iceland. The impact of the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption in the UK (see below) was mainly confined to economic losses (estimated at US $5bn), however, future eruptions could have more direct impacts, both for Iceland and internationally. In fact, I was surprised by just how much ash is in the atmosphere, even in non-eruption conditions (it had recently snowed so it was easy to spot the ash accumulations).


In New York, signs of Hurricane Sandy were still evident. I was told about the phenomenal coordination effort by City officials both during and in the recovery phase, which far exceeded my expectations. However, after nearly 6 months, there are still signs of the impact the storm had on Manhattan; escalators awaiting repair, felled trees and signs explaining that public art had been removed for restoration. This demonstrates the length of time required to recover from incidents, and I shared experience from the 2011 Public Disorder which took considerable time to get back to normal, and indeed some of the premises affected are still unoccupied as we approach the second anniversary.

The facilities of the New York Office for Emergency Management were impressive, and outstripped any that I have seen in the UK. The department was directly affected by 9/11 and subsequently relocated to new facilities in Brooklyn and I was lucky enough to get a tour of their award winning emergency operations centre; which although similar in principle had some marked differences to UK operations rooms.



As I was wandering around Manhattan, there were traces of emergency planning from days gone by. NYC fallout shelters have long been decommissioned, although it’s estimated that there were up to 200,000 such designated facilities by the mid 1960s. Whilst the specifics of the response to such an incident may have evolved, it’s a reminder that there has been a sustained threat to many places around the world.


The final leg of my travels took me to San Francisco. It’s been some time since they’ve experienced a significant earthquake, however they take their preparations extremely seriously, and signs of the 1906 quake are evident in their approach to resilience and land use planning in the city. Much of the city was destroyed by the earthquake and subsequent fire – the area highlighted in red on the map below shows the areas affected.


Indeed, even their offices are designed to withstand high magnitude earth movements using a what was described to me as a simple roller system (although I’m sure the reality is far more complicated!).


As well as being affected directly by earthquakes, San Francisco is also at high risk of the after effects of submarine earthquakes – tsunamis. There has been considerable investment to protect vulnerable locations, prepare emergency services and raise public awareness. In fact, this week 24-30 March is Tsunami Awareness Week 2013 and there are some good resources and links to local activities listed.


Another commonality which struck me, was that all of the places I visited were beginning to think seriously about the implications of climate change. Whether it affects the rate of glacial melting (Iceland) or sea level rise (New York, San Francisco), it’s an area which is increasingly being picked up on the resilience radar. Rather than enter into my thoughts on this issue here, I’ll save that for a future post.

I’d be very interested in the thoughts of any international colleagues reading this blog on their view of the similarities and differences in approach. I decided that I quite like field trips, so if you’d like to invite me to your country please get in touch!