MY VIEW - PANDEMIC RISK RESPONSE

Monday 27 April 2020

Six months ago, it would have been unimaginable not to be able to socialise with friends, go out to a restaurant, travel to meetings, or travel abroad on holiday. Who would have imagined supermarket food shortages?

Today we live in a world of lockdown, home schooling and social distancing. This scenario was unthinkable. How could we have imagined the day when we cannot do what we want to do because of an uncontrolled global virus? How could we imagine the devastating consequences for those who have lost their lives and their loved ones, and those who have lost their livelihoods?

As a risk manager we are supposed to imagine the unimaginable.

I remember sitting in risk management training courses and group meetings discussing emerging threats and risks, talking about pandemic, flu and infectious diseases. We couldn’t imagine the real-life consequences then, noone did. Yet this was a risk that was identified back in 2018 on the National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies with the highest likelihood and impact risk to cause a civil emergency over the subsequent five years.

Little did we think that this would turn into our reality as the world watched the coronavirus spread from China. Since January 2020 the risk has been escalating to the top of public service organisations’ risk profiles.

Everyone has had to sure up pandemic plans, and business continuity and disaster recovery plans. We have all actioned any organisational learning from past internal and external multiagency exercises and from scenario testing with other agencies in our local resilience forums.

In March as the pandemic was declared, we moved into a new reality. All organisations’ risk profiles have changed since then. The disease has modified not only our existing risks but created many new ones.

Organisations now have COVID-19 risk registers so we can manage the dynamic risk profile at Gold, Silver and Bronze Command structure meetings. We are risk aware, monitor, review and make informed decisions based on the best information we have.

We have learnt a lot, very quickly.

It is fair to say we all need to be more resilient in the future should we face another civil emergency.

When the pandemic is over, we need to embrace the changes to our operational delivery models and use some of the innovative ways of working we have all implemented as business usual controls. We should increase agile working, Skype virtual meetings, and prioritise cross sector collaboration. All organisations will have to review business continuity plans and risk management frameworks for organisational learning.

Blue light pandemic risks so far may include: 

  • Availability of personal protective equipment due to global demand.
  • Capability and capacity on IT and planned projects due to competing priorities and impact of not being able to contact suppliers and third parties to progress key projects.
  • Increase in demand on safeguarding for domestic abuse.
  • Lack of capacity of bandwidth to handle home agile workers on laptops.
  • Vehicle supplier impact due to factories closing, with delays to new vehicle orders and vehicle parts to maintain vehicles.
  • Long-term impact on the delays on case progression in the judicial system as ongoing trials have stopped and hearings are adjourned due to social distancing requirements.
  • Managing offenders from early prison releases.
  • Loss of income generation as events are cancelled.
  • Failure to secure a government grant for the financial outlay of COVID-19.
  • Increased abstraction through sickness, isolation and vulnerabilities, and impact on mental health.
  • Impacts of delayed recruitment and training while in lock-down.
  • Collapse of suppliers and contractors and/or failing to meet contractual commitments.
  • Increase in spontaneous public disorder.

Beverley Nichol-Culff, Head of Risk Management and Insurance, West Yorkshire Police and ALARM Board Director and Blue Light Lead.

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