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Five lessons on planning for crisis

Planning for future emergencies requires learning from past ones.
04 April 2019 , EHN magazine

At 10.30pm on 22 May 2017 a suicide bomber detonated a device at the end of an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena.

Twenty-two people were killed, including children, and more than 100 were injured. It was a deadly assault on young people in the heart of Britain – but the emergency response agencies had been carefully planning for such an event. In fact, they had carried out a directly relevant planning exercise in the Trafford Centre just months earlier.

That being said, the Manchester response was not flawless. For example, the fire and rescue service followed its bomb incident protoocol, allocating operational responsibility to an officer 22 miles from the scene. It did not play an active role for two hours. Since then, its communication and deployment systems have been changed.

Planning for future emergencies therefore requires learning from past ones. Emergency planning consultant Hugh Deeming has a few overarching lessons from Manchester for people involved in planning for future crises:

Establish connections
Effective communication between local resilience forum partners is vital. But it doesn’t just happen. Make friends before you need them.

Never stop learning
The institutional memory of local authorities has often been lost because of cuts. Maintain a thread through constant learning and training.

Ensure staff competency
Empower your staff to act professionally. Make sure that they are competent and familiar with systems. Trust them.

Staying calm is key
People don’t always panic in emergencies. After the arena bombing, many people calmly stayed on the scene to help victims, although in great personal danger.

Write a debrief
Debriefing reports are vital learning tools. Write them clearly and keep the learning points short
and sweet.

Hugh Deeming presented at the CIEH Emergency Planning Conference on 25 April in London. The conference’s theme was ‘strengthening preparation strategies’.


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