Authorities should adapt their emergency plans to include ordinary citizens as a key part of disaster response, research published today by Demos claims. Resilient Nation argues that people and communities should be recognized as the first line of defence against threats like flooding, terrorist attacks or pandemics.
In the village of Walcott, Norfolk, it was down to members of the village’s volunteer flood wardens to alert residents of an imminent flood and coordinate the emergency response when the Environment Agency and local Police station failed to sound the alarm. The slow response from the authorities meant that property was damaged and the evacuation was made harder by floodwater.
Based on a series of case studies the research also shows that communities in at risk areas are turning to social networking sites like Twitter to coordinate in an emergency:
- The Los Angeles Fire Department uses a Blogger site to communicate between firefighters and people on the ground.
- London Borough of Haringey councilor Alan Stanton has a Flickr site to educate his constituents about the dangers of flooding.
- Most recently, Facebook played a part in The Red Cross’ efforts after the Italian earthquake.
Plans for a centralized civil protection force, advocated by UK’s three main political parties is unnecessary and a potential waste of money:
“We already have a civilian force: hundreds of thousands of citizens who are active volunteers and can be called upon in the face of disaster,” said author of the report, Charlie Edwards. “People should be at the heart of the Government’s National Security Strategy when it’s published in the summer.”
The report Resilient Nation shows that Britain is a brittle society, characterized by complex lifestyles, a vulnerable national infrastructure and extreme weather like flooding and heat waves. Britain is increasingly vulnerable to emergencies that are too difficult for the emergency services to counter alone. Social networks, not state apparatus, will be the most useful tools in future disasters.
Charlie Edwards said:
“It’s no longer about the state simply protecting us, it’s about the state supporting us to make ourselves more resilient.”
“Resilience is an everyday activity and people have to be aware of the part they play in protecting their community and the country. All the ingredients for building a resilient nation are there but it’s how and when we put them together that will make the difference between being ready and resilient or vulnerable.”
Notes to Editors
Resilient Nation is the result of ten months work and over 50 interviews in ten different locations across the UK. It includes case studies from flooding in Walcott, Norfolk; the 1987 fire in King’s Cross, London; the 2004 Asian tsunami; the UK’s Foot and Mouth crisis; the Los Angeles Fire Department and the 2008 Hurricane Gustav. Charlie Edwards is Head of the Security Programme at Demos.
Recommendations from Resilient Nation include:
- Local councils, emergency planning officers and the emergency services should use social media like Twitter as part of their engagement strategies.
- Community resilience should become part of the PHSE curriculum.
- Individual resilience should be encouraged by creating goals such a resilience badge for Girl Guides and Scouts.
- Government should establish an annual ‘preparedness week’ where local communities can learn to develop their emergency response strategy.
- Local authorities and the emergency services should develop live exercises and training for the public.
The launch of Resilient Nation will be marked by a panel discussion with:
John Haddon - Global Leader Security and Risk Consulting, Arup
Sir Richard Mottram - Former Permanent Secretary (Security, Intelligence and Resilience), Cabinet Office, and Chairman of Amey
Martin Tolman - Emergency Planning Manager, Birmingham City Council
Moya Wood-Heath - Emergency Planning/ Civil Protection Advisor, British Red Cross
Charlie Edwards - Senior Researcher, Demos
Phil Collins - Chairman, Demos (Chair)
The event takes place on Tuesday, 21st April 2009 at 12.30pm at the Institution of Civil Engineers, One Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AA
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