Two new pieces of advice for local authority emergency planners

Local authorities’ preparedness for civil emergencies: A good practice guide for Chief Executives And A councillor’s guide to civil emergencies

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has reissued advice to local authorities on preparedness for civil emergencies (Local authorities’ preparedness for civil emergencies: A good practice guide for Chief Executives, November 2018). This document, which is not intended to be prescriptive, lists 10 aspects it would expect to see in a well prepared authority.

In the introduction Jake Berry MP states that the nature of emergencies facing us continue to increase in variety and complexity “terror attacks in London and Manchester, the use of nerve agent in Salisbury and the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower have tested the resolve of our communities and reminded us all of the importance of local authority leadership in times of crisis”.

The section entitled “are you ready” asks nine questions about:

  • the ability of residents to contact the authority including out of hours and on bank holidays;
  • the authority’s ability to communicate risks and to warn and inform people in the area, including tourists and other visitors, before, during and after an emergency;
  • the ability of senior staff and elected members to manage in an emergency, including managing the authority’s role and as a senior officer within the strategic response and recovery mechanisms;
  • the testing of plans to ensure that they address local risk and resilience standards and describe how to maintain essential services, ensure business continuity and contain agreements with other local authorities for support in a crisis;
  • the resilience of supply chains;
  • the role of the authority within the LRF and the accuracy of the role description in multi-agency plans and the ability to deliver;
  • resource plans for no notice and sustained emergencies, including over holiday periods;
  • a knowledge of the authority’s strengths and weaknesses and where support and further resource can be obtained;
  • the ability to assess the full impact of an emergency on community needs.

The report discusses the role of the local authority in civil resilience in terms of the CCA, in which the local authority is a category 1 responder.

Importantly the regulations or guidance require that the local authority “to ensure that they can continue to exercise their functions in the event of an emergency. The duty relates to all functions, not just emergency response functions”. This appears to include the ability of an authority to provide support to any population within countermeasure zones during a nuclear emergency. “Plans should be clear about what operational support the local authority will put in place for different emergencies, and how this can be activated in and out of business hours” …. “Plans must be clear about how this support will be activated and managed. This support could include on the ground community alerting, for example, door knocking, checking on vulnerable residents, operating rest centres and providing on-going welfare support for people directly affected by emergencies”.

To achieve this all business critical functions should have robust business contingency plans for the services that the authority delivers and those that are contracted out.

An example that is pertinent to nuclear authorities is “consider building ‘all-risk resilience’ into contracts (for example, how to ensure domiciliary care is delivered during petrol shortages or severe disruption to transport networks)”. Reinforcing this is the statement that “Local authorities are expected to manage the humanitarian aspects during emergencies. This requires staff at all levels to be effectively trained to deal sensitively with victims and survivors, including their friends and family. Training and exercising reserves and volunteers builds a further level of resilience in the event of concurrent or long duration incidents”.

An example of communicating with the public given is that of Calderdale Council which utilised social media during floods in December 2015. It is claimed that the council reached over 420,000 people on Facebook and received over 1 million impressions on Twitter.

On the matter of community leadership the document states that “The public, media and politicians will also look to the council to provide information and clarity on what has happened, what is still happening and what will happen next”.

The importance of training and exercising is stressed. It builds “confidence and competence to enable robust delivery of the local authority role whether it is delivered in response or recovery”.

A list of useful documents is given at the end of the document.

This is a document that should be read by the local authority manager responsible for emergency planning and by the Chief Executive of the authority fairly regularly. It might be a useful one to have on the desk when performing periodic readiness or accountability reviews. At a mere 27 pages it makes a welcome change from some of the “door stop” guidance documents that sap the will to live.

A related document, A councillor’s guide to civil emergencieshas also been updated recently (November 2018). The forward mentions that the last version was issued in 2016 but reports that a lot has happened since then with terrorist attacks, tower fires and nerve agent attacks within the UK.

This document introduces some core terms including the definition of a civil emergency, the difference between a rising tide and a no-notice event, categories of responders and levels of response.

A number of case studies are discussed.

The overview section outlines the responsibilities of councils and individual councillors and, later, the role of leaders, portfolio holders and Ward councillors. These headings are then revisited in sections devoted to “preparedness and resilience”, “response”, and “recovery”.

Appendices give suggested questions for leaders/portfolio holders (Appendix 2) and scrutiny committees (Appendix 3) to ask.

This document is a good read and a useful resource for councils and councillors.

Author: Keith Pearce

Emergency Planning and Health Physics consultant and author

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