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Over 50 emergency planning practitioners attended a national workshop at the Alexandra Palace in London to explore the challenges in dealing compassionately and effectively with people in the aftermath of disasters.

During the wide ranging discussions, the role of the voluntary sector was particularly highlighted. Voluntary organisations can provide wide-ranging support in major incidents under direction of local authorities – but if they are not closely involved in planning, through resilience forum meetings and local exercises, the partnership links and mutual understanding of roles and capabilities may be missing.

Speakers included Marilyn Robinson (Disaster Action), Rebecca Stockwell (Humanitarian Assistance, Cabinet Office), Sandra Howitt (Red Cross), Simon Williams (Director, Royal London Borough of Merton) and Sian Lewis-Williams, the National Family Liaison Adviser for the National Crime Agency.

Areas debated were on the experiences of survivors, the role of Family Liaison Officers, building the capacity of the voluntary sector, community resilience, and the role of central government.

Dan Dumbarton, chair of the EPS’s Human Aspects Group, said: “The EPS National Workshop provided a unique opportunity for key practitioners in this sector to have direct input into shaping future practice. One of the key debates was about co-ordination of the humanitarian response at a national level, and we were pleased that representatives of central government were present from the Cabinet Office to hear all the issues raised.”

The Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office is currently revising national guidance on humanitarian assistance, and the findings of the workshop will be fed into the consultation, with the revised guidance expected by the summer.

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