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MORE than 100 resilience professionals joined the latest educational event held by the Emergency Planning Society which explored moving forward from the COVID-19 crisis.

The webinar, Living with Afterwards, was hosted by Professor Lucy Easthope and EPS Chair Jacqui Semple and brought together a panel of experts from emergency planning, disaster management, public health, CBRN and academia.

With a focus on supporting strategic decision makers within local authorities, including Chief Executives, the panel offered expert guidance, insights, discussion and advice on the current COVID19 situation, how we can all move forward and how resilience professionals can continue delivering their essential roles to the highest standard in the midst of the emergency.

Welcoming delegates EPS Chair Jacqui said: “The EPS was created in 1993 to promote effective emergency planning and management and support the professional interests of our members.

“Since then the operating landscape of emergency management has changed extensively. We live in a world of complex, interdependant and dynamic risks with an increase in the range of threats and hazards. Much of that has been driven by societal change, civilisation, reform, changes in local and national structures and political activity.

“We are a small world and global changes will continue to impact us – the pandemic has brought this in to sharp focus. What does this mean for us a profession?

“With every crisis comes opportunity. We have adapted quickly to deliver what is needed in a short space of time. So what does that look like now and in the road ahead?

“This event is an excellent example of where we need to be and where we need to be striving to get to. So as professionals working in resilience and emergency management, our members are at the very heart and centre of the global pandemic – some centre stage, some conducting and some behind the scenes.

“We have rehearsed for such a long time for such a range of hazards – the spotlight is on – we need to capture the mood of the audience. This is a time for the profession to come together and support each other, work in harmony and learn as we go forward. We must be positive and we must go forward in a way that makes a difference. Today forms part of that research, expertise and knowledge. We are in this for the long haul. But on top of this we must be ready for the next big thing.”

Professor Easthope then introduced Dr Hugh Deeming who spoke on Stabilisation and Impact Assessments in Structuring your Recovery. Full notes of all speakers’ presentations will be available on the EPS website for members.

Dr Deeming told delegates that while we are all dealing with one thing, COVID-19 in this case, there of course are other things happening in the background – each resilience professional has a community risk register which holds any number of other hazards.

So, he said, we must remember that while our focus is on the disease, it is not the only thing we as emergency professionals are doing.

He said: “We have all got our work streams; business as usual, thinking about the future, recovery as well as dealing with the initial emergency. This is the first time these are really all amalgamated together – they are not separate people doing all these things – everybody is in this together.”

Dr Deeming then explored hazard concurrency citing the example of the recent extra challenges faced in Dorset with wild fires which saw a number of personnel pulled out to respond to the fires during a disease outbreak.

He also spoke on hazard cascades such as the triple disaster in Japan in 2011 – an earthquake which became a tsunami which in turn became a nuclear reactor failure and hazard series, for example a succession of storms, leading to floods which makes the recovery from one disaster even more challenging with the onset of the new disaster. This causes a constant pendulum between response and recovery and all of these need to be considered in the context of COVID-19.

Dr Deeming concluded with two definitions of stabilisation and how they can impact us as emergency planners going forward.

Delegates then heard from Tracy Daszkiewicz, the Director of Public Health at Wiltshire County Council who shared “Lessons from Salisbury; Top Tips for Recovery Leaders”. Tracy was heavily involved in the emergency planning response to the use of a nerve agent in the city.

Through Tracy’s experience in Salisbury, she saw the importance of the community during the recovery process.

She said: “We cannot separate the stages of a response – everything happens together. We plan fiercely in peace times and we try and understand what we can put in place to mitigate and prevent escalate of harm during an incident.

“Then when an incident hits we move into our response. As the incident occurred in Salisbury it seemed common sense to immediately begin to plan for the next phase – there needs to instantly be movement happening in the background towards steps for recovery.

“People cannot be left in a state of distress; they need to be made to feel safe and reassured. As a result, the recovery plan, from a public health perspective, was written on Day 3 of the response.”

Tracy reminded delegates how important it is to get “boots on the ground” straight aware to reassure the community.

She urged planners that when conducting Community Impact Assessments, that it cannot be just an academic exercise, resilience professionals need to be in with the community, learning about and understanding their experiences. They need to think of everyone who has been disrupted as it can be more widespread than first thought.

Community-led monitoring and evaluation is key, she said. Community resilience needs to be assessed – this will vary within different subgroups of the community. Planning for prioritisation and screening of communities is crucial.

Barry Moss then took delegates through “Lessons from CBRN, Stability in leadership and addressing disruptive factors”. In his presentation, Barry explored strategic planning.

He said: “The inability to successfully incorporate strategic planning is key to understanding how to improve performance in planning and response/recovery.

“In the COVID post-incident debriefs I’m sure we will look at how well we did with setting the strategic ‘tone’ and the specification of planning outputs – what we did with them, and what context and content we put into them and how smart we made them.”

We need, he said, to learn to recognise what is strategic planning and direction and what is operational input.

Barry told delegates: “Concurrency of planning and delivery is key to recognise at a strategic level – it is too easy to focus on one strategic issue at a time without considering how things interlink of affect each other.”

Barry also discussed addressing disruptive factors, urging people to be aware of the information disseminated by organisations, the public, the media and politics and to be aware of competing and contradicting agendas.

Having people at the heart of the response was explored by final speaker Emma Dodgson who has learned through past experiences in responding that it is essential that we do not let the recovery response become too process focused, as often happens, as this can be more damaging.

It can be avoided, she said, by putting people at the heart of communities and at the heart of response and recovery.

She said: “Community resilience is key, it’s engaging and enabling communities to recover rather than treating them like a passive recipient of plans and decisions.

“We should embrace and harness local support networks, find out what the priorities and ambitions of the community are and embed empathy and a people-focused approach across and throughout command and control and response and recovery, with Hobfoll’s Principles of Resilience (psychological first aid) as a model to use. It should also be embedded in decision-making, policy briefings, communication and welfare for responders.

“Recovery is not a one size fits all approach – we need to have an equitable recovery plan for inclusivity and diversity and possibly use a Humanitarian Impact Assessment to recognise differences in people’s and community’s needs. What works well for one community might not work in another one. Equality impact assessments and community impact assessments are key.”

The EPS would like to thank all of the speakers for their insightful and interesting presentations. The event was such a success further webinars on this subject are planned for later this summer.

Professor Easthope hosts a twitter feed which invites discussion on these topics and can be found here: @lucygobag

Her book, What Next, will also explore these topics more fully and will be published in the Autumn.