The work of Duncan Shaw, Professor of Operational Research and Critical Systems, is widely cited in a major report on how the UK can better build resilience and plan for risks.
The report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Risk Assessment and Risk Planning ‘Preparing for extreme risks: building a resilient society’ follows on from evidence Professor Shaw gave to the Committee earlier this year.
The report says the pandemic has placed a spotlight on the government’s planning for the most serious risks facing the UK and has exposed the UK’s risk management system as “deficient and too inflexible to provide the protection our nation needs”.
For instance, it says the risk of the failure of ageing critical infrastructure such as nuclear power stations, dams and bridges grows day on day without sufficient intervention. “A reliance on electricity and the internet and the increasing complexity and interdependence of the networks underpinning daily life have left us vulnerable to cascading failures which could proliferate rapidly and cause widespread devastation. The UK’s risk management system must adapt to ensure that we are prepared for the evolving extreme and systemic risks on the horizon to protect us today and into the future.”
Whole of society approach
Professor Shaw recently co-founded the National Consortium for Societal Resilience [UK+], known as NCSR+, which was established to enhance the UK’s whole of society approach to resilience so that individuals, community groups, businesses, and organisations can all play a meaningful part in building the resilience of our society.
In the House of Lords report he is specifically cited in a chapter which discusses how the UK population is not widely engaged in building resilience and planning for risks. It quotes Professor Shaw saying: “We need to take a strategic approach to supporting communities, to supporting the public to prepare for and respond to emergencies, given that the public are usually the first to arrive at and the last to leave a disaster.” He goes on to describe the last year as a “masterclass” in communities supporting each other, managing their own preparedness and needs.
The report stresses that a pandemic is only one of many risks facing the country. But it says it offers a unique opportunity to take stock of the UK’s risk assessment and risk management process. “We must assess and strengthen our national resilience to ensure that we are better prepared for the next crises,” says the report.
Echoing the founding values of the NCSR+, the report says the UK must adopt a whole of society approach to resilience, one which emphasises the important role played by all sections of society in preparing for, adapting to, and recovering from the effects of risk.
It says risk and resilience are not solely the concern of central government policymakers and that government must ensure it properly accounts for and involves all elements of society in its risk assessment and planning.
Communities stepping up
The report says the pandemic has shown that communities can step up and help ensure national safety. As it adds: “The Government must see our people as an essential building block of any response and as active participants in creating resilience. They must provide them with the support and information to help them prepare for the risks they face. Volunteering represents a key opportunity to involve the public in risk management and response. The UK has a strong voluntary sector which must form the foundation of any future reservist force used in times of crisis.”
It adds that the current risk management system is veiled in an unnecessary level of secrecy and that the UK’s risk plans need to be shared widely to maximise their efficacy. “While secrecy does have an important place…this has hampered our preparedness as society’s front-line responders, including Local Resilience Forums, local government, volunteer groups and businesses and industry all struggle to access the information they need.”
Reflecting on the report, Professor Shaw said it raises the ambition to enhance whole-of-society resilience. “Through the NCSR+, local governments are working to collaborate even more closely with their local communities and organisations, and with each other, to pursue this national endeavour. Everyone has a meaningful part to play in the resilience of our society so collaboration is key across whole-of-society actors.”
Professor Shaw and colleagues from The Manchester Briefing have also been honoured by the Emergency Planning Society (EPS), winning the ‘Excellence Award: Team or Organisation’ at its annual awards.
The EPS is the largest and most prominent association for emergency planners in the UK and has a far-reaching overseas profile.
The Manchester Briefing, which is put together by Alliance MBS and the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, was launched at the start of the pandemic and brings together international lessons which may prompt thinking on recovery and renewal from COVID-19. The Briefing is distributed to more than 50,000 people through a network of partners.
Added Professor Shaw: “This is wonderful recognition for the whole team that have been putting together the Briefing for more than 18 months now. The award was announced with a strong message on the value of the Briefing to the emergency planning community during the response and recovery and renewal stages of COVID.”