A National Resilience Charter: Towards a resilient future in uncertain times

The definition of a National Risk Register (NRR), held within the Cabinet Office at the heart of British politics, pointed the way towards a more formal approach to the definition of risks to the people and territory of the UK.

On the surface the work carried out provided a detailed and holistic view of threats to society that has not previously existed. Ranging from the impact of solar storms on satellites and radio communications systems, through to the potential impacts of climate change, the potential for pandemics, the durable threat from terrorism (in all its ugly forms), and the breakdown of civil society, the NRR seemed to provide an exhaustive list of threats.

Local Resilience Forums

Sadly, modern political structures are full of this kind of initiative. Once completed it was announced with some fanfare that it would be handed over to the Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) who were supposed to use it as a guide for exercises and planning. This part is important, but it is in the follow up where the initiative quickly runs out of steam. Publishing an NRR is only a first step in what should be a long-term programme aimed at increasing national resilience to a wide range of possible situations.


“We envisage this as a standard that all emergency services agencies, and specifically their LRFs, should aspire to achieve”


Planning for extreme events is all well and good, but if they are outliers that only occur rarely then the LRFs rapidly lose focus and revert to doing what they have always done. Rather than stretch the work of the LRFs to test local resilience in extreme (but highly unlikely) conditions, exercises fall back on the tried and tested. Investing and planning for extreme events (even if their impact is seen to be severe) are taken at risk, meaning it is very unlikely to happen and so can be consigned, politically, to the long grass.

This leads to an asymmetric approach to resilience. The NRR acknowledges the existence of the risks, but the planning and preparedness (underpinning resilience) does not take place. Whilst the formal results of the Covid pandemic inquiry remain on the horizons, it is relatively simple to derive what might be described as the obvious.

Despite the warnings of a pandemic and the nudges emerging from swine flu and the impact of the current outbreak of bird flu, most organisations are not doing any form of horizon scanning. That is left to government to sponsor work in government-funded research laboratories, such as Porton Down. When they detect and create appropriate alerts then other organisations sit up and pay attention.

That, however, places a lot of responsibilities on the government laboratories to imagine dire events. This is rarely in the bounds of thinking of a specific organisation. How many government laboratories red team their thinking in practice? How many such organisations stay in bounds that are politically acceptable?

This, of course, is a reactive driven culture: wait for an event and then react. That did not go well during the pandemic. Too much of the Covid response was developed in contact with the crisis. Which, given limited resources and dedicated funding, is understandable. This, we argue in this paper, is not the right way forward when so many threats lie on the horizon.


War in Europe

Whilst the distant thunder of war on the European mainland remains off many people’s radar horizons, the potential for a catastrophic collapse of Ukrainian resistance must be considered. Russia, after all, can outgun and outman the Ukrainian war machine that despite its innovation, such as the cottage industry and drone manufacturing that has rapidly appeared across the country, is struggling to hold onto territory.

One characteristic of resilience planning is that it is often the catastrophic that is the most immediate threat. Covid provided a salutary lesson of this effect. It can be summarised simply in mathematical terms; the scale of the next crisis is the reciprocal of its apparent distance. In other words, the next crisis is far closer than anyone thinks.

In this respect, despite obvious indications of the coming impact of climate change and the impact on flooding and food production, it is the distant thunder of war in Ukraine that we argue needs to be an immediate focus. LRFs across the country should be seeking a lesson learnt document from the Cabinet Office as a matter of urgency to steer their planning.


“Resilience and the achievement of the award of the Resilience Charter needs to be a whole organisation mission”


Some of the potential contents of such a briefing note are all to easy to imagine. Russian targeting of the Ukrainian population both directly and through attacks on Ukrainian CNI, in an attempt to intimidate them into submission, was always to be expected. The Russian’s seemingly have not learnt that the ways in which they use indiscriminate violence against a population simply hardens their resolve as they have seen what it would be like to be subjugated by the Kremlin.

Whilst some political leaders may prefer to bury their heads in the sand and deny the immediacy of a wider conflict in Europe, the echoes of the 1930s appear writ large. Will a revanchist Russia be satiated by absorbing Ukraine? The answer to that is obviously no. President Putin is already moving on Moldova and Georgia. It will not be long before he starts getting involved in Polish politics. The echoes of the 1930s are all too real.

So what does this rapidly deteriorating security landscape mean for the West and specifically for the UK? Ignorance may be said to be bliss, but when the resonance of history appears so real and obvious, becoming an ostrich is rarely likely to be a useful strategy.

As a matter of urgency PRFs need to understand their local vulnerabilities that might arise in their communities if, as Russia has done in Ukraine, a sustained effort of cyber attacks against our Critical National Infrastructure starts to occur.

Russia does not need to resort to bombing, an overt declaration of war, to achieve effects. A systematic, but deniable, attack against our utility services would create serious problems for our society. The declaration of a major incident at the start of May at the Bristol Royal Infirmary provides a simple example of our vulnerabilities. Whilst this power cut is unlikely to have arisen from a Kremlin-inspired actor, the consequences for the community and the emergency responders have been significant.

Russia has all the tools necessarily available to hand to create havoc with a cyber-army of volunteers issued with the tools they need to unleash chaos on our society. Indeed, Russia’s restraint in the use of its cyber arsenal against Ukraine is a measure of just what it has been holding back on in case it needs to operate below what is currently regarded as the threshold of war.

Into this cauldron we at FIRE magazine have been thinking about how we make the UK emergency services community more resilient on the face of increased Russian hostility. After all, so-called Russian commentators regularly call for the UK to be targeted because of our support for the government of Ukraine.


Resilience Charter

Our proposal is to develop a Resilience Charter. We envisage this as a standard that all emergency services agencies, and specifically their LRFs, should aspire to achieve. Being awarded the Charter requires an organisation to submit itself to an external evaluation by resilience professionals. We at FIRE can facilitate such a team being assembled.

To set a pathway to gain the Charter an organisation, such as a fire and rescue service, a LRF or other emergency services organisation, needs to appoint a Resilience Charter leader. We envisage this as a senior appointment, Assistant Chief Fire Officer or their equivalent, in other parts of the emergency services. This person leads a team whose first duty is to assemble the evidence of good working practices that embed resilience within an organisation both through process and culture.


“It is vital that every organisation in the emergency services arena have a well-established lesson learned process”


There is little point in creating a process that exhibits good practice as far as resilience planning is concerned if a culture exists that actively seeks to undermine its adoption. Resilience and the achievement of the award of the Resilience Charter needs to be a whole organisation mission, in securing the award and maintaining the standards that see the approach become integral to the day-to-day working of the organisation.

So what are good practices that underpin being a resilient organisation? In practice there are likely to be those that have a primary effect on the reliance of an organisation and those that have lesser impacts. Amongst those that we consider to be first order effects are the approaches taken by a candidate organisation to responses to critical events.

What range of critical events are envisaged? Nuclear, chemical and biological terrorism may seem to some to be unlikely, except for those who live in Wiltshire, but it is a reality that cannot be ignored. Those in the LRFs responsible for exercise planning need to ensure that a wide range of scenarios are played out at the desk-top level as well as in live simulation environments, including multiple events.

We cannot be in a position where scenarios are born in separate silos, like a terrorist event. Our nation-state adversaries are hardly likely to miss an opportunity to capitalise on an event that has already stressed our national resilience. In all cases senior leaders need to be faced with realistic command dilemmas, situations where staff will need to be sent into harm’s way.

An evaluation team will need to assess an organisation’s compliance with a range of metrics to determine their suitability for the award. One clear area will be organisational resilience in the short-term versus the ability to maintain basic service levels if assets are deployed under mutual aid arrangements. Plans for service reconstitution and return to normal working should be part of a well-planned approach to resilience.


“What is necessary to help create the basis of a better variant of JESIP is the creation of a Resilience Charter Mark”


Lessons Learned Process

Finally, for the purposes of this article, it is vital that every organisation in the emergency services arena has a well-established lesson learned process. This is not about creating a tick box. It is a process that sees lessons that have been clearly identified and causal links evaluated and changes to existing process and procedures embedded within an organisations approach and culture.

As a starting position, every organisation seeking to achieve the Resilience Charter standard must have developed a comprehensive view of the lessons it has learnt from the pandemic. Through this process organisations can be awarded the Resilience Charter and know that they have been externally evaluated, by their peers, and seen to meet great professional standards that when times get difficult have created a baseline from which a first-class response can be generated. For society, faced by such uncertainties, that is the minimum that should be expected.



Resilience Charter Mark

We at FIRE magazine remain convinced that what is necessary to help create the basis of a better variant of JESIP is the creation of a Resilience Charter Mark. An award that recognises an organisation’s commitment to improve its resilience at the individual, team and organisational level.

This Resilience Charter Mark would be awarded to those organisations who do not just promote JESIP as a procedure but recognise that any procedure is only as good as the people who implement it. If they exhibit inherently risk-adverse behaviours the organisation a whole is likely to be found wanting when contemporary threats arise.

The Resilience Charter Mark would be a part of what we also refer to as the Resilience Charter. Signing this Charter commits an organisation to achieve and maintain its ability to reach the highest levels of professional standards when it comes to managing responses to emergencies.

It goes to the core of continuous professional development and offers a benchmark that all organisations should aspire to achieve. Constantly challenging mediocrity and seeking to push greater planning and questioning of situations is a critical factor in resilient responses.

This approach, which can be argued was followed by Captain Moody and Captain Sullenberger (the latter of Miracle on the Hudson fame) – although they would argue it was a matter of being even more professional – enables the individual, the team and the organisation to be ready for the unexpected. It may seem an alluring vision but that simple idea, being ready for the unexpected, is the key to resilience.

What defines the unexpected can include if you are an airline pilot not taking for granted that you will have all the engines on your jet working. It can also include the possibility that nature and human beings may work together, in concert, to create situations that break the norm, requiring risk-based behaviours to be carried out to provide improved responses.

This focus on the unexpected has one core issue at its heart – the unexpected can never be taken for granted. It is by its nature what is often referred to as a Black Swan event. Highly unlikely but challenging if it happens. The NRR can help provide a framework in which such events may occur, but it cannot help organisations to move out from their comfort zones that JESIP is the solution to their difficulties in planning responses to critical events. It is not, and in an ever-changing and dynamic world, where war seems closer than ever before, it is a matter of urgency to address and the Resilience Chater and the Resilience Charter Mark are important steps along that journey.

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