What is resilience? One definition is “the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” To take an example: prevention is the action you can take to reduce the chances of an accident. Resilience, on the other hand, is the means to restore life and limb, after an accident happens. So, with regard to the Grenfell fire, building regulations about flammable materials are preventative; protocol about escape during a fire is about resilience.
Under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 Kent Resilience Forum (KRF) partners are required to assess the risks in their area. KRF partners achieve this by working together to develop the Kent community risk register. The risk register is meant to assess risks and to set risk levels as follows:
Types of risk
The register places risks into four categories. These categories are determined by assessing the ‘likelihood’ of a risk occurring and the various ‘impacts’ that the risk would cause. The categories are below:
These are classed as primary or critical risks requiring immediate attention. They may have a high or low likelihood of occurrence, but their potential consequences are such that they must be treated as a high priority. This may mean that strategies should be developed to reduce or eliminate risks, but also that mitigation in the form of at least (multi-agency) generic planning, exercising and training should be put in place and the risk monitored on a regular frequency. Consideration should be given to planning being specific to the risk rather than generic.
These risks are classed as significant. They may have a high or low likelihood of occurrence, but their potential consequences are sufficiently serious to warrant appropriate consideration after those risks classed as ‘very high’. Consideration should be given to the development of strategies to reduce or eliminate the risks, but also mitigation in the form of at least (multi-agency) generic planning, exercising and training should be put in place and the risk monitored on a regular frequency.
These risks are less significant, but may cause upset and inconvenience in the short term. These risks should be monitored to ensure that they are being appropriately managed and consideration given to their being managed under generic emergency planning arrangements.
These risks are both unlikely to occur and not significant in their impact. They should be managed using normal or generic planning arrangements and require minimal monitoring and control unless subsequent risk assessments show a substantial change, prompting a move to another risk category.
How does KRF assess risk and categorise it?
This is what they say:
“The likelihood of a risk occurring is based on historical evidence, subject matter expert opinion and local expertise. The KRF constantly carries out a process called ‘Horizon Scanning’, in which we monitor various channels to forecast what may occur in the short, medium and long term (e.g. Weather forecasting).”
How impact is determined: The impact is again based on subject matter expert opinion, historical evidence and local expertise. The impact is measured across four areas; economic impacts, health impacts, societal impacts and infrastructure impacts which now includes cyber attacks.
Who are the members of the Resilience Forum?
The emergency services are members, so are the various District, Unitary and County Councils and the NHS, but not the Utilities. Surely they should be? Our Utilities, and our transport companies, both bus, train and air, are private companies. For some types of risk (an air or rail crash; a dam burst; major cyber crash) the experts are employed by the private industry. It is true that safety regulations can be monitored by the public regulators (Ofwat, Ofcom, Ofgen etc) but their main function seems to be monitoring prices for users, rather than resilience issues.
The Toddbrook reservoir dam in the Peak district nearly failed in 2019, and it caused a flurry of concern about dam safety, but did anything happen? Did KRF amend its risk register accordingly? The same thing happened after Grenfell Tower and Central Government is still trying to insist that recalcitrant developers remove cladding that may be a fire hazard. Grenfell happened in 2017, the Toddbrook dam incident was two years later in 2019. How have the safety checks gone on with dams and cladded buildings in Kent? We don’t know.
There is actually some attention to the flooding risk in Kent (coastal flooding is in the high risk category). There is regular reporting on this to the Kent Resilience forum and to a meeting of KCC. The risk of failing dams in Kent is nothing like the recent catastrophic Ukraine disaster, as our main supplying reservoir (Ardingly) is in Sussex, and other dams such as at Hythe are very small.
But we face other risks, such as recent incidents such as congestion and gridlock at the Port of Dover. Dover became gridlocked last Easter, because a combination consisting of large numbers of coaches full of passengers and more extensive passport checks at the passport controls caused delays, leading to gridlock and the travelling public spending hours stuck in vehicles waiting to transit on to a ferry or to make their way home. What role should the KRF play in this?
All the various transport organisations do their own thing according to their own best economic interests, which at best inconveniences the public, and at worst means cancelled holidays and local residents pinned down in their homes. National Highways is not a member of the KRF, nor is Dover Harbour Board, or any rail, bus, air or shipping companies.How can you coordinate a response, when these key stakeholders are not embedded within the organisation? They may respond to the KRF, but that is different from belonging to it. National Highways operates operation Brock according to its own criteria, leaving KCC to ask why do we need Brock this weekend? The Ferry companies book coaches, cars and trucks, regardless of whether the port of Dover has the capacity to cope with the traffic. Dover Harbour Board has no back up plan in the event of a problem at the Port, or anywhere else in the short sea crossing system. The Police, the DHB and KCC have often failed to manage this problem adequately, because they don’t cooperate effectively.
It took the combined forces of the Confederation of Passenger Transport(CPT), Central Government, and a public outcry, for some heads to be knocked together at the Whitsun bank holiday, which is probably why Operation Brock was switched on without telling the KRF. Coach flow was reasonably smooth at Whitsun but the Easter snarl up need not have happened, had all parties cooperated.
As someone who has experienced one of these events, first hand, back in 2016, I found that the members of the KRF were involved in an unseemly row between themselves, about who was to blame and who was responsible for what happened. I find it surprising that seven years after that event, there is still a lack of coordination and a poor response when disruption occurs at Dover.
We were promised a ‘Transformational’ Dover port upgrade costing £45m and DHB said that “We’ve done all we can to stop queues”. So, have they? and where is the transformation? After Brexit, there were plans to ease delays etc, but these were either cancelled, or where they were completed, such as for instance the Sevington inland border facility, they were not used to mitigate the congestion. Why not?
Generally, there seems to be a lack of drive, a lack of decision making, improvisation and innovation. The result is often confusion and inaction once things go wrong, as they often will. The KRF and the Port of Dover are not good at responding to circumstances that had not been foreseen or projected. It does seem that everyone relies on ‘someone’ to do something, and of course ‘no-one’ does.
What is the point of Kent Prepared if no one is prepared to coordinate and cooperate in the crises most likely to strike Kent? Either it has inadequate means to do its job, or Central Government ought to be coordinating a response by directing the KRF. There is no point in devolution if Central Government does not deliver the means to do the job properly.
There are bound to be more emergencies and disasters to compare and contrast our preparedness with other parts of the world. Kent is blessed with a temperate climate within a rich and normally stable country, but there may come a time when an emergency of substantial proportions hits our shores. We need to prepare for that eventuality, and I am not sure the KRF is the right package.