As I was sorting out one of our supply cupboards earlier (such a glamorous job!) I came across an envelope labelled ‘Exercise Pictures, 1998’. The CSW Resilience Team was founded in 2011 with the joining together of Coventry, Solihull and Warwickshire’s emergency planning teams, but prior to that each of the three Local Authorities had their own resilience provision, so I was curious to see what our predecessors had been up to. Inside was a photo (see below) of an exercise testing their response to a rail incident, and I was immediately taken with how familiar it felt. It may have been 19 years ago, but training and exercising is still at the heart of what we do – in fact my colleague then dug out a picture of our own 2016 Exercise Cape, showing just how similar they are!
The 1998 Exercise
And again at Exercise Cape in 2016!
From this it may look like nothing has really changed in the field of resilience, and in some ways this is true – we’re still always working to plan how we’d respond to a wide range of potential incidents, and to find ways to encourage everyone on our patch to be prepared. But in other ways we’ve come a long way in the past 19 years, not least in bringing our three Local Authorities together to offer a unified response. For one thing, the various roles and responsibilities at the scene are now much clearer – as the picture below shows we’ve moved away from everyone wearing the same fetching yellow jackets to having different uniforms and tabards to clearly show who’s who at the scene. This may seem like a small thing, but it can make a real difference when there’s a big crowd of people and you don’t have time to ask everybody for their name and job title just to work out who’s in charge. CSW Resilience Officers also get in on the action, with our own hi-vis labelled clothing clearly identifying us at the scene.
We’ve also got a lot more high-tech since this picture was taken. Sure, we still use good old fashioned radios when needed, but we’re also all kitted out with our own laptops and smartphones, the Duty Officer always carries our trusty iPad and all of our plans are kept digitally, though always with a hard copy for backup! We can use online interactive maps to log and trace an incident, and share plans and information with partner agencies online at the click of a button. Weather warnings, traffic reports and situation reports also come through in handy e-mails, so there’s less of a need to stay plugged into a radio – resilience is living in the digital age.
All of this development is great, but at the end of the day we still need to practice. It’s no good writing up a beautifully laid out and detailed plan for dealing with an incident if it isn’t actually workable, and the idea of multi-agency working would never get off the ground if we didn’t make sure to keep in contact and get together to share our ideas. This is why, 19 years on from this picture, we’re still all out there (this time in correctly labelled jackets!) trying things out, seeing if our response works, looking for ways to improve our plans. I don’t know what resilience will look like 19 years from now, but maybe it won’t be all that different after all…
By Sarah Barnett