Help! What Would You Do?

It’s late on a stormy Friday afternoon, the office is quiet and you are idly checking the travel updates to plan your route home. The forecast for the weekend is not good and your mind has wandered to what films and box sets will entertain you while you stay out of the worst of the weather to come. You are suddenly aware that the phone is ringing. The weather is already taking effect and there is a major power cut across the city…

All Hands to the Pump!

Civil emergencies requiring a response are not unusual. It could be a flood, a large fire, a gas leak, or any number of other events. Generally, they require residents living in the area affected to follow the instructions of the emergency services to ensure their safety, for example evacuation. For many people, although a stressful inconvenience, they can understand and comply without further assistance. For some however it is more difficult, and in some cases impossible without additional support, they may have vital medical equipment that needs to be transported with them. In these events, as a local authority, we play our part to ensure all our residents are kept safe.

A response to any civil emergency is a multi-agency response, meaning that the emergency services, local authorities and other agencies such as our health authorities will all be providing support to a central command team ensuring there is an efficient response. The overarching aim is to ensure that the right resources are in the right place to enable swift and safe action. As well as providing practical support local authorities have invaluable knowledge about those living within the community who may need extra support, what additional support they need, and most importantly hold an existing relationship with those people.

Enabling Swift and Safe Action

Key to delivering an effective response in times of crisis is proportional, accurate and timely data. To deal with these challenges, we recently worked with our emergency response colleagues to create a secure real-time tool to enable them to access a list of residents that our Adult Social Care services work with who may need additional support if an emergency occurs. In the event of an emergency our colleagues can access that insight immediately, using the built in geospatial tools and proactively reach out to make sure the right support is in place to support/evacuate as required.

Understanding the Past to Shape the Future

For every civil emergency response there is a comprehensive review of how things went, what went well and what could be improved. The information held is pretty detailed; how many people worked on the response and who worked on what, and how long things took.

After ensuring the data sources were up to date we skimmed through half a dozen or so responses and the issues, to identify previous responses that could be used here. Some issues really stood out. In one case around 100 people had worked contacting thousands of individuals in the large, affected area. There were some responses (like gas leaks) where there was an evacuation zone, for example the area within 250m of the source of the leak. In some cases individual buildings or complexes were identified, and in other there were lists of post codes or partial post codes affected.

Aside from applying new tools there were of course procedural improvements identified in the data gathering process. It was evident that there were multiple data sources being used, with different responses dependent on who was able to support a specific response. It was also clear that there were limitations in previous reporting and dashboard products, mainly due to technical limitations at the time. In addition to this, some of the reporting was difficult for non-data people to work with, again mainly driven by the technical functionality available at the time.

The final product was developed and refined with the civil emergencies team and those who work within the organisation delivering support to responses. At each stage the products were tested using our back catalogue of real-life responses, giving us and our customers confidence in the products.

On reflection, the most important factor in this development project was the way in which it was conducted. The wealth of previous information provided an important benchmark and any solutions we came up with were stress tested straight away, giving us clear insight into the issues and blockers that needed addressing.

So when that phone rings next on a stormy Friday afternoon I might just have to stay around with stop watch in hand to see just how quickly our colleagues can get help to where it is needed.

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