Bulletin / Fool if you...

Fool if you think it’s over

Author: Charlie Maclean-Bristol

This week Charlie discusses incidents and the impact they can have long after they have taken place.

Two items caught my eye in the news this week. The first was US and Scottish prosecutors have asked Libyan authorities for permission to interview the Libyan men, Mohammed Abouajela Masud and Abdullah al-Senussi, who they believe might have been involved in the Lockerbie bombing. The second was that I noticed the Volkswagen story was no longer being spoken about in the news. I am sure that this is not the last time the Volkswagen crisis will be on the news but it has gone quiet at the moment. Both items reminded me of the length incidents can go on for, affecting people and organisations long after they have faded from headline news. 

Each year flooding is a major story in the UK and each winter a different area of the country seems to be affected. We see lots of stories of flooded homes and heroic rescues, followed by the pictures of distraught people as they return to their homes and survey the damage. Government ministers and royalty go and visit them, extra money is pledged and then the whole circus moves on to the next incident. For those left behind this is just the beginning, as they may have to live in a caravan in their front drive for up to a couple of years while their house is restored. This is especially hard on the poor and the uninsured who may struggle to be able to afford to restore their house. I think people in these circumstances feel forgotten, as the new media is no longer interested in their story and for many, to physically get back to the state they were before the flood, can take 2-3 years.

The physiological effect on survivors, and their family and friends after an incident, can have a huge impact, and in some cases they may never recover. This could be anything from losing a family member to the incident, to living with a survivor who may be physiologically damaged. Anniversaries, the item appearing on the news or similar incidents can all bring back the feelings created by the incident. This can be amplified by not knowing the full story or who was responsible and the person or persons who are responsible for the incident not being punished. 

For the Lockerbie bombing, which took place in 1988, there is still debate of who this was carried out by and so the new naming of suspects will raise the emotions again of those affected by the incident. In a similar way those affected by Hillsborough will have to relive the incident again with the latest investigation ‘Operation Resolve’ taking place. Although the incident took place 26 years ago it is still having an impact as the survivors and those affected believe the incident has never been properly investigated, and those responsible brought to justice. 

Incidents can make the name of a place synonymous with the disaster, making it difficult to change the perception. Lockerbie is a pretty boarders town, however it will be known as the town were Pan Am 103 crashed, for at least a couple of generations. Even on Visit Scotland’s website, alongside a mention of the town’s architecture, it once being the biggest lamb market in Scotland and also having an ice rink where a lot of curling takes place, there is also mention of the crash. The Aberfan disaster in Wales on the 21 October 1966, caused by a catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip killing 116 children and 28 adults, is an example of this. I suspect many of those under 40 had never heard of this and so places can move on from being associated with a disaster but it can take a very long time.

Also, don’t underestimate the length of time, and amount of management time it takes to respond to a major incident. I helped debrief a transport organisation after an incident where there were a number of fatalities. It took until a year after the event for the organisation to feel that they had enough time to deal with the incident and to spend a day in the debriefing. There was the initial incident to deal with, followed by looking after the survivors, and funerals to attend. This is then followed by a number of investigations and enquiries, ranging from inquests to criminal prosecutions.  If the incident is large enough there may be a public enquiry, which can go on for years. This all takes an immense amount of management time and effort, rightly so, but at the same time the organisation may be trying to carry out the day-to-day activities and continuing operations which cannot stop or they could be fighting for survival.

As business continuity people we will try our best to make sure incidents do not happen but if they do, we need to make sure that top management are aware that they are in for the long haul…...

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14 December 2018

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