This week Charlie discusses Storm Arwen, the cycle of lessons following an incident and why business continuity professionals need to keep an eye on incidents at all times.
I almost managed to completely miss Storm Arwen. Firstly, as I live on the West Coast of Scotland, which was not as badly hit as the East Coast and secondly, I was in the pub the night of the storm and walking home at 1am with Kim and my next-door neighbour, so I didn’t really notice anything, including very high winds. As the last houses were put back on power this week, I heard a bit on the news about the storm and that inspired me to write this bulletin.
The following was said about the storm:
- The wind was blowing from the north which was an unusual direction. Most UK storms come from the southwest. Therefore, trees that normally would have withstood a SW gale fell in a northerly one.
- Trees that should have been cut to prevent them from taking down power lines were not cut, even when householders complained about them.
- There were people out of power for 10 days, which is an unacceptable amount of time.
- Plucky power people were out all hours preparing lines and mutual aid from surrounding unaffected power companies, which helped the recovery.
- Inadequate and incorrect public information was provided, with call centres saying 'don’t believe our website, your power will be out much longer than it says'. Customers were also being told it will take a couple of days to restore power and then found themselves without power for much longer than expected.
- Government ministers and local politicians said the delays were unacceptable.
There was a call for an enquiry, which the government agreed to. We have all heard it all before. There have been power outages where people have been off power for a similar length of time and subsequent enquiries with their recommendations have taken place, but nothing seems to improve and we suffer in the same way again. Even if you accept that building a power grid that can withstand all extreme weather may be unaffordable with the technology and channels available to us, we should at least be able to provide appropriate public information.
I have written in a previous bulletin about when incidents happen it is usually a case of ‘lessons identified’ rather than ‘lessons learnt'. We see it go round in an endless cycle as per Figure 1.
Lessons get identified after the incident, then a report is written and acted upon. Some of them might be about improving infrastructure which is implemented, but many of them are about response processes that may initially be put in place. Over time, 'lessons identified' degrade to 'lessons fade’ and then become ‘lessons lost’, only to be rediscovered during the next incident. A classic case of this was a recommendation from the Kings Cross Fire in 1987 when the emergency services didn’t have radios which operated underground and the same recommendation had to be said in the 7/7 bombings in the 2005 report, because emergency service radios still didn’t operate underground.
Some organisations, such as airlines and the UK railway system, seem to have a good process in place. They learn from incidents, the information is disseminated through all organisations involved in the industry and they try and make sure that the same incident doesn’t happen again. Incidents still happen on our railways, but they are not on the same scale and frequency as what happened at the end of the 1990s.
I think our role as business continuity professionals is to keep our eye on contemporary incidents and take the time to seek out the lessons. We should read reports on major incidents, such as Grenfell or the Manchester bombing, and see what the lessons are and how they might apply to our organisation or could be used to improve our response. We need to include them in our response plans, procedures and mitigation measures to make sure that we do not repeat the same mistakes and we learn from other incidents.