Expert opinion: Why the Government's response to winter floods was so uncoordinated

Nottingham Business School's Peter Murphy sheds light on why the Government seemed to be so caught out as the scale of the floods unfolded

Nottingham Business School's Peter Murphy sheds light on why the Government seemed to be so caught out as the scale of the floods unfolded

With forecasters predicting that clean-up operations could be further hampered by a wetter than normal start to March, the current UK floods are the latest example of a change in both the pattern and timing of emergencies.

In the UK and around the world, not only is there is an increase in the number of emergencies but these incidents are tending to be more widespread and are tending to prevail for longer.

Extreme weather conditions – rainfall, wind, heat, drought, snow, cold and tidal surges – are becoming more prevalent and their impacts are being felt for longer. This means risk management planning by our emergency services needs to start accommodating medium and longer-term changes to the pattern of threats, particularly from the environment.

Nottingham Trent University's Public Management and Governance Research Group, within Nottingham Business School, and the School of Social Sciences' Emergency Services Research Unit are already working with emergency services. Academics are looking at things like the increasing potential for wildfires in rural upland areas while predicting that winter, rather than summer flooding, may be an increasing risk to our communities, particularly in urban areas with little spare capacity in the drainage and sewage systems.

One of the key questions arising from the current floods has been why the Government has seemed to be so out of touch with what is happening on the ground and why the preparations and response to the emergency have been so uncoordinated. After all, we live in a 24/7 world with round-the-clock media coverage and instant access at the touch of a mobile phone, tablet, laptop or PC.

Not only is there is an increase in the number of emergencies but they are tending to be more widespread and they are tending to prevail for longer.

Peter Murphy, Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University

Our experts believe part of the answer lies in the closure of the Government's Regional Office network and the parallel reductions in the capacity of the regional resilience and emergency planning teams that operated in the nine English regions before 2010.

In 2004 the Civil Contingencies Act replaced the earlier and very much outdated Civil Defence and Emergency Powers legislation.This came about as domestic and terrorist threats to services, along with widespread flooding in England and Wales between 1998 and 2000 and the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001, became more numerous and their social and economic impacts more widespread.

As a result of the Act, small teams of dedicated specialists were established in each regional office and these teams coordinated and developed local resilience networks of emergency planners and emergency responders. They facilitated the preparation of emergency plans and two-way dialogue between the centre and local emergency responders. At times of emergencies they could also call on the local knowledge, assistance and contacts of the area or locality teams within the offices.

These teams knew their areas and were in regular contact with key people on the ground who would know where and what resources were available and how to effectively coordinate their deployment. They would also be available to assist the core teams when an emergency required additional capacity in the command centre.

Regional offices, however, were swept away in the early rhetoric of austerity and the anti-regional agenda. Regional Resilience Teams that are the responsibility of the Cabinet Office have also been reduced in both size and numbers of staff who now operate in a semi-peripatetic way across one of the three regions that England is now divided into.

These staff have a much thinner network of contacts and no real chance of knowing their vast geographical areas in the detail needed.

The history and role of the Regional Resilience Teams is partially recorded on the following 'securipedia' Regional Resilience Teams website. More prophetically the site states that a "full list of Regional Resilience Teams" can be accessed via the UK Resilience website – but when you click on the link a message simply states that the site has been shut down.

Peter Murphy, Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University

Expert opinion: Why the Government's response to winter floods was so uncoordinated

Published on 24 February 2014
  • Category: Business; Press office; Research; Nottingham Business School; School of Social Sciences

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