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The name of the game...

Article, 13 November 2007
Domestic Security
This article calls for a more accurate and inclusive nomenclature to describe the work of the emergency planning services.

An activity that was once known only as 'emergency planning', and which tended to hide its light in darkened bunkers, has recently become fashionable and visible, acquiring a variety of new titles in the process. And therein lies a problem.

The name of the game

The word 'resilience' is much in vogue. The government has a national resilience agenda and has started to identify the structures needed to action that agenda. The structure comprises three national to local levels. Although all are ostensibly playing the same game, each is known by a different name. The Civil Contingencies Committee and its Secretariat in London will work with the Regional Resilience Units at the government offices in the regions, who in turn will work with Local Civil Protection Committees in the shires and the cities.

But there is suspicion in the shires that this three-layer structure interrupts the direct contact previously enjoyed between the locals and central government. Under the old system, local Emergency Planning Units (small offices at the local level) related directly to the old Home Office Emergency Planning Department. Now there is some feeling that the traditional, well-qualified local experts are being separated from the policymakers in London.

A strong indication of inclusiveness, to show that all are members of the same team working hard to achieve a common end, would be one way of overcoming some of this understandable caution. But it will be difficult to promulgate the benefits of a strongly unified game plan with such a diversity of titles. Where is the corporate image, the central theme, the single uniting philosophy? More importantly, where is the clarity of thought?

It appears as if emergency planners are not at all clear about what they want to do, and how to set about it. And if the authors of the policy are seen to be uncertain, why should the partners in the venture be any less so? Any advertising agency worth its salt will confirm the essential need for a strong 'brand image' and a cohesive message.

It would help if the activity were to be given a more consistent and encompassing name. There are many to choose from: Civic Protection, Civil Protection, Community Protection, Civic Resilience, Community Resilience, Civic Contingencies, Contingency Management, Continuity Management, Emergency Management.

So far the debate has been inconclusive - but the drafting of a new Bill covering the activity in question will be an opportunity to demonstrate, by selecting a clear 'brand image', the strong leadership and united, inclusive teamwork essential to the success of the new system. Whatever name it is given, it is worth remembering the old saying: "The beginning of understanding lies in calling a thing by its proper name."

The aim of the game

Before you can name the game, it is essential to identify the aim. The title 'Emergency Planning' is dearly held in the hearts of many who have laboured long in the shadows despite years of inadequate recognition. But that title implies that the game is only about planning.

Planning, however, is only one aspect of good management. The ultimate goal is to act well on the day, and good managers plan in order to achieve this, whatever their activity. A duty to engage in 'Emergency Planning' is not enough to ensure that people react well on the day.

The aim is not just to plan, not just to protect, not just to manage the response to an incident, not just to deal with consequences. All of those things and more are done, but to what end? The full spectrum of activity is a seamless process designed to identify potential hazards, to take precautions against them as far as that is reasonable, to prepare for the eventuality that the precautions might fail, to act effectively when they do fail, and to restore normality as quickly as possible.

The spread of activity described, if pursued conscientiously, helps in large measure to create and sustain a resilient community. (The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'resilient' as: "readily recovering from shock, depression, etc.; buoyant").

Reactive structures relying on planning alone are insufficient. A resilient community is proactive, responsible and mature, fully aware of the hazards of life and of the need to work together for collective safety. Therefore the 'aim of the game' is to create and preserve an acceptable degree of national resilience. Parts of Whitehall are said to be uncomfortable with terms such as Homeland Defence or Protection, which might imply too much military involvement. And yet the word 'civil' in Civil Contingencies Committee implies that there is no military input, which is equally inappropriate (as illustrated by the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic and the continuing fire dispute).

Using the word 'resilience' at each level may help tie the local effort to the national effort, resulting in a seamless process from Whitehall to parish hall. If that is the aim, suitable names for the three main levels might be: the National Resilience Committee; the Regional Resilience Unit; and the Civic Resilience Group.

The game of the name

Before daring to cast my first pebble into this pond, I thought about the difficulties. I did my research, looked at what others do, considered all the possible combinations of words and concepts to find something that fully encompasses the depth and scope of activities undertaken by all responding agencies. A word that incorporated all activities and excluded no particular group. I checked the dictionaries, reverse dictionaries, thesauri, even my 1840 Webster and my Latin primer.

I settled on the word 'resilience', because it implies the ability to avoid, ward off, ride or recover from a potentially fatal blow. Whether to an individual, a corporation, an industrial complex, a section of society, a treasured landmark, flaura and fauna or environmental process, it applies to the wellbeing of all members of the community; it is the desired end we are all trying to create. Resilience is all-embracing.

I also agonised over the significant and symbolic differences between 'civil' and 'civic'. Civil excludes the military, and also some aspects of the law, religion and politics. Yet all of these are involved in some part of our activity. It has been said that 'civic' smacks of the town hall. But this need not be a disadvantage: The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines the word firstly as: "...of or proper to the citizens..."

A number of aspects of our existence can be defined in this way. Perhaps most importantly, we all have civic duties and responsibilities to our fellow citizen that bear no relation to the town hall or civic centre.

Among the civilised Romans, the civic crown of oak leaves and acorns was awarded to one who had saved the life of a fellow citizen. This neatly sums up the work of emergency planners. Perhaps, therefore, the name games can stop, and 'resilience' be settled on as the word that encompasses all that emergency planners aspire to achieve. The qualifying titles 'national', 'regional' and 'civic' can be added to indicate the appropriate level of activity.

Ted Vary is a member of the Emergency Planning Society and deputy director of the new Regional Resilience Unit of the Government Office for the South East

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