Thursday, 9 December 2010

Hartlepool Council Crisis Response

I read an interesting article in the Public Service News ( this week that was based on the premise that crisis-situations appear to have become the norm in today’s society as opposed to the exception.

The list is fairly impressive, from mad cows, avian flu, fuel blockades, climate change, predatory paedophiles, feral hoodies, economic collapse, terrorist plots, volcanic eruptions, etc, etc. and it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that politicians and their officials are generally ill-equipped for dealing with the non-routine challenges, threats (and even opportunities) provided by crises.

Beyond the UK there are a host of centers of excellence, like the European crisis management agency and the Australian and New Zealand School of Government, that specialises in preparing politicians and officials from all levels of government for the challenges of governing under pressure.

Participants are placed in a central control room and fed snippets of information from a variety of sources using live video streams, email, faxes and a variety of other real-time tools. As the pressure builds and the information becomes more complex the group is instructed to prepare a number of briefings for the council leader. As the information coming into the control room changes so do the demands placed upon the teams.

Scenarios often include appearing in front of the media at very short notice in a full press conference in which they feel the full force of a media feeding frenzy. The most significant and valuable element of this exercise is the manner in which it provides a fairly raw but incredibly valuable insight into how crisis leadership demands a quite different set of skills and assumptions than are commonly honed in day-to-day 'normal' politics.

There's a paradox here the frequency of major emergencies is set to increase because public services are under greater pressures, but we still fail to train decision-makers in the art of governing in a crisis. There is a huge difference between 'coping behaviour' and 'crisis leadership' and it is exactly this fact that makes this kind of project so important.

I wonder how Hartlepool Council would perform in a major emergency? Something really significant like the pies running out at Victoria Park or Drummond getting stuck in the WC? I would have thought the first response weapon in Drummond’s Crisis kit is give Paul Walker another pay rise, no doubt followed by another council re-organisation and a press release urging calm but re-assuring the people of Hartlepool that the Tall Ships will be returning soon!

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