Emergency planning, continuity and risk in fighting the pandemic

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Written by Nikki Ross

For most of us business continuity brings about a slight yawn at best and a total switch off at worse. If one thing is true though it is that you cannot practice enough for disaster.

The muscle memory and instinctive responses that come from practice mean that when reality hits, the action taken is quicker, slicker and more considered. As a former police officer, risk management is in my blood so a couple of weeks before lockdown I had already thought through and put into place a restructure of the charity to ensure we were able to pull back and that the Thames Valley Partnership could do business remotely. Staff had the right IT and their ability to deliver our services in a different way was questioned and checked in a teleconference call the week before it was needed.


I was actually in hospital following surgery when the lockdown was announced but the planning meant that despite the high dose of morphine, I was able to outline a plan for the organisation and business continued without a hiccup. Our business continuity plan was out of date but the core was sound, pandemics were on the risk register with due mitigation included, and once the virus started to become an issue – February time, I was able to access governmental advice for all the staff and volunteers and make sure that we had covered their health and safety, client safety and could manage our resilience on a day to day basis.


Arrangements were in place for self-isolation (before it was really a thing), sick pay if the virus was contracted and working remotely if unable to travel but symptom free. The upshot of all of that, is that the teams were able to spectacularly rally, and through sheer grit and determination were able to continue to deliver frontline services to many vulnerable people without any disruption to service from our end.


That isn’t because I am a visionary, although as I said, I do risk management. It was because in times of peace, time was taken to ensure that we were ready to tackle any emergency that fell upon us – that was reasonably foreseeable. The emergency response plan was able to kick in and everyone had a clear template to follow. In reverse, we are now looking at a return to normality. Not because it is coming in the immediate future, and it may not come for ages yet, but because if we work through all scenarios now then we can tackle them when the time comes.


We need to learn honest lessons about our performance and leadership over the past few months, and we need to address them, reframe our plans around them, and come back with a plan for the charity that fits a new normality and is sustainable for the future. Remember failure to plan is planning to fail!


Nikki Ross is a Trustee and CEO of Thames Valley Partnership



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