An Emergency Response Plan in action

We caught up with Community Emergency Volunteer, John Roe, who, as Coordinator during the COVID-19 emergency response, led on the support efforts for the village of Great Barton. Here, he takes us through the details of their Emergency Plan and how he and his team of volunteers put this into action.

Can you tell us about your role in the community?

Normally I take the lead for the Great Barton Emergency Response Plan, heading up the Volunteer Team for the village, which is situated near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. When we triggered our plan, in response to COVID-19, I undertook the Coordinators role.

Great Barton is a diverse village with 947 households, spread over a large rural area. Many of our residents are retired and there can be a reluctancy from the community to ask for help, with many opting to put others before their own needs.

In 2003 I was approached to help with the task of creating an emergency plan for the village that would respond to the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. There were seven other local volunteers who supported this task. Between us we brought a good level of professional experience with backgrounds in power network distribution and telecommunication resiliency.

As part of the plan, we created an emergency risk assessment, which laid out the vulnerability levels of 50 different types of risk. It included high probability events such as blizzards, hurricanes and radiation, but did not extend to pandemics at this stage.

Can you explain how you have structured your group?

As a large rural village, it is vital that our volunteers are able to reach households easily on foot during an emergency, when there may be a loss of power and/or communication. In response to this, we divided the village into 21 sectors to form a ‘Community Cascade Network.’ Each sector covers a relatively small geographical area with their own Main and Reserve Local Coordinator who look after approximately 50 properties between them. Each sector has a property list with addresses. A telephone/courier fan-out procedure is in place to provide a communication conduit if needed.

Our emergency plan is structured around 3 volunteer groups:

The Great Barton Emergency Plan is structured around 3 volunteer groups

Can you discuss how your group adapted to meet the challenges of COVID-19?

Early online conversations through our village’s Facebook group, (relayed to me by my daughter) highlighted the community’s awareness of what was happening. This really gave me the confidence to trigger our plan on 16th March (with the agreement of the Parish and West Suffolk Councils).

It was obvious that because of social distancing, the Operations Team would have to perform in isolation from one another, directed by the Coordinator. Fortunately, we had already in place a telephone exchange line number, which was diverted to me as the Coordinator, but could be diverted to any member of our Operations Team at any time if needed. Adapting to the demands of COVID-19 was a challenge, but because I have lived in the village for many years and maintained our plan, I had developed a rapport with the community. Alongside my professional experience, I had the confidence I could do it.

A letter was delivered on the 17th March to all households, offering help to people in the community who had lost their support structure, were self-isolating as a result of the virus or were feeling isolated. We decided that our support efforts would be focused on the vulnerable and isolated members of our community, organising prescriptions, food deliveries etc. and we put out a request for additional volunteers to get involved.

It was important that the new volunteers were honest about what they could or could not do in their response effort (for example, if they had reduced capacity due to childcare). We changed our Facebook group from ‘Great Barton Neighbourhood Watch’ to ‘Great Barton Emergency Response Group Volunteers’ and put up a post calling for volunteers. We had 92 new volunteers through this as a result, which was just brilliant. Assigning the volunteer to their local sector meant that they would know the residents and could build on this rapport.

Other efforts included:

Support services of the Great Barton Emergency Response Group Volunteers

What would you say are some of the personal qualities and skills that make an effective group Coordinator?

You have to be a people-person and think of others first; it is important to be mindful of the whole picture. Recognise that you have a whole team of volunteers wanting to be part of the decision-making process and want their voices heard. Other key skills are organisation, the ability to identify priorities as well as delegation.

There were times when my volunteers were understandably apprehensive about the tasks we were carrying out in the community during this challenging time. It was crucial that I reassured them. I did so by relaying key government information, communicating my confidence in them, as well as being clear and decisive in my role as their Coordinator.

Recognise that you have a whole team of volunteers wanting to be part of the decision-making process and want their voices heard.

What has been a key learning experience for you?

If you want help, always go out and ask for it. If you explain clearly what you are asking people to volunteer for and where they fit in, they will support you. Keep in regular contact with them, so they will know they have a valued role to play. We are so lucky to have this in place.

I am very proud of the village for the way it has supported its residents during this extremely difficult time.  

John and The Great Barton Emergency Response Volunteer Team have not had a logged COVID-19 related support request since the 8th June and have been able to take some much-deserved rest.

Volunteer, John Roe, who takes the lead for the Great Barton Emergency Response Plan.

Alongside all things community resilience, John enjoys DIY, travel, rambling, bird watching, and photography.

Building resilience in rural communities

Communities Prepared (a Groundwork South programme) and Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) have published a new guide to help rural communities become more resilient in the face of emergencies.

Drawing on the experience of local rural charities and existing initiatives, the guide provides practical tips for rural residents to prepare for, and help each other, at times of crisis. It shows how volunteer groups can be set up to develop emergency plans that identify local risks, and maps out the resources and support that can be mobilised should situations arise that threaten the health, wellbeing and livelihoods of people in the local area.

A tractor clears snow from a roadway after the Beast From The East Winter Storm.

Financial backing for the guide has been primarily provided by The Prince’s Countryside Fund, with additional support from The National Lottery Community Fund.

Zoey Ayling, Programme Manager for Communities Prepared said: “As the outbreak of Covid-19 has demonstrated, unexpected events can and do happen, threatening the way of life we have become accustomed to. Sometimes the impact on individuals and the services that support them can be severe, with recovery taking months, if not years. That’s why we created this guide to help communities plan ahead, offering information and practical guidance on how to identify risk, understand the key roles during an emergency and pull together to build long term resilience.”

The guide features stories where rural communities took a proactive approach to anticipating and responding to emergency situations. These include the delivery of hot meals to residents in Caddington, Bedfordshire, who were left without electricity and gas after heavy snowfall, and community and voluntary organisations that joined together to help residents and businesses recover following the extensive flood damage caused by Storm Desmond in 2015.

David Emerson, ACRE’s Chair said: “We are delighted to publish this guidance with Communities Prepared, which builds on the ACRE Network’s rich heritage of helping rural communities to help themselves – sometimes at the most difficult of times – by making the most of their local knowledge, capacity and resources. In contrast to their urban counterparts, rural communities are not well served by public infrastructure and services so initiatives led by volunteers can make a tremendous difference to the wellbeing, livelihoods and security of everyone locally. This way of working has been demonstrated brilliantly in the context of Coronavirus – when we are seeing rural communities across England taking a lead on local responses to the pandemic, from good neighbour schemes to village halls being used to distribute food parcels.”

Building community resilience to challenges also has many other benefits beyond the emergencies. Examples in the guide show how this can also bring about environmental improvements, foster new community networks, and underpin social cohesion.

A close up of a person’s gloved hand picking up a plastic bottle from leaves on the ground.

This essential guide will make it possible for everyone in the countryside to recognise the risks to their community, understand what can be done to prepare for them, and be familiar with the emergency actions that can be taken in conjunction with other agencies should the worst happen.

Waiting for the flood: action plans are great, but how do we find ways to live with long-term risk?

Flood risk

We are in a season of so-called ‘super-floods’. Flood professionals and volunteers have swung into intensive action for what they classify, less dramatically, as the ‘response phase’, and those who have flooded are facing the stark misery of what is left. We are all more aware of the risky world we live in. But, as all ‘floodies’ know, being at risk is not just about the crisis, it’s for life, for individuals and for communities. And it is worth thinking about what that means.

In
my teenage years, my grandmother, before leaving her house, would sit in her
hall dressed in her coat with her handbag on her lap waiting for her lift. She
would often get out her small black diary and read it. This is one of my most
enduring memories of her.

For
my grandmother, to be prepared was to suspend all other activity in order to be
ready to leave when the time came. When the flood siren sounds, this may well
be a sensible strategy. Turn off the electric and wait for help with your
emergency grab bag to hand. In the longer term, though, we cannot suspend our
lives for a flood that may or may not come.

With a changing climate and the increased flood risk it brings, we have to find ways, as individuals, as communities, and as institutions, to move along the paths of resilience and adaptation. We have to do this, not by shutting our changing environment out, not by ignoring risk, but by weaving change and risk into the everyday in a constructive way.

Easy enough to say. Doing it is a different matter.

Much excellent work is going on to encourage and help communities to plan, practise for and recover from emergencies, not least by charities such as Communities Prepared and the National Flood Forum and by excellent local bodies such as Cumbria CVS, or Somerset Prepared.

But how do we ourselves, collectively and individually, process, understand and respond to flood risk in a way that doesn’t destroy our peace of mind? Our well-being? How can we be both ‘prepared’ and able to get on with our lives and loves? How do we get the balance right?

Garage full of rubbish
Prepared but not ready? When life gets in the way.
Rain on window
Rain dread: once flooded, never forgotten.

Some people who have experienced flooding, whether directly or indirectly, actively look for ways to prepare. If you are visiting this website, you are probably one of them. I am myself.

Many Flood Action Groups have started like this. We know, too, though, that many others do not prepare (for complex reasons, not least the psychological strain of living in fear or other pressing needs in their lives).  

Some preserve their peace of mind by relying on past patterns of flooding and solutions that may no longer apply. Or by framing their own experience as a one-off event with a very specific cause. And then there is an increasingly large group who must prepare for a risk they have never faced, cannot really imagine. How do all these people ‘prepare’?

I
have no simple answers. But here is one thing I know, from my own village, from
the very varied towns and parishes that make up the West Somerset Flood Group,
from other groups and ‘floodies’ across the country:

The shape and dynamics of preparedness must match the people and the place

Whatever
it looks like currently, our preparedness must be able to change just as communities
and their circumstances change. I will stick my neck out here and say that this
is often easier for villages than towns and cities (which is just as well,
given the lesser support available to rural communities).

So,
although I can’t suggest how to do this, I can, tentatively, offer a starting
point.

We must start with who and what we are, with how we do things ourselves, where we live. That means not feeling defeated when faced with shining examples that seem alien to our own experience. It means not trying vainly to fit into the template. It means recognising the differences among ourselves. It means looking at our own communities’ strengths and building on them. It means doing it our way, even if it’s sometimes a bit rubbish. Not on our own but with the help of others. And in a dynamic way – we cannot suspend our lives and sit in our metaphorical hallways with our coats on waiting for a crisis to arise.

Teresa Bridgeman is Chair of the West Somerset Flood Group, Vice Chair of the District Flood Board and occasional convenor of the West Somerset Natural Flood Management People and Partnerships catchment group. She is author and editor of Flooding in West Somerset (2014) and co-author with Phiala Mehring, of Simple SuDS (2019), a guide to sustainable drainage. She sets out (with varying degrees of success) to strengthen networks of cooperation and trust at all levels of Flood Risk Management. Like all maintenance work, this is a perpetual and evolving task and is only possible because of the brilliant people she encounters along the way. Anybody who thinks they recognise their own influence on this blog is probably right, not least Carolyn Otley, Hugh Deeming, Mary Dhonau, Phiala Mehring, Hannah Ovett, Chris Uttley, Evangelos Ntontis, Katrina Brown and Cormac Russell.

Dr Teresa Bridgeman

WeatherReady Winter Campaign 2019

The Met Office has launched its WeatherReady Winter Campaign for 2019 in partnership with the Cabinet Office to help people prepare for and cope with severe weather. WeatherReady encourages individuals, families and communities to think about winter preparations they can make to help them stay warm, healthy and safe at this time of year.

The following WeatherReady checklist has been produced as part
of the campaign’s resources and can be used to help people to think ahead.

Get your flu jab

Flu can have a major impact on vulnerable people and you may be entitled to your vaccination free of charge.

Check your vehicle is winter ready

Top up anti-freeze screen wash, check your tyres and think about a winter kit for your car.

Make a ‘plan B’ for commuting and childcare

Consider alternative commuting plans for severe weather, and alternative childcare plans in case of school or nursery closures.

Check your heating

Cold weather can be a risk to your health, particularly if you are over 65 or have health conditions. Your home should be heated to at least 18 ºC.

How will you access information?

Consider how you would access vital information if a storm takes out power and phone lines. Save key documents and information in a safe place and consider a battery-powered charger.

Think about what may be impacted by strong winds or flooding

Around the home there may be guttering, pipes, roof tiles/slates, garden items and important items stored on the ground floor which could beat risk from severe weather. Make some checks and maintenance, and consider moving items.

Plumbing checks can save your money

Check your pipes are insulated and know where your stop tap is.

Have some basic supplies and a grab bag ready

Make sure you have some basic supplies such as bottled
water, medicines, torch, radio and batteries in a ‘grab bag’. This will help if
you have to leave home quickly or your power or water are disrupted.

Think of your neighbours

Share this checklist with your neighbours and see if they
have any other tips. You can also tell them if you can help in severe weather.

Think of your community

There are lots of things you could do to help your community, particularly if severe weather hits. Contact your local resilience forum for more information.

The above information has been produced by The Met Office. More information can be found at www.metoffice.gov.uk/weatherready

Communities Prepared resources

You can also download a range of free training resources and information from Communities Prepared with guidance on preparing for, responding to, and recovering from flooding, snow and utilities failure plus additional support on managing and recruiting community volunteers. Click here to sign up for free.

Staying safe: how to be prepared in the modern world

Have you ever considered what you would do in an emergency? How would you keep yourself and others safe? In today’s uncertain world, it’s important to understand the likelihood of an emergency occurring and how to be more prepared. Understanding risk and improving personal resilience is key to effective emergency preparedness and response. Daily emergencies happen worldwide, however hearing about them depends on your location and the circumstances of the emergency.

Staying Safe: How to be
Prepared in the Modern World
is
a free online course produced by The
Emergency Planning College
(EPC) in partnership
with Serco, an international service company that manages the EPC for and on
behalf of the Cabinet Office Civil Contingencies Secretariat. The course has
been designed to help individuals develop their own personal resilience and to
understand the ‘what ifs’. This will allow them to plan how to deal with them,
prioritise them and lessen the affects to the individual and their family. It
is ideal if you want to understand the actual risks to you and your family, and
how to be prepared in an emergency. Professionals who may be involved in
community resilience planning may also find the course beneficial.

Topics covered include:

  • Identifying types of emergencies
  • Risks, hazards and threats assessment
  • Impact and consequences of emergencies
  • Developing emergency plans
  • Individually preparing for emergencies
  • Developing personal resilience

And by the end of the course, individuals will be able to:

  • Assess the likelihood of risks, hazards and threats
  • Develop the skills to evaluate actual risk and understand
    how you could react in an emergency
  • Explain the difference between threats vs hazards and
    intention vs capability
  • Explore information available, for use in your emergency
    plan
  • Improve your own personal resilience to become more
    prepared for disruption

The
course can be found at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/staying-safe

Click here for more information and for answers to course FAQs.

About

The EPC
is the UK’s national centre for resilience learning and development services;
we develop people, teams and organisations through training, exercising and
consultancy.

Serco is
an international service company, improving essential services for customers
around the world.

By Beverley Griffiths, Executive Lead on the course

Beverley is Resilience Capability Lead with responsibility for management and development of the Crowd and Public Safety capability, also advises on Business Continuity, Risk, Security & Safety, Crisis Management.

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