Preparing for emergencies? Plan, but stay nimble

If part of your job is to think about systemic risks, you will have picked up on the fact that scientists are continuing to warn about the near certainty of future pandemics – and possibly much more serious ones than we’ve recently been through. For example, if the first strain to have arisen in Wuhan had been the more contagious Omicron variant, then the death toll would have been several times higher. A Bird flu outbreak could be significantly worse still.

Today, for many people, memories of COVID are fading. But for security, safety, and risk professionals it has to be different:  it’s important that, in our collective memory, we hold onto the lessons learned, and strengthen preparedness.

This point was made powerfully at our SafeZone Annual APAC Conference in Sydney last month. The two-day networking event was attended by leaders and practitioners from higher education, healthcare, and government agencies.

Among the keynote speakers was Paul Barton, Director, Safety and Risk at Monash University. Paul reflected on lessons from the pandemic, which of course had thrown up all sorts of challenges that few people at the time had had direct experience of dealing with.

While the Monash University crisis plan was a useful guide, he said, what proved really essential was the ability of his people to work as a team, to coordinate new responses, and adapt.

This was a welcome contribution to a wide-ranging programme of discussions – not just because it was a timely reminder of the ongoing risks posed by viral outbreaks, but because the same lessons can be applied to many different emergency situations that organisations need to plan for, be they sudden, catastrophic incidents or crises that build over many months.

Broader issues, discussed in impressive practical detail, included the value of inter-agency coordination, dealing with violence and aggression in the workplace, the experience of managing major incidents such as terrorism, and – perhaps most important of all – the benefits of collaboration between peers, and between their organisations.

A common thread running through all this was that, no matter how good your crisis plan is, things rarely go exactly as you expect them to.

This is why the best crisis response policies – and the best systems and tools used to enact them – have flexibility and adaptability built in.

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