Building a coordinated approach to critical incidents

Last year in the space of a month I had conversations with five different NAVCA members, each dealing with some very difficult circumstances.  Firstly, with two of our members (Macc and Salford CVS) in the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing; then, in very quick succession, members working in and around the communities impacted by the London Bridge attacks, the Finsbury Park mosque attack, and of course, the Grenfell Tower fire. 

Those conversations gave me a strong sense of the role NAVCA members can and should be able to play in the immediate aftermath of a critical incident, and in the days and weeks following, as a community starts to process the impact.  

It became clear that, too often, this role cannot be played effectively where the local emergency response plans don’t reach beyond the emergency services and those VCSE bodies that have a clearly defined role in such incidents, such as British Red Cross.  

Issues that were raised included missed opportunities for essential and effective communication with communities; obvious gaps in the co-ordination of volunteers and donations; a lack of local engagement from the national bodies involved; and the definite need for local infrastructure to provide community leadership – particularly when the community carrying the most impact may not be the one in the geographical centre of attention.  In both Manchester and London, the impact of the bombings at local level was felt as much, if not more, in the communities where arrests were made as in the geographical locus of the incident. 

Since then I have had many conversations with a number of key stakeholders – including the Home Office, British Red Cross and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners – around how local infrastructure might be better included in order to add value.

 I’ve outlined four potential phases for involvement: 

·       the immediate aftermath of an event;

·       the recovery stage over following weeks and months;

·       the rebuilding phase (that may go on years after the emergency services and media attention have been long gone);

·       and the sharing of cross-network learning to enable other local infrastructure bodies to prepare their communities to be resilient before any crisis occurs. 

I’ve also talked about the experience of members who have been involved in the immediate response to and rebuilding of communities after natural disasters such as flooding. 

Those conversations have without exception been welcomed; British Red Cross in particular was very keen to look at how local infrastructure could be ‘knitted in’ to the planned response to a community crisis.  But it was a little difficult to move things forward – particularly in the wake of Grenfell, many different agencies and voices were keen to ‘do something’ and there was a real risk of replicating exactly the issues raised by Grenfell; a lack of co-ordinated approach and people tripping over themselves to respond effectively. 

I was delighted that the Charity Commission hosted its event last week; and (as I said on Twitter) it was one of the most productive meetings I’ve been to in a long time.  There was a real sense of the sector wanting to work together and to take this opportunity to improve things for the future. I’m glad to say that NAVCA was recognised as playing a key role in the working group going forward – particularly around the linkages between national organisations and local ones.  I’m particularly keen that the work we are currently doing to develop the Single Point of Contact (SPOC) model in the health arena, informs this process as well. 

I should also say that I recognise some NAVCA members will have concerns about being resourced effectively to take up this role (and particularly the preparation for it); and that not every NAVCA member will feel equipped or interested in being involved.  However, I do believe there is tangible value for local infrastructure in being a recognisable part of local emergency planning. Not least as it may give local commissioners pause for thought if their local infrastructure organisation is put at risk by commissioning decisions. 

I will keep you updated as the work with the Charity Commission progresses, and I have every intention of ensuring that members are directly involved in informing this work and whatever solutions are put in place.  Watch this space!

Jane Ide Chief Executive, NAVCA