What makes Surrey worry?

I recently met up with Surrey County Council's Liz Fowler who is in charge of community resilience for Surrey, and she told me some amazing facts about what Surrey is most worried about when it comes to community resilience, and why her objective to get communities planning for the worst is so important.

In Surrey, I had thought that the main worries for communities would be flooding, and severe weather (eg wind, or snow and ice). Flooding is at number 2, and severe weather's at number 4. Can you guess what's at number 3 and number 1?

According to Surrey's own analysis, the top ten community resilience risks (in reverse order) are:

10. Utilities failure - the loss of essential services can put vulnerable people in danger, and can cause increased demand on the emergency services, and even civil unrest in extreme cases. A lack of access to clean water is particularly scary.

9. Fuel shortages - this could cause travel disruption, financial impact on local businesses, and perhaps even disruption to food supplies and services.

8. Animal health emergencies - this covers a wide range of possibilities, but those of us who remember Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in 2000 will remember the disruption to the countryside, in terms of access, and health risks.

7. Transport accidents - serious accidents on major routes can cause delays in the emergency services reaching people.

6. Heathland fires - these are an environmental tragedy but can also lead to road and rail closures and disruption to access and even housing in neighbouring communities.

5. Industrial accidents - the impact of an industrial accident could be serious on the immediate local neighbourhood, in terms of pollution and contamination.

4. Severe weather - Very low temperatures, heavy snow and ice can cause travel disruption and risks to health especially of vulnerable people, and these can affect the ability of organisations to deliver essential services. Equally, high winds and heatwaves can have a health impact.

3. Terrorism - this covers a wide range of potential scenarios, but some would put public health and safety at serious risk, while others would disrupt services and travel.

2. Flooding - Surrey has seen serious flooding damage in recent years. It can lead to knock-on effects on utilities (access to clean water and electricity) and health impacts, with a need for mass evacuations and rehousing.

....So what's at number 1?....

1. The zombie apocalypse? Nearly.... Pandemic Flu. Perhaps surprisingly, this is Surrey's number one emergency risk. Pandemic flu would increase the demand on health services and social care, and lead to huge disruption of those services as it would create staff shortages by affecting the working population as well as the more vulnerable. Staff shortages could endanger the food supply.

How should communities prepare for the worst?

Resilience is all in the preparation. That's why Surrey's new programme is called "Surrey Prepared". A community can prepare in some of these ways:

  • Put a loose organizational structure in place, so that there are a few people who could be "in charge" of things like communication to a list of volunteers, and deployment of community resources, and make sure these people have access to the right lists and technology

  • Build a list of volunteers who might be called upon to help (ideally with their home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses), and community venues that might be used in a crisis, and who has 4x4 vehicles that might be used in an emergency

  • Put simple technology in place to ensure that volunteers can be contacted (eg by text message, if internet services are down)

  • Vet some local volunteers to give the community confidence that they can be used to deal with vulnerable people (for instance it's great to know who's DBS-checked in your community)

  • Train some local volunteers in such things as first aid, or flood safety

  • Buy some important shared resources such as high-visibility jackets, grit, and shovels (and know where these are stored)

  • Fix and prepare housing to better withstand flooding (eg with sandbags or modern equivalents), extreme heat or extreme cold (eg with insulation), or doing fire safety checks. A lot of these services are offered free to those who are most likely to require assistance.

  • Let residents know about plans and measures that are in place, and any specific contact numbers (eg emergency hotlines) to those who might need them, via all methods available (eg making presentations at local churches, using district nurses or carers to spread the word, leafleting, posters, fridge magnets, local radio etc).

  • Encourage all residents to sign up to email and text alerts about resilience.

  • Get vulnerable people onto priority lists. This doesn't necessarily mean creating your own list of vulnerable people (with all the data protection concerns this raises). Encourage vulnerable people to sign up to third party lists which offer extra help - eg the utility companies' Priority Lists (PSR Lists). This means they'll be first in line for help getting power switched back on.

  • Connect with neighbouring areas' resilience teams. Knowing who to contact in neighbouring areas can help you call for back-up, or offer your volunteers' help when needed to other areas.
A great way to start is to create a community resilience plan. This will provide a structure for you to identify your current community resources, skills and capacity, and any gaps.

We offer free tools for community groups which help you to build an email list of volunteers. Start an email newsletter at interests.me for your resilience group, and you can also connect up in a local network with other resilience groups doing the same thing.

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