The Thames Barrier is one of the largest movable flood barriers in the world (Photo: Environment Agency)
By Steve Hamm, Head of London Resilience Programmes, London Fire Brigade
LONDON, 21 March 2016 - London is home to almost nine million people. It is a global centre for finance, insurance, education and culture. As the capital of the United Kingdom it is a critical centre for national government. These crucial roles mean that it must be resilient to disaster. History demonstrates the capital’s resilience. It has survived rebellion, invasion, flood, disease and other challenges for more than 2000 years. September 2016 is the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London.
The London of 2016 is very different from that of 1666. Globalisation, population change, new technologies ranging from a direct rail link to continental Europe to electronic trading mean the impact of a disaster here have a rapid effect around the globe. London must ensure that it is able to manage the risk of disaster to minimise the impact on its people, its economy and the rest of the world.
In 2004 the United Kingdom introduced legislation, the Civil Contingencies Act, to put in place a mechanism to deal with disaster, manmade or natural in origin. The London Resilience Partnership leads this work in the city. The partnership involves more than 170 organisations, from public, not for profit and private sectors, with a role in emergency management. The partnership’s mission is to ensure London is prepared to respond to and recover from emergencies, reinforcing London’s position as a resilient city.
In 2012, the United Kingdom became the first country to undergo a peer review to assess the Hyogo Framework for Action, the 2005-2015 predecessor of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The Sendai Framework in turn offers London a useful way of checking progress against an important international standard.
Understanding Disaster Risk is Priority One on the Sendai Framework. The London Risk Register is an analysis of the risk of emergencies in London. It is based on government research, expert advice and local knowledge through a risk advisory group. The analysis helps prioritise areas for prevention and the development of plans and capabilities to respond to emergencies. It’s available to the public, and the interactive presentation on the London Prepared website is one of the most visited. Risks are compared according to likelihood and impact. Specific plans and arrangements for the most serious risks (pandemic flu, flooding, unconventional terrorist attack and widespread disruption to power supplies) control these risks, supported by a suite of arrangements which are designed to be flexible to any incident.
Priority Two is to strengthen disaster risk governance. The Civil Contingencies Act gives the United Kingdom, including London, a framework to manage disaster risk. The strategy for the London Resilience Partnership was defined in 2013, after the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic games. The Act gives duties a range of duties to responders to work together to assess risk, develop plans, cooperate and share information.
The third priority is to invest in disaster risk reduction. Action to reduce the risk from disaster ranges from legislation ranging from building and fire regulations, to measures to protect against terrorism. An example of this is the Thames Barrier which protects London from tidal flooding, which was opened in the 1980s but work is already underway to consider future flood protection requirements.
Priority Four is to enhance disaster preparedness for effective response. Coordinated plans are developed to respond and recover from emergencies, especially those identified in the London Risk Register. These are tested regularly with exercises like Unified Response. Recovery is included in emergency exercises – and the Sendai requirement to “Build Back Better” is recognised by planners but may be difficult to achieve because of the limitations of finance.
The Sendai Framework offers a useful indicator to London of the progress it has made to reduce the risk from disaster, but it also helps suggest ways to further develop London’s resilience through learning from international approaches and good practice.