Cities are often resilient places. They can endure hazardous weather, crime, poverty, financial crises or even terrorist attacks, and yet still manage to bounce back. At their backbone are networks of people dedicated to public safety who prepare for disasters if they were to occur. In the public’s eye, this usually includes the local police and fire brigade yet there are many more involved behind the scenes from community groups to city councils, all the way to national government. Community resilience is not something simply built from the top down, but grown from the ground up.
London, Newcastle and other cities in the UK involved in the Olympics have prepared for the possibility of security risks such as terrorist attacks, but also more common risks such as traffic jams and overcrowding. But in order to prepare for these events and build resilience to them if or when they occur, cities must depend on people whose job it is to not only prepare communities, but communicate between government and other structures in place that are expected to manage them.
There are many layers to risk management within cities that require accurate, timely communications from multiple levels. In planning resilience strategies, cities need to be organised enough to deal with the unknown potential disasters that could occur without warning leading to urban chaos. Resilience planning involves many different objectives in overseeing how local and national governments deliver the necessary requirements to overcome risk.
People who specialise in resilience planning are virtually unknown outside of the establishments they work in, but are essential to public safety. Two of those unique individuals are Kate Cochrane, Resilience and Business Continuity Officer, and Helen Hinds, Head of Resilience Planning, with Newcastle City Council. They were kind enough to meet with me to chat about security plans for the Olympic Games in Newcastle, how communities can better prepare themselves for when disaster strikes and how academic research can feed back into resilience planning.
What is the biggest risk that Newcastle faces at the moment?
HH: Newcastle has produced its own risk register and at
the top is actually pandemic flu.
Why is it that Pandemic flu is the top risk for Newcastle?
HH: It’s the impact it could make. It’s also one of the
‘highest priority risks’ on the National Risk Register for
Civil Emergencies. If you’re looking at it based on process,
that’s our biggest risk.
What risks do you deal with on a more regular basis?
HH: The more common stuff we deal with on a
day-to-day basis can vary, we spend much of our time on
weather issues. We live in the North East of England,
weather changes constantly, so we’ve got our heavy rainfall,
surface water flooding risk, and snow and ice such as from
the previous two winters. We are dealing with these events
plus their knock-on consequences such as making sure
services are provided. Then this year we’ve been focusing
on protests, which are generally managed by Northumbrian
Police, but if they start to impact road infrastructure and
things like that, the local authority may get involved. Civil
disorder is something we’ve been keeping an eye on as the
public sector receives cuts and students protest, things like
that. It can vary depending on what is happening on the
national stage as well.
In regards to protests what are some of the things you
need to do to prepare the city to make it secure?
HH: It depends on the scale. If it’s a small protest, very
little. Generally, the police deal with it and their position is
that they will facilitate peaceful protest. If it’s bigger then
you may have to put road closures in place, contact
transport providers, things like that. If it starts to be
something that you think is going to get a bit spiky, you
might then have to think about removing the street
furniture and make sure the public is aware of what’s
happening where and when. Which is what you should do
with all [protests] anyway.
KC: There are other parts of the council we look to that
manage any community tensions that may arise that are
either driving the protests or arise as a result of the protests
HH: It’s all of those really detailed operational issues that
maybe you wouldn’t think of, but generally what we do as a
team is interface with the police and work with colleagues
around the council. Most of the protests we get in
Newcastle now are of such a size that the police deal
directly with the individuals they know in the council. It’s
only really when you get something quite large or disruptive
or that is potentially disruptive that we would get involved.
What planning is the city doing right now for pandemic flu
and other emerging risks?
HH: We did a lot of pandemic flu planning when we
actually had swine flu. It’s fairly light touch at the moment
and they’re just reviewing the plan. Most of our pandemic
flu planning would be dealt through business continuity
planning because it’s about not having the resources to run,
knowing what critical services are, identifying them and
making sure you can keep those going in an event of
KC: That’s the other side of my job role. It’s about
working with colleagues across the organisation, identifying
what functions within the council that if we didn’t do would
increase people’s likelihood of harm. Identifying critical
services and working with them to find out how long those
services can be down before the risk to the people they
support increases. So do I have to get a service back up and
running in 12 hours, in five days, can it sit around slightly
longer? It’s about developing those prioritisation scales,
working out risks the council faces if we stop doing some
bits and pandemic flu and fuel shortage are the two hazards
that stretch business continuity to its fullest extent.
What are you doing for community resilience at the
KC: The very beginning of what we hope is a holistic
approach to developing resilience within the city.
What do you mean by ‘holistic approach’?
KC: Nationally, community resilience has been driven by
communities coming together to write a plan.
Now this is great if you’ve got communities that have a
natural understanding of their risk environment. So if
you’re a parish council that has seen and experienced
flooding there’s probably a driver to write a flood plan for
your village. If you’re a community that’s living in a city
centre particularly Newcastle, when we have flooding it
tends to be surface water flooding instead of large floods so
the risk environment is not necessarily going to be as strong.
But the impacts of a loss of something like electricity are
going to be significantly higher.
When we’re looking at community resilience it’s from the
perspective of a community that needs to be resilient to lots
of things, not just hazards and threats that appear on our
National Risk Register. We’re responding to the ‘localism
agenda’ at the moment. So it’s about local areas essentially
buying into the services that they want, becoming a much
more mosaic approach to community services. Does that
support the resilience of the community? Has that
community got sufficient capacity to be able to take
advantage of the opportunities that kind of work
offers? Currently, we’ve got community resilience written
into the neighbourhood-level community budget pilot that
is being run by the Dept of Communities and Local
Government. It’s bringing together all of the various
stakeholders and looking to see what a resilient community
What are you doing to prepare Newcastle for the
HH: We’ve been taking part in national exercises to test
our structures. Because the structure in London is complex
and technical. They use a specific structure called the
‘Command, Control and Communications’ structure.
They’ve set up a national structure which has five domains
within it and we have to report locally within that structure
and we’ve got two direct reporting lines that we have to
report into. One is central government and the other is
safety and security domain.
We’ve created our command structure which is based on
the well-established, well-practiced ‘gold, silver, bronze
structure’, which is where you have gold commander at
your strategic level supported by other strategic managers
from other organisations, then you have tactical which is
silver and then underneath that you have your operational,
functional bits and that’s bronze. And what we’ve had to do
is get that structure up and running and create it based on
that principle, but with bits added on because of the
Olympics and test that and make sure that the structure can
communicate with London and London can communicate
with that structure.
How do you test something like that?
HH: With a lot of work. We’ve had the gold room police
HQ established, silver police HQ established and we’ll have
an operational room here which is bronze level. Those have
all been setup with people in them and then you have a
planning team that write your scenarios which are on a
timeline. You’re scenario-driven then it’s basically a case of
testing the communications between different rooms and
different bits of the structure and also having to report into
London onto a particular timeline and testing the
mechanisms for that as well. We’ve had a multi-agency
team writing scenarios to make sure they are as realistic as
Could you give me an example of one of the scenarios?
HH: Burning down the athletes’ hotel. Or road traffic
accident, which has nothing to do with the games, but
disrupts the traffic flow within the city.
KC: The scenarios test the impact on the Olympics so it’s
not just our response to something that is going on within
HH: Did we have food poisoning outbreak for one of
them? Yes… we did. Food poisoning affecting the
ambassadors, the Olympic ambassadors. You would never
want to be an Olympic volunteer would you?
KC: After what the planning team has put them through.
HH: In the scenarios, some of the volunteers were
attacked by protestors or had food poisoning. The purpose
of the scenario was to test how we would deal with
something that was impacting volunteers. How we would
manage them, how you would look after them.
KC: Would the volunteers stay on the street or would they
come off the street?
HH: Would you work closely with the police?
KC: How would that be facilitated? So it doesn’t really
matter what the scenario is, it’s what response you want to
HH: And also it’s around what kind of reputational risk
as well. In the city you’ve got people in uniform who are
essentially volunteers on behalf of the city council and they
have been essentially assaulted [in a scenario]. What’s your
reputational risk and how do you deal with that? The
purpose behind the scenarios is to test something, like Kate
said what is the response you want to try to test?
For the Olympics do you also need to take special
measures for the possibility of a terrorist attack as well?
HH: We deal with the consequences. It doesn’t actually
matter what it is that’s happened. It’s the consequences that
we have to manage. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s a
gas explosion or a terrorist explosion, the consequence is
the same. People will be hurt, infrastructure will be
Realistically, you would have a subtlely different
command structure because you would end up with some
resources from London getting involved on the police side
of things because you end up with a whole counter terrorist
stream. Also the fear factor for the public and if it
happened during the Olympics we’ve got international
press probably going to be here when we’ve got matches on.
So you don’t deal with prevention as much as dealing with
the consequences if a terrorist attack were to occur?
HH: There are several strands of the government’s
counterterrorism strategy one of which is PREVENT and
that is about trying to stop or prevent the radicalisation of
vulnerable individuals. There has been training going on
across the council with staff who are out and about dealing
with members of the public to raise awareness of the types
of things to look for. But the approach now is much more
around safeguarding than it is about anti-terrorism. It’s
about protecting vulnerable people however they may be
vulnerable. The police have a work stream that’s called
PURSUE which is actually about ‘these people have been
identified as being bad people and we are going to find a
way of catching them’.
What do you think are the main challenges for resilience
planning for the Olympics?
HH: For Newcastle some of it is the unknown. Because
it’s football it’s really easy to view it as a series of football
matches within a football city who are very used to hosting
football and it’s understanding what giving it the Olympics
tag does. There’s that element of we’re planning for a full
stadium, but we might actually only have a few thousand
and we are going to be disrupting the city for what could be
a small audience because there are going to be road
closures and things like that put in place.
KC: There’s large fencing going up, there will be gates
that will be shut in a city that is used to having very big
football matches and having to carry on around it. Our
office used to be just down from St James’s park and when
there were European matches there were different varieties
of drunken people walking to the stadium. And the city just
got on. This is going to be a situation where there are going
to be large fences. The roads will be physically cut off and
it will be very visible.
HH: It’s that Olympic layer isn’t it? It’s somewhat
psychological in that it’s the Olympics which is why we’re
doing it. The Olympics has got that spotlight on it in a
different way to international football.
KC: And what will the impact be if we’re looking at very
high levels of policing in the centre of the city, where’s that
policing going to be drawn from and what’s going to be the
knock-on effects while they’re out? Once the first couple of
matches are out-of-the-way everything will have calmed
HH: And the other challenge as well I think is the level of
nervousness there is in London around this. As we get
closer, the level of information that they’re wanting from us
is becoming more and more detailed. I think this is the first
Olympics that is actually being delivered under such a high
security level because nationally our threat level is
‘substantial’. Again it’s that international context of the
atmosphere that the Olympics is being delivered under. It’s
How would you like to see academic research feedback
into resilience planning?
KC: Publish stuff in places where people who don’t have
big libraries or subscriptions to Sage and Springer can get
hold of stuff. At the moment it is incredibly two-tier.
Academics talk to academics. Practitioners talk to
practitioners and the areas where the two voices come
together are very few and far between.
HH: It’s the academics recognising that while the
research is valuable for me I want to know what the
practical application is. I don’t want research that is just
going to give me another set of problems. There needs to
be some practical value or practical application that is
KC: As practitioners we don’t have time to do the
translation. And when the grant’s finished and everything is
published it’s at that point because of the way the academic
grant system works. People move on and do something else,
but that’s at the time when it actually starts to trickle out
into the practitioner community, but by then the people
who’ve done it have moved on and are doing something else
or are in different institutions. So it’s like ‘that’s done, next!’
and there’s no legacy of support.
There needs to be at the start of the project thinking about
how it’s actually going to be made available to the
practitioners. Not just a case of publishing stuff at the end
of the project and saying this is what we thought, this is
what we’ve found. Bye. Impact needs to be more than a
I think it’s fantastic that people go away and do the scoping
stuff to demonstrate [what they’ve found]. Great to do a
proof of concept, but proof of concept does us no good at
all. Because proof of concept is generally at a fairly early
stage in its development and somebody says ‘oh look it can
be done’. So how do we do it? It’s that next step on. It’s also
bringing the people together who’ve got the right bits of
skills but may not be historically involved in resilience.
When looking at community resilience, it’s bringing the
anthropologists in rather than just looking at it from the
perspective of say applied social sciences and geography.
The anthropologists have got a lot to say, the historians
have got a lot to say. It’s getting those voices to come in as