A strong foundation for national resilience

Caroline Field

By Caroline Field

Providing a strong foundation for national resilience is vital for the ambitions of the National Resilience Strategy.

On Friday 1 April 2022, the Cabinet Office issued its Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) post implementation review – a pre-cursor to the much-anticipated National Resilience Strategy (NRS). The Review found:

  • The CCA clearly fulfils its objective
  • There’s no material appetite for a fundamental overhaul of the legislation
  • There should be local consideration of the wider reform of resilience through the NRS and the Devolved Administrations’ own plans
  • There’s a case for a set of targeted changes to the Act that will deliver immediate benefits, including:
    • Enhancing accountability for multi-agency preparedness activities conducted by local resilience arrangements
    • Updating the statutory and non-statutory UK guidance that accompanies the CCA
    • Obliging categorised responders to set out publicly how they comply with their responsibilities under the Act
    • Going further than voluntary assessment and public reporting to close the gap in assurance of multi-agency preparedness and interoperability
    • Placing the Resilience Standards on a statutory footing
    • Making the Met Office and Coal Authority category 2 responders
    • Strengthening the requirement to produce a community risk register
    • Government departments could provide more information and improving alignment between national and local planning
    • Removing the Regional Nominated Coordinator role set out in part 2 of the CCA.

Parallel to the Cabinet Office’s Review, the National Preparedness Commission (NPC) ran an independent review of the CCA. Issued around the same time as the Cabinet Office’s, the NPC review was much more substantial, making 117 recommendations with which we broadly agree.

To respond to these opportunities to improve resilience, there are several areas the CCA and NRS need to focus on:

Clear and robust governance structure with appropriate funding and accountability

Creating a single government body for UK national resilience would provide a focus for coordination and accountability.

Such a body should have a clear mandate and resources to lead and convene all aspects of national resilience. An appointed UK Government Chief Resilience Officer should lead it, with the responsibility for the quality and effectiveness of resilience-building activity across the UK. This would include all resilience activity of central government departments and, subject to respecting the scope of devolved powers, designated local bodies and Resilience Partnerships.

There should also be a designated Cabinet Office Minister for the quality of resilience in the UK.

We would also like to see designated resilience responsibilities for Metro Mayors and City Chief Resilience Officers highlighted as part of the CCA. This should give them a mandate for developing local resilience strategies using the British Standard for City Resilience BS67000.

An integrated and balanced approach to resilience

Strengthening national resilience requires a fully integrated, systems-based approach that reflects a clear assessment of risk, impact and benefit. Putting risk reduction and prevention activities at the same level as emergency preparedness and recovery would enable the full range of resilience interventions at national and local levels.

Systems thinking encourages understanding of the broad purpose and scope of the system, rather than a component-centric siloed view. This enables an understanding of interdependencies and reduces the potential for cascading failures. The system should include people, assets, leadership and operations, and the interdependencies between these.

To enable this approach, the government needs to promote a collective, shared responsibility for national resilience. This means sharing resources and data, and developing the tools and approaches to facilitate this.

The CCA Review noted the need for additional responsibilities for government, including data sharing and coordination. But there was no mention of broadening responsibilities of Local Resilience Forums to include wider resilience measures.

National resilience measurement and progress tracking

To show progress towards the national objective of being the “most resilient nation,” government will need to understand the current situation and the indicators of success. This requires a comprehensive measurement approach and performance metrics. This could be based on the UNISDR Sendai Framework for disaster reduction but should also consider other agendas such as UN Sustainable Development Goals.

A coordinated whole of society approach

Establishing better engagement with the business community, research community, voluntary sector and local communities is essential for a whole of society approach to succeed.

UK citizens aren’t generally engaged in national resilience or aware of risks or measures they can take to improve their resilience. Recent disruptions provide impetus for a national discourse on resilience, particularly around levels of disruption the public is willing to tolerate.

A ‘National Reserve Force’ has been mooted. While this would be a step in the right direction, it would be unlikely to provide a sufficient standard of preparedness or awareness on the part of the average citizen.

A national resilience platform that can coordinate useful volunteering, plan formal resilience-building activities and coordinate Resilience Partnerships is a necessity.

National stress testing

Stress testing is about simulating realistic scenarios and seeing how well our preparations hold up. Currently, national stress testing only looks at emergency response exercises, which misses a large part of the resilience cycle. Stress testing should cover all aspects of resilience, including mitigation and response activities.

Systems thinking approaches would build an understanding of the national resilience ecosystem to allow impact modelling and the testing of what-if scenarios. Alongside use of wargaming techniques to test decision making, there should be response and recovery exercises.

By combining simulation and virtual testing with real-time decision making and exercising, government can provide a joined up, comprehensive test of our national resilience ecosystem.

This should be a requirement in resilience standards.

Better data sharing

Technology and data play an important role in our national resilience and supports all points along the resilience cycle. For example, providing real-time information and situational awareness to digital twins of critical systems allows virtual testing. But to harness it, we need to overcome potential vulnerabilities around data protection and cyber security.

To facilitate national resilience, government should develop a shared platform to provide situational awareness, coordinate activities, facilitate communication and provide public facing information.

The CCA Review did note that such additional responsibilities for government would be valuable.

Resilience standards and accreditation

The government should develop and publish additional resilience standards for designated Lead Government Departments and category 1 responders, such as critical national infrastructure providers. These should refer to, and align with, relevant industry standards such as BS67000/ISO 22371 and BS65000/IS022316.

There should also be a robust assessment and accreditation system to ensure organisations meet the standards.

The Review did mention the need to make compliance with the Cabinet Office Resilience Standards a statutory requirement and the need for an assurance framework, so we look forward to this development.

Resilience competencies and skills building

The government should work with stakeholders from industry, professional bodies and the higher and further education sectors to develop an integrated Resilience Competence Framework. The Framework should cover both individual and team competences, identifying the core knowledge, skills, attitudes and experience that are common across organisations as well as those needed for functional and technical specialisms.

To support this Framework, there will need to be new training programmes and higher education courses will need to include the required skills.

The creation of a Centre of Resilience Excellence

As the NPC review suggested, there should be a cross-sector Centre of Resilience Excellence that represents all those engaged in building UK resilience. The Centre could lead the development of the Resilience Competence Framework and the fundamental transformation of the resilience training ecosystem. It could be the point of engagement for higher and further education institutions on teaching and research. And it could collate a schedule of Areas of Research Interest to drive learning and improvement, including disseminating and embedding lessons from experience and research.

The NRS should address this.

As we look ahead to the National Resilience Strategy, there are clear opportunities to build on the CCA to make the UK “the most resilient nation.” This will need a whole-of-society approach and a strong foundation to support it.

About the authors

Caroline Field
Caroline Field PA national resilience expert

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