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John Lamb

Are you ready for an emergency? Find out at Highways UK

Are you ready for an emergency? Find out at Highways UK

In this week’s blogpost, I catch up with the John Lamb and Dom Donnini representing LGTAG, and Sarah Reeves from TRL, who are helping local highway authorities develop better on-the-ground responses to emergency situations. Join them at Highways UK on 7th November 2019 through this three-part series:

  • 10:25-10:40, Jacobs Theatre, John Lamb ‘A new sector response to climate change’
  • 11:50-12:05, Burges Salmon stage, Nigel Riglar, ADEPT ‘Helping local authority highways teams better understand and respond to climate risks’
  • 13:15-14:00, Local Authority Hub, this session (Are you ready for an Emergency?) with John Lamb, Dom Donnini and Sarah Reeves

LGTAGs immediate past president John Lamb starts by setting the scene:

‘The winter of 2015-16 was marked by a series of severe weather events that, over the course of the winter, were to record £1.6Bn of physical and economic damage. Cumbria was inundated even before storm Desmond hit in early December; West Yorkshire was likewise already recording saturated ground conditions and localised flooding in advance of Storm Desmond on Boxing Day.

Colleagues in Lancashire saw Chinooks called in to repairs river walls in Croston whilst troops were also deployed in North Yorkshire with the collapse of Tadcaster Bridge becoming a sad poster image of modern weather impacting historic assets.

Teams worked tirelessly to respond.  The rebuild was only completed during 2018-19 and some bridges in Lancashire remain closed as debate continues on whether Preston City Council or County Council are liable; communities still losing out years on.’

With first-hand experience of responding to severe flooding in Calderdale, it’s clear John is passionate about sharing his experience and knowledge to help other local authorities and response teams deal with these sorts of situations.

‘Don’t be complacent’ says John.  ‘Just because you had a flood a few years ago, does not mean ‘the big one’, or simply ‘a bigger one’ won’t land again soon.  It is the intensity and frequency of severe weather that will catch many local authorities off-guard.  2019 had the hottest July ever followed by record flooding in key counties and the 7th wettest August in over a century.’

Reviewing historic events and responses prior to current work has shown a long-term trend of increased intensity and increased collateral damage and community severance. Working with DfT, independent research has been commissioned and recommendations have been formed to help Councils re-appraise how they need to prepare. That report is subject to official approval, however, selected senior Council Directors with recent experience are now reflecting on the findings as part of a ‘Task & Finish’ review into how Council teams must become more aware and better equipped.


Communication, co-ordination, collaboration

Dom Donnini, who was Director of Highways Infrastructure and Property in Cumbria County Council during Storm Desmond and a whole series of other incidents, says that better collaboration and co-ordination between Highways England, the Police and Local Authorities is vital. In one instance, a decision was made outside of the Local Resilience Forum, to close the M6, and not consult with the neighbouring local highways authorities onto who roads the traffic was diverted. Without knowledge of the conditions on the local network, such as floods, closures and diversions, not only does additional traffic add to congestion, in such circumstances as severe weather events it could also lead to personal safety risks for drivers and others.’

I asked Dom what he thought the secrets to success of good stakeholder management were. He says ‘to be good at it, we need:

  • to take complex concepts and turn them into simple to understand messages
  • someone to sit down with an engineer to understand what they are trying to achieve and why
  • to be able to translate this for different audiences, so that it makes sense to and helps them.

A core part of this is the need to make more effective use of social media. Take the example, says Dom, of recording and sharing footage of bridge abutments from diver surveys which clearly showed people what the problem was [scouring from floodwaters undermining the foundations]. That is powerful, and makes it much easier to explain why the bridge was closed.’

I ask Dom whether he thinks there’s any way to help improve our stakeholder engagement skills?

‘Yes, I think so’, says Dom. He continues ‘I think the answer is to leverage the Tier 1 suppliers who work with both Local Authorities and Highways England; to help them to improve their stakeholder engagement skills amongst their staff.’


The role of multi-agency partnerships

Co-ordination and co-operation in the event of civil emergencies is already co-ordinated through the Local Resilience Forums (LRF’s) which are multi-agency partnerships made up of representatives from local public services, including the emergency services, local authorities, the NHS, the Environment Agency and others. These agencies are known as Category 1 Responders, as defined by the Civil Contingencies Act.

LRFs are supported by organisations, known as Category 2 responders, such as Highways England and public utility companies. They have a responsibility to co-operate with Category 1 organisations and to share relevant information with the LRF. The geographical area the forums cover is based on police areas.

LRFs also work with other partners in the military and voluntary sectors who provide a valuable contribution to LRF work in emergency preparedness.

The LRFs aim to plan and prepare for localised incidents and catastrophic emergencies. They work to identify potential risks and produce emergency plans to either prevent or mitigate the impact of any incident on their local communities.

A key finding of recent analysis is that Highways Authorities must themselves take a leading role in understanding the new and growing risks affecting our transport networks. Recent events have shown that there are many examples where transport systems have been affected in ways that LRF’s have not yet fully started to understand, plan for, and practice against.

How well do you know your Local Resilience Forum?

Incentivising improvements in resilience

Five years on from the Transport Resilience Review in 2014, and the occurrence of subsequent extreme weather events, infrastructure failures and security incidents costing lives and millions of pounds in damage to property, businesses and infrastructure, Resilience Shift (funded by Lloyds Register Foundation and supported by Arup) commissioned a Resilience Primer for Roads (along with a sister document for Rail) written by TRL and published in May 2019.  It states:

‘Resilience in infrastructure systems is the ability to prepare for identified shocks and stresses, to respond to and recover positively from those events that you cannot predict or avoid, and adapt to changing conditions. Resilience must focus on the ability of the system to continue to function, considering technical resilience alongside community and organisational resilience.’

Sources of disruption affecting local highways and the wider road industry are identified in the Primer for Roads as:

  • planned events (Olympic Games, G8 Summit, HS2, and disruption caused by major infrastructure and house building schemes)
  • unplanned events (extreme weather, infrastructure failure / damage, civil unrest, terrorism incidents, major transport hubs closed)
  • new trends (changes to technology/mobility models and the climate)

The Roads Primer provides examples and recommendations on how to incentivise resilience across the value chain, so that consideration of resilience is embedded within the industry. The Primer discusses the challenges, highlights good practice across the UK and internationally, and provides a 6-step model identifying opportunities for achieving critical mass in resilience:

TRLs Sarah Reeves will provide an overview of the objectives and key recommendations of the resilience primer. She will also share some of the approaches to incentivising resilience identified, including findings from other countries which are transferable to the UK local authority context.

The DfT-commissioned research of Resilience and Response was developed alongside the Resilience Shift Primer for roads.  It is expected that when the former is published, the key findings of both will be essential complementary building blocks in thinking differently about the nature and scale of how we make our networks more resilient.


Join John Lamb, Dom Donnini (LGTAG) and Sarah Reeves (TRL) live at the Local Authorities Hub at Highways UK, on 7 November 2019, to learn about the guides, tools and support services being developed to help local authorities cope with emergency situations, and share your experiences. 

Tickets are free, and attendance is accredited for CPD by CIHT. See what else is available for Local Authorities, and secure your place today.

[image credit: Dom Donnini]



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