Back in 2004 the Civil Contingencies Act was born. This obliged the myriad Local Authorities around the country to start planning in earnest for issues which could occur in their area, and for the most part they are doing a good job. There is an obligation placed on the Local Authorities to “…assess, plan and advise…” Due to this Local Authorities felt an obligation to their Local Education Authorities and put together something for the schools in their area to use.
This is where things started to go awry. A quick google search will turn up a myriad of template plans from various Local Authorities. When one delves into the Document properties it becomes obvious that
there are really only two plans out there
One produced by Nottingham County Council and one from Manchester City Council. Both of them were produced around the same time 2011/2012. They were both creditable attempts of dealing with the issue at the time.
Now however, things have moved on. When the two plans were produced the big buzzword in emergency planning was continuity. This was a discipline which fell out of the business arena and dealt with still being able to maintain a product or a service during a disruption. Quite a cottage industry has grown up around this along with overly costly and complex ISO certification.
Now Business Continuity is no longer viewed as being the be all and end all, but rather one part of the solution.
The two templates were understandably continuity heavy. Sadly they were not in depth enough to be considered as compliant with ISO 22301 which is the International Standard for Business Continuity. In fact
in one of the plans around 85% of the mandated content is missing.
This therefore presents Local Education Authorities with somewhat of a conundrum. One that most of them are blithely oblivious of. Every year schools within the public sector are obliged to be audited against the School Financial Value Standard. This is a series of questions which seeks to ascertain whether public money is being responsibly used. Question 25 of this document states:
“Does the school have an appropriate business continuity or disaster recovery plan, including an up-to-date asset register and adequate insurance?”
Given how these templates stack up against ISO 22301 the answer should surely be no.
However, time and again this box gets ticked off due to the presence of one of these templates. The situation is that the Local Authority is auditing itself against a document which they have produced and not had externally verified. I cannot say that this sounds like a well-executed audit of how public money is being spent.
So let us delve further. In 2014 BS 65000:2014 Guidance on oganizational (sic) resilience was published. This document fundamentally reassessed how organisations should prepared for and deal with emergencies. This document divides this into three fundamental areas. Firstly risk assessment. BS 65000:2014 is explicit in its guidance that all emergency planning should be threat based. Risks are to be identified, recorded and managed. For me this is the most fundamental part of any emergency planning. How can you plan for things if you do not know what they are?
The second area is that of Crisis Management. This is the “what do I do right now?” part of dealing with an emergency. This particular discipline has been around for a while now. Private sector organisations have become very aware that dealing with the immediate effects of an incident will reduce the impact on them, reduce the financial cost, reduce reputational damage and make recovery to normal a much speedier process. Last year BS 11200:2014 Crisis Management – Guidance and good practice was published. This document formalised an area which has been quietly growing in importance and complexity over the past ten years.
The third area is Business Continuity. This is the part which should be the most comprehensive given that this is the most mature. Here we are dealing with “how do I maintain delivery through a disruption and how do I return to normal?” This area has been detailed for quite some time as an International Standard. ISO 22301:2014 is the latest incarnation. However, if you have 22301:2013 don’t rush out to buy the update, I did only to find that the only change was the year.
So far I have dealt with why templates do not work in terms of benchmarking against British and International Standards. I now want to deal with
other reasons why one should not use a template
Firstly everywhere is different. This may sound trite but one size does not fit all.
Ok the cartoon is referring to standardised testing but you get the idea. We can all go to a high street store and buy a medium sized shirt. It’ll fit ok but never as well as if you had had it made for you. A resilience strategy is just the same. Different organisations will have different risk thresholds; different thresholds for how much service they want to maintain; and different risks which affect them. For a strategy or response to be the best response it can be it must be unique to that organisation.
Secondly the people filling in the templates lack the competency to do so. This is not to slur those working in the various schools around the country, they do a very hard job and should be commended for it. They are not, however, emergency and resilience practitioners.
Without a full understanding of risk assessment and management, crisis management and business continuity someone filling in a template can never create a document which lives up to its fullest potential.
Thirdly, it is lazy. Yes this is a strong thing to say, but I stand by it. These templates are being passed all over the country and are not being checked against the very clear and detailed British and International Standards by the individuals and organisations who are supposed to be the subject matter experts. I even saw one in place in a school in the south of England which said that the grab bag should contain a Manchester A to Z! Frankly this idleness on the part of those distributing these documents is endangering lives. There is a very strong culture of “good enough” which permeates through the whole of our society and frankly it is pushing us all into a national mediocrity.
Finally, it is
leaving key individuals open to prosecution and litigation
A casual glance at any kind of social media will demonstrate that as soon as something happens people immediately reach for their mobile phone and start recording it. Every response we make in a situation is recorded. As such it must be justified by being in tune with current best practice. This is leaving organisational heads in danger of prosecution and civil litigation. It won’t be the people passing out these templates who end up in the dock, it will be the headteachers.
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