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A new report published by the Royal Academy of Engineering makes recommendations for a new approach that could enhance the resilience of UK infrastructure, communities, and organizations. Entitled ‘Critical capabilities: strengthening UK resilience’ the report recommends that taking an ‘engineering perspective’ could help the UK to build a more resilient future.

Engineers are trained to make things work better says the report. They see emergency response and planning as a series of interdependent and interconnected systems of capabilities. An effective response to an emergency or crisis is one that can rapidly call on the right capabilities to deliver the most effective response at the required pace.

The report describes this in terms of ‘critical capabilities’ and focuses on the actions needed to identify and build these critical capabilities ready for future emergencies.

The critical capabilities are divided into six interdependent groups: research and innovation; national assets; industrial capability; skills and labour; resources; and networks and coordination capability. Networks and coordination are essential as the bridging capability that brings the others together to understand the issue and accelerate solutions.

For national emergencies, the usually well-networked elements of the public sector and emergency services, though vital, are not sufficient and the emergency response will also need to draw on organizations, people and resources in the private and third sectors. Taking a systems view of the capabilities available in the UK could help anticipate which organizations would be relevant to different kinds of emergency responses and identify crucial connections and weaknesses ahead of time.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Government should embed an engineer’s ‘systems’ approach in emergency planning and preparedness, looking across the public and private sector stakeholders.
  • Government should carry out an audit to map existing public, private and third sector capabilities and convening bodies against the critical capability groups and suggests this should be led by the Cabinet Office Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) in partnership with the Government Office for Science (GO-Science), devolved administrations and departmental resilience teams responsible for the risks in the National Risk Register. An aim of the audit should include developing a reporting framework to engage the private sector and build a practical mechanism to keep the audit as live as possible.
  • The CCS, in partnership with GO-Science, should work with the Royal Academy of Engineering and others to develop the critical capabilities approach into a practical tool for emergency planning, preparedness and resilience that builds on existing capabilities programmes. This should include embedding the practices for preparedness alongside current foresight and horizon scanning methods and exercises to identify and ensure that the right capabilities are in place to respond effectively and with agility to future scenarios and risks.

Read the report (PDF).

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