War starts at midnight
October 2021: Chris Berry of CRJ Key Network Partner, Initsys, says that organisations should always be prepared for unexpected events and that there are ways to plan for incidents for which you cannot predict a time or location
The 1943 film, The life and death of Colonel Blimp, was written and funded by the UK Government to warn about complacency and the importance of vigilance in a time of war. In it, the portrayal of a senior army officer as believing that ‘right is might’ is confounded when a subordinate doesn't start his wargame at midnight, as ordered, but six hours before. His capture, despite protestations, informs the viewer that you cannot set a time, or place, for the unexpected.
Yet, here we are, in a battle on various fronts such as climate, terrorism, natural hazards and manufactured disasters, and still running exercises for dealing with incidents as if, as per the film: “War starts at midnight!”
A few days ago, I spoke to someone involved in a recent national exercise. Pre-planned, it had all the key players available, all the documents and it was fully crewed.
‘It,’ is never going to happen when that is the case. The frustration of the person I spoke to was palpable. Their view was that: “This was box-ticking.”
So, what happens if a control room is short of personnel? Are key players unavailable? And what if the playbook is not understood by everyone?
When testing a plan, you should start in the sandbox.
Formulate a disaster and a timeline of events, throw in the odd spanner or three; this is easy, use the models from any of the significant incidents of the last 30 years. Involve only the key players in the first instance and remove one (or two) during the incident, just as might happen in the real thing.
Involve the control rooms as if it is an actual event. Set a fictitious local command and an ingress/egress point.
Use standard tools to dictate how long equipment would take to arrive at the scene and some communications issues.
What happens if some vital equipment fails to arrive? Like a mobile command?
These things have and will happen in an actual event.
Then see what happens. And discover what you might need to do to overcome problems.
This sort of exercise can be preplanned using the Initsys NEON platform.
At this stage there is little cost, and if the sandbox overlaps some actual event, abandon the process. Or if you discover some critical thing that hasn't worked, leave the sandbox exercise, work through the issue – it is, in itself, something that needs planning for, and the best time is when it has been discovered, not at the coroner’s court.
NEON allows the fork or instigation of a sub-routine from the primary plan. For example, if a specialised vehicle fails to arrive, or is delayed, what is the procedure for that?
War doesn't start at midnight.