How do we ensure the UK is resilient to extreme risks and emergencies?

Professor Esther Eidinow, Chair in Ancient History in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Bristol submitted written evidence on risk assessment and risk planning in the context of disruptive national hazards.

The UK is at risk from a variety of events which could cause significant human, economic, environmental and infrastructure damage. The coronavirus pandemic has led to renewed focus on risk planning and preparedness, and the importance of international co-operation. This inquiry provided a key opportunity to scrutinise how well we assess, categorise and plan for extreme risks, and how to ensure the country and the systems we rely on are as resilient as possible.

Background to the inquiry

  1. What are the most significant extreme risks that the UK faces? Are these kinds of risks discrete, linked or systemic? What do you understand the term ‘extreme risk’ to mean? 

  2. Are there types of risks to which the UK is particularly vulnerable or for which it is poorly prepared? What are the reasons for this?

  3. How could the Government’s approach to risk assessment be strengthened to ensure that it is rigorous, wide-ranging and consistent? Your answer could refer to any aspect of the risk assessment process including, for example, its governance, the evidence base, or the degree to which it is open to scrutiny and the input of experts.

  4. Given the range of possible national risks, and the need to achieve a balance between efficiency and resilience, what level of assurance should the Government be seeking on the UK’s resilience to hazards? What would effective national risk management achieve, and how could its success be measured?

  5. How can the Government ensure that it identifies and considers as wide a range of risks as possible? What risks does the inclusion criteria for the National Security Risk Assessment exclude and what effect does this have on long-term resilience?

  6. How effectively do current ways of characterising risks (for example, the use of a five-point scoring system of a ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’) support evidence-based policy decisions? What other information would be useful?

  7. How effectively do Departments mitigate risks? Does the Risk Assessment process and the Civil Contingencies Secretariat adequately support Government departments to address risks within their remits? Is further oversight or accountability required, and if so, what form should that take?

  8. How well are national contingency plans communicated to and understood by those at a local level, including emergency responders? What could be changed to increase the capability of local responders to effectively plan for and respond to emergencies?

  9. What is the role of the individual in relation to national crises? Are there potential benefits in increasing public involvement and transparency in emergency planning? What limitations are there to this? What lessons have been learnt or should have been learnt about the approach taken to risk assessment and risk planning in this country from the COVID-19 pandemic?

  10. What challenges are there in developing resilience capability? Your answer could refer to critical infrastructure, but also to systems and networks beyond those elements. What is the role of exercising to test risk preparedness, and are these methods utilised effectively in risk assessment and risk planning in this country?

  11. What can be learnt from local or corporate risk management processes, or those of other countries? Are there any specific examples of practices, processes or considerations which could improve the UK’s national risk resilience? How could businesses and civil society more effectively support national resilience preparation?

  12. What individual or economic behaviours would strengthen national resilience against hazards, and what mechanisms are open to the Government or society to incentivise these behaviours? How should we prioritise any changes required in approach, process or policy needed to improve risk mitigation and strengthen the UK’s resilience to extreme risks and emergencies?

Response to the inquiry

The following guidance and recommendations were submitted by Professor Eidinow in response to the inquiry call for evidence.

‘Better comprehension of how individuals, groups and societies understand, communicate and respond to 'risk' improves risk-management approaches. This includes both the term 'risk' and perceptions of risk, which interact with the socio-cultural values and beliefs of the perceiver. Because they engage with the complex cultural structures that shape perception and understanding, stories offer a potentially powerful and effective mode of exploring and understanding risks and thinking through their potential implications. Story-telling is an inherent human modality for exploring both meanings and possibilities. Stories allow for the inclusion and exploration of multiple perspectives and a variety of different outcomes, and can offer a shared basis for decision making.’

The first report published can be found here.

Further information

Further updates to the guidance are published on the consultation page.

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