Emergency - Jan Britton Sandwell Council

Happy new year everyone - wishing you all the best for 2016. With the floods and recovery work still on the news, i thought we'd start with Jan Britton's story. Everyone on the Khub will know that behind the scenes public servants and volunteers in many local authorities will have gone above and beyond to keep people safe and to get things back on track. It's not exactly the same story (although civil servants and holidays seems to have resonance!) but the sentiment/recognition at the end is great.  


Emergency - Jan Britton

The fluorescent lights of the Cabinet Office briefing room threw the Minister’s dilemma into stark relief: responsible for the unfolding emergency on the one hand, but chained to a Whitehall desk on the other.

The last 48 hours had tested her every nerve, and the combination of sleepless nights and coffee- fuelled days was taking its toll. Around the briefing room table, the enquiry into the cause of the catastrophe and the need to deal with its aftermath merged into a confusing mêlée of words; urgent yet curiously abstract, because there was no hard evidence or much accurate information to inform them.

The Minister craved a walk in the fresh air. The second day after the disaster was drawing to a close and it would be dark in Downing Street, but that wouldn’t stop the media frenzy which would ensue if she were to step outside.

The civil servants and military officers were doing their best, of course, but with communication systems compromised, even getting an accurate picture from the scene was extremely difficult. Nor were the Prime Minister’s interventions helping. He was on his way home from holiday, having initially underestimated the scale of events, and was now compensating by issuing Churchillian demands for “action this day” with no intimations about exactly what the action should be.

However, the hourly situation reports or sit repsas the naval officer in charge of the briefing room insisted on calling them, to the Minister’s intense irritation – were gradually becoming clearer. Things were still bad, but not perhaps as bad as the first day’s traumatic scenes of a break-down in civil order had suggested.

Indeed, it appeared that the immediate response to the emergency had actually been more effective than was first evident in Whitehall. What had looked like large numbers of stunned and disorientated refugees was, in fact, a well-organised evacuation of the disaster area by the local council, clearing the way for the emergency services to tackle the deluge.

As she pushed back her chair, the Minister’s last thought before falling into involuntary sleep was, “Thank God for the local authority.”

Jan Britton is Chief Executive of Sandwell Borough Council. 

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