Are you prepared?

Written by Mike Lees of the Emergency Planning Society

Moving with the times and a constant attention to members needs are key drivers for the Emergency Planning Society (EPS). Emergency planning within the UK Health Sector forms a vital part of the Society’s Membership Service strategy.
UK health emergency planners are now living and working in dynamic times and their professional body, The Emergency Planning Society, can trace its roots back some 50 years with its origins being found in the Civil Defence Act of 1939. The Society’s modern day reincarnation was formed in 1993 by a merger of two existing professional organisations. The Civil Defence Act 1948 enabled the previous Second World War organisations to form the Civil Defence Corps to prepare and protect the civil population from a wartime nuclear attack. The first professional organisation, the Association of Civil Defence Officers, was formed in 1952 by those members of the Corps.
The reduction in the then nuclear threat together with a greater focus on safety and a realisation of the potential for major disasters, particularly in transportation and hazardous industries, broadened the Association from its public sector origins to encompass the private sector. The Association changed its name to The Association of Civil Defence and Emergency Planning Officers (ACDEPO) in 1973.
Following the end of the Cold War the emphasis on civil defence finally disappeared and the Association was renamed the Emergency Planning Association (EPA) in 1992. The EPA merged with the County Emergency Planning Officer’s Society in 1993 to become the Emergency Planning Society of today with around 800 members. The Society became a company limited by guarantee on 16 December 2003 and continues to grow with a membership now standing at 2,400.

Addressing the challenges
The days have long passed when the emergency planning officer was accommodated in a basement cupboard to be shown the daylight only if a disaster occurred along with a general perception of the Society being an informal gentleman’s club of ex-military officers. Since the Y2K alert in the late 1990s the Society has had to re-align drastically, tailoring its service focus to the increased demands of member’s own organisations, additional pressures of legislation, advice and guidance, coupled with the degree of professionalism expected by our members. The Society’s small full time secretariat at Cardiff is dedicated to providing the required advice and guidance by phone or e-mail with a regularly updated Internet site.
As the largest organisation for UK emergency planning professionals it continues to aspire to Chartered Institute status and its medium term business planning reflects this, along with an increased emphasis on governance, the professional development of its members and an ability to influence key decision-makers in government and business. As the majority of Health Trusts in the UK are categorised responders (Category 1 or 2) under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 it is imperative that all the legal duties under the Act are addressed by a qualified emergency planning/business continuity lead.
It is difficult to be totally objective about the Society’s progress but a number of issues do speak for themselves. The membership has increased by almost 12 per cent since March 2009, a very passable achievement considering the economic climate and recent period of recession. Additionally the delegate registrations for this year’s annual conference in Glasgow are excellent and the take-up the recently introduced online CPD scheme has been exceptional.

Affordable training
The Society is currently expanding its business arm for the benefit of members. One such area being vigorously pursued is reasonably priced training, organised internally or in partnership with a training provider. The Society has recently endorsed its first training provider, Skills 2 Share of Newark, with courses covering crisis management, incident room response and corporate manslaughter being particularly relevant to health sector emergency planning leads.
A number of other providers including Link Associates International and the Emergency Planning College have also indicated a real interest in participation. As there are both non-technical and technical grades of membership the Society proactively encourages members to upgrade and mentor support is readily available. In 2008 the Society introduced the Core Competences Framework based on the National Occupational Standards for Civil Contingencies and this provides an essential level of assurance for health service senior managers when linked to an emergency planning lead’s professional development. The Framework is seen as a key stage in recognising and assessing the competent emergency planning practitioner.
In many cases the UK health sector has shown other organisations a way forward in the dual role adopted with regard to NHS emergency planning and business continuity responsibilities. Although considered heresy by some, for many NHS organisations this ‘double badge’ works extremely well. Chief executives and trust boards should recognise, however, that this approach carries a huge responsibility for them and the respective post holder. As the EPS has extensive experience and a membership drawn from across the entire resilience community it can provide advice and guidance on possible resourcing issues as well as support and professional development for the organisation’s respective emergency planning lead. Close working relationships with a number of key organisations has led to the Society working on a number of different professional development initiatives including leadership training for senior NHS managers, foundation training for emergency planning officers and a Masters degree in health emergency planning. The transferability of CPD points and the mutual recognition of CPD schemes within the UK resilience, risk, fire and security sectors are both proposals the Society is currently seeking agreement with a number of partner bodies.

Risk management
An aspect of the role of emergency planning lead often missed or ignored by many organisations is an open door provided to holistic risk advice. The emphises and core foundation of emergency planning is a constant engagement with risk, response and consequence management. It also has to be acknowledged that health emergency planning leads have role limits with time and duty constraints but their expertise in risk environments, even in just an advisory capacity, can provide that invaluable engagement in the preparation of corporate risk registers and the mitigation of strategic risks. Many strategic risks such as climate change which is closely associated with extreme weather events and Hazmat or CBRN are the common fare of all UK health sector emergency planning staff. These stated risks, along with others, should be included in the corporate risk registers of most NHS organisations. The EPS provides both a pathway and advice to its members on these and a number of other issues via its local Branch and national Professional Working Group (PWG) networks.
The following are major points that the Society is committed to taking forward with the UK health sector in the short term:

  • A full recognition of the role of the emergency planning professional and embedding the resilience culture within the UK health sector.
  • Society support with advice and guidance to assist in successfully resourcing emergency planning posts.
  • To encourage continuing professional development (CPD) in the health emergency planning role and attendance at multi-agency events.
  • Full support for endorsed vocational and academic qualifications relevant to the health emergency planning role.
  • To work closely with all the relevant bodies to ensure the current Knowledge & Skills Framework links closely with the role of the emergency planning professional.

All the obvious advantages outlined above should prompt senior health service managers to not only actively encourage membership of the Emergency Planning Society but ensure that a small part of their budget is reserved to subsidise the membership of a professional body. Societal risk is increasing and to successfully plan for, or indeed manage, the consequences of a major incident or business continuity event require the input of a competent, well trained, dedicated emergency planning professional. The Emergency Planning Society is there to fully support that professional and their employer.
Comments about the EPS approach to CPD
“Essex has always embraced a positive approach to professional development and personal achievement, whilst encouraging innovation by staff engaged in the field of emergency planning and business continuity. The Society’s CPD Scheme provides us with a nationally recognised system that demonstrates our commitment and professional competence. It not only offers tangible benefits for an individual’s career progression but is of value to a range of employers and partners. Additionally it provides a level of assurance to our communities,” said June Thompson, head of Emergency Planning & Business Continuity, Essex County Council.
“The Regional Resilience Teams recognise the importance of developing the skills and knowledge of their staff and are working as a network to improve opportunities for RRT staff. Part of this is encouraging staff to take an active role in their own development and the provision of a CPD system will help stimulate and record this as well as promoting them to improve their EPS status. The work carried out by the RRT’s also seeks to link this system into their Civil Service appraisal. For the RRT at Government Office East the benefits of the CPD system were sufficient to justify all members of the Team becoming members of the EPS,” commented Jeff Stacey, resilience team leader for Government Office East of England.

About the author
Mike Lees is the director of Membership and Professional Development for the Emergency Planning Society and is a full time resilience manager (Emergency Planning/Business Continuity) for Barnsley Hospital Foundation Trust. He has previously served as a contingency planning manager with two police forces (South Yorkshire & British Transport Police), holds a Master degree in Risk, Crisis & Disaster Management from the University of Leicester, is a fellow of the Society and Member of the Business Continuity Institute, Institute of Risk Management and Institute of Healthcare Management.