Reports of explosions, London under attack, hundreds of casualties, many feared dead. Emergency services deploy and respond according to well-established plans. Not the events of July 7 but a scenario a few months earlier in April codenamed Atlantic Blue, an international exercise aimed at testing the response of departments and agencies to an incident eerily reminiscent of last month’s bomb attack.
Atlantic Blue and other exercises designed to prepare the capital for catastrophes have served us well - the emergency services’ handling of the July attacks was successful and deserves our whole-hearted praise.
But what now? What lessons have we learnt and how can we prepare for future threats? As chair of the London Business Resilience Group my role is to seek ways to improve communication between government agencies, departments and business on resilience issues and risks.
Resilience is defined as the ability to withstand and recover quickly from external events; from IT and telecommunications failures to transport disruption, from pandemic influenza to floods – and from terrorist attacks. And the government, through the Civil Contingencies Act, has put in place the new regional tier of resilience to complement the emergency planners at local level.
The London Business Resilience Group is the sector body representing business on the London Regional Resilience Forum, a forum established post 9/11 to address the strategic emergency planning and resilience needs of the Capital, comprising key agencies and stakeholders.
Confidence in a country’s resilience against shocks can affect foreign direct investment and therefore the economy as a whole. The UK is home to 167 of the top 600 companies across Europe; almost double that of Germany*, the nearest competitor for foreign investment and last year 1,066 foreign companies opted to invest in the UK, a rise of 31% over the previous year. International onlookers have remarked on our immediate return to business as usual following the July 7 attacks, which is expected retain the confidence of foreign investors.
Looking at the short term lessons from July 7 we find that we can no longer rely upon basic assumptions such as transport availability, staff morale, and the use of mobile phones. These and other essentials to ongoing business activity need to be questioned in the context of maintaining a truly resilient business.
Longer term, it is about our ability to withstand unexpected events and giving confidence to those visiting, working, and investing in London. We all have a contribution to make either as individual companies or in partnership with others. The London Business Resilience Group welcomes input from everyone within the business community as we seek ways to improve our preparedness and response to emergencies.
Business continuity is becoming just as important to company boards as financing, strategy, employees, innovation, and day-to-day operations and it potentially impacts on all aspects of a business. In order to fulfil obligations and responsibilities, business can draw on advice and assistance from the accountancy profession, insurance industry and property owners. The Civil Contingencies Act will in due course place a duty on local authorities to provide advice and assistance to business about business continuity management.
We live in an age of outside supplier dependence, where tolerances are tight - the effect of disruption is potentially immediate. In some areas, whole sectors can rely on a handful of suppliers and critical nodes where there is disruption to one part can cause the whole market to fail. This reflects an increase in centralised purchasing, less vertical integration and of the emergence of truly specialist suppliers.
It will increasingly become a condition of trade that suppliers have appropriate contingency, disaster recovery and business continuity plans. This task will be made easier with the emergence of a new British Standard dedicated to Business Continuity.
Government has committed to increasing the level and quality of information and advice to business and this has dramatically improved since 9/11. However, more work is required in respect of the provision of co-ordinated information via websites and updates in relation to threat, as well as the means of obtaining advice.
Government must also continuously create credibility and confidence in the business environment by ensuring that it understands business needs, and by effectively addressing issues and risks in a controlled and relevant manner with minimum disruption and cost to day to day business.
* DTI 2005
Hamish Bryce is chair of the London Regional Resilience Forum’s Business Committee. He is director of Henderson Strata Investment Trust.