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Why am I so keen on planning and preparing for crisis management? I was born to it

September 5, 2011 1 comment

I’ve written here a few times about various aspects of incident management and, as one or two have remarked, maybe I’m a bit of an anorak about these things. They may have a point because, to some extent, incident management has been with me since I was in short trousers.

My childhood was spent living on country estates, more that usually with a farm attached. We didn’t own these places, my parents worked there so that explains my interest in customer service; I was, in fact, born into service. But the incident management side of things comes from that background too. In recent years risk assessments have become a fad in many ways, but they are just a formalisation of what I was taught to do in the late 1950s by people who understood such things intuitively.

So how does what I learned all those years ago down on the farm fit with the management of modern property? Well take one sort of incident management that a typical facilities management team should have down pat, that of fire. One of the things that we handled with considerable frequency was fire. Not just the risk of fire (and I have seen a barn fire at close quarters), but managing fires that we would start on purpose. We would have at least one managed conflagration a week as we burned refuse, burned off fields, bracken or whatever. And when I talk about burning refuse I mean bonfires that the average village would be proud of on November 5th; you can create a huge weekly pile from a 50+ acre estate.

These things are not done willy nilly, they are carefully arranged, taking into account the wind, time of day and nature of what you are burning. A compost heap large enough to keep  Time Team busy excavating it for a week will burn for days if it spontaneously combusts. Siting the bonfire, compost heap or whatever is carefully thought through. Precautions are taken and what you’ll do if things don’t go as planned are worked out. We were taught to understand consequences and about accepting responsibility.

On a farm or large country estate there is a lot of serious kit and danger lurks all around. As kids we were brought up to understand and respect things, so maybe it should be no surprise that it is so ingrained in me. That’s not to say that I don’t take risks; I do, but I think about it first. From what I learned as a child I got to think about things like always checking my escape route(s) when I stay somewhere away from home, like counting the seat rows between me and the nearest two exits when I fly, like my winter survival kit that I carry in the car from November through March.

I had the benefit of learning about these things to the degree that it became automatic. It was only later in life when I became responsible for large numbers of people that I began to think about it and to analyse what I was doing and why as part of developing drills and desktop run throughs. When you have a bloody great fire every week on purpose you are doing it for real, but when you are running big buildings, thankfully, you don’t, so you need to have dummy drills.

Practice does make perfect which is why I have ridden my teams hard on these things, and that is why we coped so well with some of the incidents that have described in these columns. It’s in my blood.