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goes beyond merely being able to call on
the ‘Blitz spirit’.
Sensitivity and rapidity
One of the first attributes of a resilient
organisation is sensitivity to changes in
the environment in which it lives and
operates. The longer you’re unaware of a
potential problem, then clearly by the
time it has reached a stage where you
both acknowledge it and take it
seriously, it may well have escalated to a
state that’s beyond your resources or
capabilities in terms of dealing with it.
This is certainly true of many
Governments’ responses to COVID-19.
It’s not coincidental those
aforementioned South East Asian
nations that had been through a
previous and similar pandemic episode
were much more sensitive to the real
threat that Coronavirus, as it was then
known, posed to them.
The second attribute of resilient
organisations is rapidity. Once they’ve
taken notice of a potential problem
(hopefully before it has escalated into a
crisis event), are they able to respond in
a rapid manner?
Most organisations are controlled by
multiple processes, protocols and
guidelines that limit the ability of
individuals or departments to break free
of them when required. Crisis decision-making
cannot be run in the same way
as normal operational activities. It’s the
ability to understand the difference
between the two, and trigger crisis
frameworks if necessary, that affords the
resilient organisation an advantage over
a similar one not able to break free of its
The truth is, of course, that the crisis
isn’t working to our timetable. It’s
therefore clear that the ability to adapt to
the challenges set by a fast-escalating
situation is a critical part of resiliency,
and that an organisation lacking this, or
unaware that that is an integral part of
its crisis management programme, will
be unlikely to have the necessary
qualities to react speedily and effectively
once a crisis event (whether actual or
potential) does occur.
Once the necessity of the need to
respond is recognised, the next issue is
one of resources (ie spare capacity).
Resilience isn’t something that magically
appears out of thin air. It’s clear that
farmers with spare food and corn for
their cattle will be more resilient than
those who don’t.
Most organisations (including
Governments) have cut back resources
to such an extent that they’re often
unable to manage even daily activities.
If asked, most people would say that
they’re over-tasked, under-resourced
and under-budgeted. That is, they have
too much to do and not enough
manpower, equipment or money to
provide even those standard services as
they would wish. If that’s the case, then
it’s clear there will be no spare capacity
that would allow the organisation to
provide the surge of resources required
within any crisis event.
The final points to touch on are more
cultural in nature. The first is the issue
of a learning organisation.
Does the organisation take advantage
of near misses to better understand the
environment in which it operates,
identify potential risks and threats and
prepare itself on a pre-emptive and pro-active
basis? In terms of pandemics,
COVID-19 isn’t that evere. As an
example, the morbidity rate is around
2%-3%, whereas the morbidity rate for
Ebola is 40%-50%.
We’ve had multiple potential
pandemic events in the past 20 years.
As well as SARS, we’ve seen Ebola,
NERS, Zica, Swine Flue, Bird Flue and
annual influenza surges. These were all
opportunities for national Governments
as well as global organisations to model
and learn from those events so as to
prepare themselves to deal with future
shocks in an effective manner by using
the sensitivity, rapidity and reserve
resource previously outlined. The fact
that they had none of those attributes is
not the fault of the crisis event
(COVID-19), but a failure of the
organisations themselves to take their
own responsibilities seriously enough.
That brings us to the final point:
leadership. If the organisation’s
leadership doesn’t give these issues the
level of importance and priority they
deserve, then they will be pushed to the
side and ignored.
There was nothing about COVID-19
that was unknown. There was nothing
that can be considered unprecedented.
The fact that Governments were not
ready for the pandemic wasn’t because
they could not have known it was
coming, but rather because they had
developed over time a culture of
ignoring exactly those issues that should
have been at the centre of their own
crisis management frameworks.
David Rubens D.SyRM MSc CSyP FSyI
F.ISRM is Executive Director of The
Institute of Strategic Risk Management
The fact that Governments were not
ready for the pandemic wasn’t
because they could not have known
it was coming, but rather because
they had developed over time a
culture of ignoring exactly those
issues that should have been at the
centre of their own crisis