Emergency planners are having a tough time


Also, in a disaster there are no good decisions, only bad decisions at worst. Every decision will come with a set of consequences. What the government really struggled to do was minimize the consequences of the decisions they felt they had to take.

My personal view is that what Britain is going through at the moment is the expected state after a disaster. But I don't want to stop learning lessons from this. I'm a very active Twitterer about the UK government's Covid investigation because a lot of the wrong questions are being asked.

What is being done wrong?

It's focusing too much on personal interactions and the behavior of people who probably won't be next in charge. This needs to be answered: How do you address the fact that there were plans and they were not used appropriately? What is an emergency plan? What will we do next time?

It became clear how little the public understood emergency drills. There was very poor communication with the public initially about what the situation was. You know, what a pandemic does, what it looks like when it's endemic, all that kind of stuff. We need to universally review our approach to communicating scientific and medical information to the public.

Disasters can have real long-term effects on people's physical and mental health and the environment. At what point do you decide that the disaster is over?

For an event like 9/11, it certainly becomes intergenerational, it becomes a permanent wound. Sometimes the need for support will increase much later.

If you're a local responder and have fire and police, you'll never forget it, but there's no particular need to go back to it. If you are the government, your ability to reactivate its response will need to be prepared for decades, and that is very difficult.

Frankly, I don't see an end to the disasters. It doesn't work like that. Some parts of the community will want to move on, and especially the bereaved will not.

One of the things I work on a lot is Grenfell [a residential tower fire in London in 2017 which killed 72 people]And it has brought me more in touch with Aberfan [a mining-related disaster in Wales in 1966 which killed 144], and you realize that it's still very much a part of that place. If I wander around a disaster site, and I have some idea of ​​what I'm looking for, I can always find the legacy of that disaster.

What can I do to prepare for a disaster before it happens?

There is civil preparedness stuff there. If the power goes out. Torch or backup pack, phone charger.

And there are some things you can do in your life to protect yourself. Taking yourself to the dentist, or taking care of your health – the world is a little more volatile, so take care of yourself.

And then, over the years, I've seen people want to talk about some of the more difficult aspects. You know, what would I want if they said I lost a loved one? Do I want their personal effects back?

You'll always see me talking about having a will, having a lasting power of attorney, not making assumptions about who the next of kin is in an arrangement. There's a little linguistic trick we always use in emergency planning, “when, not if.”

Ultimately, should we be worried about disasters?

On a personal level, we should care about how our country will respond to them, because disasters do not create new fissures. I want people to think more about what they will demand of themselves, of their families, of their state, of their community. What will they ask from this government?

But both worry and fear are completely useless emotions. They have adverse effects on the body. I would prefer people to think like emergency planners, which is: We talk about it, and we work out what we're going to do.

Hear Lucy Easthope speak at WIRED Health's 10th anniversary event in King's Place, London on 19 March. Get tickets at health.wired.com.