Disaster planning committee formed after failures in UK’s Covid response

A disaster planning committee has been formed to better equip Britain to deal with "unprecedented shocks" such as the coronavirus pandemic.

The new National Preparedness Commission will meet for the first time on Thursday to "think ahead to future emergencies" after the UK’s coronavirus response was found wanting. 

It follows concerns that findings from Exercise Cygnus, a Government simulation of a pandemic that showed gaping holes in Britain’s Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response plan, still have not been published. 

Former home secretary Lord Reid, Bishop of London Dame Sarah Mullally and Lord Evans, a former director general of MI5, are among more than 40 senior figures who have been appointed to force policymakers to put "fit for purpose" plans in place. 

The National Preparedness Commission will not only look at global pandemic planning but also at threats from other critical incidents such as widespread power failure, flooding, adverse terrestrial and space weather, terrorist attacks on crowded places or transport, cyber attacks on infrastructure or services and chemical, biological and radiological attacks.

Chairman Lord Harris of Haringey, a former reviewer of London’s terrorist preparedness, said: "The dramatic impact of Covid-19 demonstrates why governments, businesses, communities and individual households need to be better prepared to withstand and recover from major shocks. The ease with which the fabric of our accustomed way of life has unravelled during the pandemic has taken the country by surprise.

"The work of the National Preparedness Commission is not about criticising what has or has not been done in the past. Our focus is on what must be put in place for the future. The UK needs to be better prepared to deal with threats and unprecedented shocks, ensuring our communities, particularly the most vulnerable members of society, are not affected disproportionately."

Lord Harris said there needed to be a cultural shift from a "just in time" philosophy to one of "just in case".

The commission will hear from experts across the world, learning from other countries’ experiences, holding major roundtable events and publishing guides and policy papers. 

The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at University of Cambridge, Chatham House, Resilience First and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) are among the organisations that have agreed to partner the commission.

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