I remember seeing the Hillsborough disaster on the television as it happened, but for me it was not one of those iconic moments when you remember exactly where you were when it happened. My two iconic moments when I remember exactly where I was are 9/11 and when Lady Di died! For those of you not familiar with the disaster, The Hillsborough disaster was a human crush which occurred during the semi-final FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest football clubs on 15 April 1989 at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. The crush resulted in the deaths of 96 people. Apart from the obvious large number of deaths, the disaster was controversial as the Police blamed drunken fans for causing the disaster (the official explanation) while the families fought a 23 year campaign for justice. They believed it was not the fans who caused the disaster but poor policing. This week, 23 years later, there has been a report from the Hillsborough Independent Panel which have looked through all the evidence and has reported that there was a cover up and that poor policing and the a failure by the emergency services caused the incident and contributed to the large number of casualties. What I find quite shocking about the new evidence is that the panel reported that the Police covered up the real cause of the incident, altered large numbers of statements and briefed against the fans saying it was drunken fans were the cause of the incident. I always believed that the British Police on the whole where honest apart from a few “bad apples” but this has shown, at least in the past, they were at a senior level happy to carry out a very large and widespread cover up. What does that mean to us business continuity people? The planning for large scale events and their emergency planning has come a long way since Hillsborough, both from a police prospective and an event planning prospective. If we or our organisation is going to be planning for a large event involving large numbers of people, I think we need to employ or use professional planners who have skills in this area rather than try and adapt our business continuity skills to plan for the event. I think there is also number of additional lessons to be learnt through better planning. 1. If the disaster took place today I think there would be less chance of a wide scale cover-up taking place. Mobile phone coverage from the site, social media and the web all mean that individuals have the power to publish their views on events and can very easily get their view over and challenge official events. As these events gain momentum, go viral then, we hope, that official cover ups are difficult to achieve. This means for us if our organisation is the cause of the disaster or causes harm, then we need to ensure that our senior managers do not try in any way be economical with the truth on the cause and the consequences of the incident. The truth will get out and as our mothers all probably told us “better to own up now that to be caught out lying later”. Don’t cover up as you will be found out and probably a lot quicker than 23 years later. 2. If you have an incident when someone is killed or badly injured your incident doesn’t finish when your operations are ‘back to normal’. Firstly the trauma for those persons loved ones goes on way past the stand down of the incident teams and secondly the family or relatives may run a campaign against your organisation which could last a long time, and is most likely to damage your reputation. If the relatives think there has been a cover up, they haven’t been told the truth or they feel justice has not been done; we have seen from the Hillsborough families how strong they can be, they have kept the campaign going for 23 years and they have an iron will in their pursuit of justice for those killed or injured. Do you have plans, protocols or people in place who’s role is to manage those injured or killed by the incident and do they have the authority to manage and resolve issues which have resulted from the incident? This can range from paying compensation but perhaps better, sitting down with the relatives explaining what happened, admit where you have made mistakes and saying (sincerely) that you are sorry. 3. If you have a death on site, have you thought through where you might allow flower memorials, how long you allow those memorials to remain, how do you dispose of them? In the bin or somewhere a little more sensitive? How do you deal with anniversaries of events each year? Do you acknowledge them by having a minutes silence or do you ignore them as part of the moving on process? If you do acknowledge an anniversary then how long do you go on for 5, 10, 50 years? All these calls are matter of judgement and will very much depend on circumstance but as business continuity people we have to make sure that those who are going to have to make decisions are aware of the decision they will have to make and some of the issues which need to be addressed. Bad things happen, as BC people we know this; our job is to ensure that the people affected by the incident are managed to recovery as well as our organisations business processes.
You’ll Never Walk Alone
About Charlie Maclean-Bristol
Charlie Maclean-Bristol is one of the Founders and Directors of PlanB Consulting. He is also the Training Director of Business Continuity Training Ltd., a UK-based training provider accredited by the Business Continuity Institute. Charlie is a former Business Continuity Institute board member and one of the very few Fellows of both the Emergency Planning Society and the Business Continuity Institute.
A former Infantry Captain in the British Army, Charlie held several emergency planning, business continuity and crisis management positions within the energy and utility industry before founding PlanB Consulting in 2007. Over the past twelve years, Charlie has delivered business continuity consultancy in 6 of the worlds 7 continents, frequently providing full business continuity roll-outs to organisations of all sizes and in all sectors.