Businesses are being urged to prepare for a possible winter of discontent amid fears of widespread industrial action, a repeat of last year’s bad weather conditions and the potential disruption to emergency service cover in the aftermath of a terrorist incident or natural disaster.
As union officials call for mass action to protest against spending cuts, and weather forecasters predict another harsh winter, firms across the country are being encouraged to review their business continuity plans before it’s too late.
“Now is the time to start preparing for problems. If the threat of widespread industrial unrest happens many firms could find their usual supply chains interrupted or that they can’t deliver their goods and services to customers,” claims Andrew Sinclair of Glen Abbot, the UK’s leading independent Business Continuity Consultancy firm.
“There have already been suggestions that we are in for a another hard winter this year. Last year UK firms lost an estimated £1.2billion or more due to lost productivity resulting from disruption on the transport networks and staff absenteeism caused by the worst snowfall in years.
“When you add that to possible power shortages and widespread strike action forecast for this year then a lot of firms could be in for a miserable winter if they don’t plan ahead.”
In addition to potential problems from the weather and industrial strife the Audit Commission has warned that many of the UK fire and rescue services could struggle to cope with a major incident if they are already under pressure from a prolonged shortage of manpower.
In previous years the fire services have been able to call on military help but with the war in Afghanistan and other commitments that is no longer an option, especially since the old green goddess fire engines were sold off several years ago.
While the majority of emergency services could cope with short term staff reductions they would run into trouble if problems persisted over any length of time or if there was more than one major incident simultaneously.
“It is reassuring to find that most areas have robust plans in place to cope with loss of staff,” said Michael O’Higgins, Chairman of the Audit Commission.
“Of concern, though, is that public safety may be at risk if major disruption occurs across several fire and rescue authorities and lasts for a long time. In these circumstances we discovered that specialist equipment designed to deal with the aftermath of terror attacks or major natural disasters is less likely to be deployable because of demands on firefighter resources.”
The report found that if services were seriously disrupted most fire and rescue services would not be able to deploy sophisticated equipment for responding to major incidents, including natural disasters or terrorist incidents. The equipment, used in urban search and rescue when buildings collapse and for mass chemical decontamination, is necessary for ensuring national security and public safety in extreme circumstances. However, less than a third of fire and rescue services could guarantee the availability of so-called ‘New Dimension’ assets at all times.
“Companies and organisations of all shapes and sizes have to take responsibility for themselves, especially at a time when emergency services are stretched and there is a real risk of widespread disruption to business activities,” added Andrew Sinclair.
“A few hours planning for problems now could save an enormous amount of misery later. If there is a major incident and the emergency services are unable to respond fast enough many firms could find themselves having to cope for longer on their own. The only way to deal with something like that is to prepare for it”.