Cllr Ketan Sheth
Emergency response is at the forefront of the minds of elected members and officers who work in the UK’s local authorities, helping to provide important public services. That’s because in the last year or so we have seen emergency responses to many challenging situations from flooding, to terrorism attacks and of course Grenfell Tower.
While the terrorist incidents in London were managed by individual local authorities and emergency services with minimal need for support from their neighbours, the scale of the Grenfell Tower disaster required a pan-London response. I’m proud that over 100 Brent Council staff answered the call for mutual aid. They covered roles as diverse as working at the Borough Emergency Control Centre and providing support directly to affected families. Brent’s own Chief Executive temporarily joined the head office of the Grenfell Fire Response Unit to head up the humanitarian assistance response.
In light of the number and scale of incidents in 2017, Brent Council’s Audit Committee agreed there would be benefit in reviewing Brent’s own emergency preparedness. Given the cross-cutting nature of incident response, the task group was drawn from the Council’s three scrutiny committees and the Audit Committee; and I was chosen to chair it.
During this work we looked at best practice and benchmarking from other London boroughs, heard from experts in the field, reviewed documents and plans, took part in a scenario exercise as well as visiting the facilities that would be used as our own Borough Emergency Command Centre during a major incident.
The resulting report, which we discussed at Full Council a few weeks ago, outlined a number of Brent’s strengths, and made nine recommendations, many of which were already underway or completed by the time the report was published. Emergency duty rotas have been reviewed and numerous more senior council officers have been trained to coordinate major incident responses. New training has been commissioned from the Cabinet Office for both senior council staff and local ward councillors to ensure they are ready to respond if needed, a review of emergency accommodation and rest centre locations has been carried out, and meetings and exercises have helped maintain our already very strong relationships with the police, ambulance, fire, and local partners such as Wembley Stadium.
Thankfully, incidents on the scale of Grenfell are rare. Outside of Brent’s support for the Grenfell response; the Civil Contingencies team dealt with 21 incidents in 2017; mostly domestic house fires, floods, or explosions, and a few localised issues such as power cuts, storms and burst water mains. The exception was the discovery of an unexploded bomb which required the (thankfully temporary) evacuation of a large number of households in the Brondesbury Park area, which tested officers and local ward councilors, both of whom rose to the occasion. While we all hope that the people of Brent are spared any major incident, they can feel reassured that a strong foundations are in place should the council be called upon to respond. And, we will continue to keep emergency response in the forefront of our minds and respond to many different situations.
For more information about Brent Council’s Emergency Preparedness Task Group Report, please visit www.brent.gov.uk/scrutiny
Cllr. Ketan Sheth is a Councillor for Tokyngton, Wembley in the London Borough of Brent. Ketan has been a councillor since 2010 and was appointed as Brent Council’s Chair of the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee in May 2016. Before his current appointment in 2016, he was the Chair of Planning, of Standards, and of the Licensing Committees. Ketan is a lawyer by profession and sits on a number of public bodies, including as the Lead Governor of Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust.
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