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Most UK adults are totally unprepared for an emergency 

The new British Red Cross report, Ready for Anything, says that needs of individuals and communities must be at heart of response to flooding, terror attacks, and other emergencies.

Over a quarter (26 per cent) of UK adults think they will be affected by a major emergency, but more than two thirds (70 per cent) admit nobody in their household has taken steps to prepare, according to new research from the British Red Cross.

The British Red Cross is calling on the sector, emergency services, local authorities and the Government to work better together to meet four key needs identified in the report:

  • addressing immediate practical needs
  • communicating essential information
  • providing mental health and psychosocial support
  • helping people rebuild lives with access to advocacy, advice and ongoing support

Drawing on a survey of 5,000 UK adults, and insights from those with direct experience of major incidents and emergencies, Ready for anything: Putting people at the heart of emergency response looks in depth at what people expect and need when crisis hits.

It finds that individuals and communities can respond very differently, so the support they are given to plan, cope and recover from an emergency should reflect that diversity. For example, 42 per cent of UK adults would want support in finding family members they had become separated from following a bomb threat or terror attack. And more younger people say they that they want emotional support than older people; 26 per cent of those aged 18-24 compared with 14 per cent of those over 65.

The report also shows that providing cash for people to buy what they need in an emergency, rather than assuming what they need, was often more culturally appropriate and desired. It gives people dignity and allows them to make decisions about their own recovery.

The British Red Cross responds to an emergency in the UK approximately every four hours. The charity and its volunteers carry out first aid, run rest centres and provide safe spaces where they offer emotional and practical support. Every year, it helps around half a million people in the UK to prepare for, respond to and recover from a crisis. It believes that greater collaboration between different agencies and charities, as well as sharing local knowledge and insights, will help meet the wide range of individual needs in a crisis. 

ER pics 3 edited

British Red Cross responds to an emergency approximately every four hours. Phtoto: Antonio Zazueta Olmos/British Red Cross. 

The National Police Chief Council Lead for Civil Contingencies, DCC Paul Netherton said: “Every emergency, whether a house fire, flooding or a terrorist attack is different and those affected will have differing needs which are best addressed through a joined up approach involving the emergency services and their partners, including the voluntary sector. 

“The police work closely across these sectors to ensure multi-agency response plans involve all the right stakeholders and we welcome this research from the British Red Cross which underlines the value of greater co-operation to deliver support to the public when it is needed the most.”

Roy Wilsher, chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, said: "In the event of an emergency incident occurring, the fire service will respond along with other blue light services, using nationally agreed principles and guidance (JESIP).

“The National Fire Chiefs Council actively works on closer collaborative working between all responders to emergency incidents. We welcome the work undertaken by the British Red Cross in this report highlighting how people can be supported following an emergency incident.

“I am also supportive of the British Red Cross's new project which aims to prepare local communities to support each other and those responding to emergencies."

British Red Cross’ Head of Crisis Response, Simon Lewis, said: “Major emergencies in the UK are thankfully rare and it’s important to stress the majority of people won’t be caught up in one. But, whether it’s a flood, fire, power or water outage or other alert, this report builds on our knowledge of how to respond and support people’s recovery best. One size doesn’t fit all, and planning together and listening to people’s needs locally can both reassure and empower communities to withstand incidents in future.”

Naomi Phillips, Director of Policy and Advocacy, at the British Red Cross said: “When an emergency hits a community, it can tear at its very fabric. If people are prepared, they can withstand the impact of shocks and recover over time. And, while a community takes time to heal, people should feel empowered, supported and confident in their own and their institutions’ ability to respond.

“Closer collaboration between central and local government, emergency services and voluntary sector organisations could help ensure people are as far as possible ‘ready for anything’ and that their needs are met if the worst does happen.

“Our report offers powerful insights into what people require after an emergency, whether a major event or the need to evacuate their home for a fire or flood, something that could happen to anyone. We’re inviting emergency responders across all sectors to work together and share our learnings.”

The report also looks at the needs of those who respond to emergencies, whether as a job or through volunteering. It corrects some misconceptions, eg a quarter of people wrongly believe that firefighters and the police routinely monitor social media for people needing help, or that posting on social media is a good way to alert emergency services.

The British Red Cross is also using the report launch to highlight some simple steps organisations and individuals can take to help prepare for any eventuality:

  • Download British Red Cross’ emergency response reports, available here 
  • Explore the Red Cross’s top tips on giving emotional support in an emergency
  • Download its free emergency response app: receive alerts about incidents like flooding in your area
  • Download its free first aid app; get first aid advice at your fingertips

A person who experienced a flood speaks in the report about how significant it was for them to help their infant daughter. They said: “I realised the extent of what was happening, that my daughter was going to be wearing not her own clothes, clothes that didn’t fit her, nappies that didn’t fit her, and that’s when I think it hit home with me that our lives had been turned upside down. It was silly things, I remember the first day I got a pink blanket to give her … that was a big thing for me.”

A Red Cross volunteer spoke about the importance of talking about traumatic experiences after an emergency: “We as humans have a built-in need after a stressful situation to go and talk about it. It’s part of our survival mechanism.”

Find out more and download the British Red Cross’ Ready for Anything report here 

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