In 2017 there have been two major incidents in and around Hammersmith & Fulham that required the authority to implement its emergency planning procedures - the fire at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington in June and an explosion on a tube train in Parsons Green tube station in September.
This report reviews the H&F response at both strategic and operational levels, identifies action taken to date to improve the Council’s readiness, and makes recommendations for further improvements.
Peter Smith (Head of Policy and Strategy) introduced the draft report and noted that in 2017 there were two major incidents in and around Hammersmith & Fulham that required the authority to implement its emergency planning procedures – the fire at Grenfell Tower in June and an explosion on a tube train in Parsons Green in September. The report reviewed the Council’s response to those incidents at both strategic and operational levels and considered the views of local businesses and community organisations that participated in a ‘hackathon’ event convened by the Council to examine the views of partners.
The report identified action taken to improve the Council’s readiness and response to major incidents and made recommendations for additional action for further improvements. The Committee was invited to discuss the report’s findings and consider the draft recommendations. Following the meeting, the Council’s five Policy and Accountability Committees would also be consulted before the report was finalised for Cabinet agreement in February 2018.
The Chair asked about the Council’s social media strategy in the face of a major incident. Louise Raisey (Strategic Head of Communications) said the focus for the Communications team was to get consistent messages out to reassure the public. There was a detailed plan in place for that which worked well during the Parsons Green incident.
Kim Dero (Chief Executive) added that the Council also recognised the importance of working with the community and partners to build community resilience. The Council was looking at using the community to get its messages out through the use of WhatsApp groups and dedicated websites. The Council was also providing training for community outreach responders so we could give key people in local communities the right information and they could spread it through their networks.
Councillor Vivienne Lukey asked if the Hammersmith & Fulham Nextdoor website could be used to communicate with residents. Louise Raisey said Nextdoor could be used to feed in messages but because it was a closed local network it posed some challenges.
Councillor Nicholas Botterill commented that it was important to get clear, coherent messaging out as widely as possible – through as many channels as possible. Most people wouldn’t think to go to a council’s website in a time of emergency. He added that recent events had highlighted the need for the Council to have a strong communications department.
Councillor PJ Murphy suggested each committee consulted on the report should have sight of any previous discussions so points weren’t repeated.
Councillor PJ Murphy asked what contingency was in place if the mobile phone network went down (3.7 in the report).
Councillor PJ Murphy said it was good that the website would be regularly updated (3.11) but did it have the necessary reach? What would the Council do to get the message out wider?
Councillor PJ Murphy asked how long before H&F communications staff were providing support to RBKC after the Grenfell incident (3.14 of the report).
Councillor Murphy recommended that there should be specific point people in the communications team to deal with questions from the public, press, and government.
Louise Raisey said capacity was an issue – councils had small communications teams so it was hard to mobilise to answer the vast quantity of requests that come through in an emergency situation. Kim Dero added that there were weekly orders lists which had named contacts and roles in each department in case of an emergency – including communications. The Council had also sought crisis communications advice and was looking into upskilling key officers in this area. Officers would consider Councillor Murphy’s proposal for point people.
Councillor Mark Loveday questioned the balance of the report between the Grenfell fire and the Parsons Green attack. Peter Smith said that was due to the scale of the Grenfell incident and the lasting impacts – there were still over 40 Grenfell families residing in the borough and being supported by the Council.
Councillor Loveday also noted that when he arrived at the scene of the Parsons Green incident there wasn’t a Council representative at the Kelvedon Road exclusion barrier. There were a number of very concerned parents whose children were in lockdown in local schools – but the senior police officer on the barrier wasn’t able to provide them with the information they needed. He advised that there should be a pool of Council officers available who could be allocated to handle communications at exclusion barriers. Louise Raisey advised that the Police were responsible for on site communications in emergency situations but officers would consider the proposal.
Councillor Mark Loveday said he had asked a police officer on the scene what he could do to help as a local councillor and was asked to source a Council building for a rest centre. He identified Lancaster Court but struggled to reach relevant Council officers. He suggested that in times of emergency the website and phones should switch to an emergency mode - with clear messages about who to contact for emergency enquiries.
Kim Dero said the work mentioned earlier about using community networks better should include councillors as community leaders. The Council was also reviewing training for members around crisis communications and emergency response.
Councillor Michael Adam highlighted the importance of effective crisis communications. He felt the Council should consider how to respond to more existential scenarios – e.g. a major safeguarding issue. The Council also needed to get the very best advice possible – top professionals had signalled that they were willing to help Councils in the wake of Grenfell and those offers should be taken up.
ACTION 1: Alistair Ayers / Louise Raisey
The Chair asked about the resilience of the mobile phone network as so many people relied on their smartphones for access to the internet now. He asked if officers knew where the phone masts in the borough were and what happened if some went down during a major incident. Nick Austin (Lead Director for Environmental Services) said there were lists of strategic assets in the borough that were regularly reviewed by the Police.
Councillor PJ Murphy asked for a timeline of when the Council offered help to RBKC following the Grenfell Tower fire and when that support was formally accepted. Kim Dero said there was still an ongoing public inquiry into the fire and she had worked with legal officers to ensure the report wouldn’t prejudice that process. For that reason there were certain details that couldn’t be released until the inquiry concluded. Nick Austin added that there were complications because of shared services. Staff were initially deployed to help through local work contacts rather than a formal agreement between organisations. Councillor Murphy wanted to know when the two organisations formally started talking to each other.
Kim Dero noted that the report did highlight that the shared arrangements complicated matters. She also fed back to London Councils, the LGA, and London Gold that neighbouring boroughs should be treated differently in coordinated efforts – proximity and shared services should be taken into account. Councillor Murphy asked for that element to be clarified in the report.
Councillor PJ Murphy asked about the Weekly Orders (2.11 of the report) – how was that communicated in an emergency and how often was it refreshed. Nick Austin said there was a rota for who leads but in an emergency it was updated hourly. Councillor Murphy asked how staff knew who was dealing with what. Nick Austin said the rota was sent out to all staff on the list. Councillor Murphy said it would be useful if all staff had access to it so they could signpost people.
Councillor Mark Loveday asked how many members of the Cabinet had emergency response and communications training. He suggested members of Cabinet should be given training and be given a defined role. Kim Dero said training was offered in the past as part of their induction but the recommendation now was for training to be offered to all Councillors.
Councillor Vivienne Lukey asked what was meant by bystander management on page 34 of the report. Kim Dero said that referred to being a ‘bystander’ in local authority terms – i.e. H&F was treated as a bystander authority in relation to Grenfell despite our close relationship and support.
Councillor Mark Loveday noted that there had been some difficulties using the Lancaster Court facility as a rest centre on the day of the Parsons Green attack. Access to the building was a particular problem – he asked that consideration be given to how we can get access to facilities in emergency situations. Perhaps a list of key-holder contacts.
ACTION 2: Alistair Ayres
Councillor PJ Murphy asked for more detail on the people housed in H&F to be added to the report (final numbers, how many children, adults etc.).
Councillor Murphy also noted that the report said key-workers were with every family within 48 hours of the Grenfell fire – what could we do to shorten that?
Councillor Murphy noted that Grenfell families were afraid to take on temporary accommodation for fear of losing permanent housing in RBKC. Could the Council give a guarantee that a similar emergency situation wouldn’t affect our residents’ housing rights in future? Kim Dero said the Administration fully supported providing a guarantee and the Council could formalise that in a policy document.
Councillor Mark Loveday asked who was responsible for providing temporary housing for residents in private accommodation. Nick Austin said for people in private accommodation it would be their insurance arrangements but the Council would keep respite and rest centres open and would try to identify any vulnerable residents that needed extra support.
Note: Councillor Guy Vincent entered the meeting at 8.09pm
Councillor Loveday noted that after the Shepherd Court fire it was very difficult to find large numbers of hotel rooms to house people temporarily (5.6 of the report). Hotels wanted the Council to provide a credit card and book like anyone else but could we not make arrangements with them for these types of situations? Glendine Shepherd said we had a business account with Premier Inn but other hotels wouldn't allow that. Councillor Loveday said we should name and shame hotels who refused to provide emergency accommodation which the Council would pay for. He asked officers to go back to hotels to try to engage with them.
ACTION 3: Glendine Shepherd
Councillor Vivienne Lukey noted that some people were unable to get the medication they required after the Parsons Green incident. She asked what the arrangements were in the NHS – could they free up a GP or pharmacist to fulfil these requests? And what support did they provide for counselling after these events? Mike Boyle (Director for Strategic Commissioning and Enterprise) said the CCG was responsible and if that didn't happen at Parsons Green he would take it up with their Chief Executive. He added that the West London Mental Health Trust had plans to respond to people's support needs in terms of counselling etc. Sarah Thomas noted that health partners were invited to the hackathon and a local GP, some mental health professionals, and a pharmacist attended.
Councillor PJ Murphy asked that the second to last bullet point on page 39 was amended - if people volunteered, the Council should have the same duty of care as it did to its own staff.
Councillor PJ Murphy noted that there was no mention of how donations were distributed. Sarah Thomas (Director for Delivery and Value) said they were distributed through RBKC as they already had a network in place for their own donations. Perishables were sent to local foodbanks and some items were kept back for the families that were placed in our borough.
Councillor Guy Vincent asked about the process for financial donations. Kim Dero said the Council directed people to a JustGiving web-page that was set up by RBKC. There were some cash donations and officers developed a policy on this as this was a new area. It was a new experience for the Council, hundreds of people and thousands of items arrived in just a few days. Now we had clear guidelines on what to give and what not to give.
The Committee felt training should be given to all Directors - not just some (8.2) - and all Councillors.
Councillor Michael Adam asked what the interface with Transport for London was like during the Parsons Green incident. Nick Austin said the Police and Transport Police took control of the cordon. Kim Dero added that she received a lot of intelligence through the London Gold group.
Councillor Michael Adam asked if the Council was liaising with the three major football clubs in the borough on these issues. Nick Austin said the Council was responsible for issuing the clubs with their safety certificates - they worked closely throughout the year, carrying out formal exercises, debriefs, Safety Advisory Group meetings etc. The Council had good working arrangements with all of the clubs.
Councillor Guy Vincent noted that an issue with Grenfell was that RBKC didn't seem to think they needed support. Was there an override in those cases? Kim Dero said London Gold and DCLG would take a leadership role if necessary.
Councillor Nicholas Botterill felt London required a pan-London disaster response set up on par with New York or other leading world cities. Kim Dero said there was a London Strategic Emergency Plan and London Gold sat underneath that. Councillor Guy Vincent agreed with Councillor Botterill - there needed to be an overarching support system that could take control in emergency situations. Kim Dero agreed that it needed to be considered, but she said that during Parsons Green she was in regular contact with London Gold and the fire, police and military services. They were very hands-on and she felt supported by the group.
Work with Communities and Businesses
Councillor Michael Adam asked what the implications of these incidents were on the Council's insurance programme. David Hughes (Director of Audit, Risk, Fraud and Insurance) responded that the Council was looking to increase its liability limit of indemnity from £50m to £175m per incident. Officers were also reviewing property insurance cover.
Councillor Michael Adam asked if that included the cost of providing temporary housing and associated costs or could those be reimbursed from Central Government. Emily Hill (Head of Corporate Finance) said the Government would reimburse additional emergency costs.
Councillor PJ Murphy said it would be important to regularly review this work every few years - it should be woven into the DNA of the Council.
The Chair thanked officers for their contributions to the report.
That the Committee discussed the findings and recommendations of the report and made suggestions (above) for the Council to consider in its response.