Coronavirus: ‘this is not how you run a crisis’

by Mark Rowe

A pandemic is on the UK’s national risk register, and the world has seen near-misses in terms of a pandemic – SARS, Zika, Ebola – before Covid-19; so why all the unreadiness, and where is the global leadership? Dr David Rubens, pictured, poses these and other questions in a phone call with Professional Security.

He points out that the Covid-19 pandemic is not a particularly bad one, and not unprecedented; what is unprecedented is the impact on society and economy, and the consequences. Once the initial shock of the coronavirus wore off, there’s been a significant lack of understanding of crisis management, he argues.

The actual virus is a medical, technical problem, he says; rather, the UK government needs to do two things. One, to ensure the security, safety and well-being of people, ‘and the other is to manage deployment of resources, to get what is needed to where it is needed, and when, in an effective manner; and that’s true in any crisis. That’s true for Grenfell Tower, Hurricane Katrina, Haiti, Nepal; that’s what happens when you have a disruptive event. And on both of those levels I think the government has basically failed, failed in its duty to the country. I am not trying to be nasty, to make political points here; it is not blame, it’s purely technical; this is not how you run a crisis. And now we are six weeks in, and there is no feeling there is a grown-up strategy, or messaging, or understanding.’

David Rubens – consultant, trainer – was founder of the Institute of Strategic Risk Management. The ISRM has been holding ‘campfires’ and webinars since before the lockdown took hold in the UK. As David says, feeling from ‘around the camp fire’ is that the UK government is trying to control everything; and almost everything is being run in terms of a daily briefing, from Westminster and 10 Downing Street. “But this [the crisis] needs decentralising, localised management; and the role of the government should not be to tell people what to do. They should be asking, ‘what do you need, we will provide it’, the support at the community level, whatever it might be. But,” he went on, speaking from his London home, “we have a very centralised system here, and there just seems to be no understanding of how you can manage this effectively , given the constraints we have.”

And the other issue, David went on, is trust: “And it’s clear that the Government has been lying, about a number of things.” He raises first the mortality rate from Covid-19, and the fact that the deaths are only being counted in hospitals, not including care homes, nor in the private hospital sector, nor deaths at home; ‘that just makes the figures meaningless’. Secondly David raises the promises that UK Government makes; of PPE to the National Health Service; about testing for the virus; and supply of ventilators: “That’s not political, that’s just competent management.” All matters, he adds, that in a pandemic are ‘completely predictable’.

As raised around the ISRM ‘camp fire’: the only things to judge on are the morbidity rate, the impact on the economy, and then recovery, and on those figures, ‘the UK is doing very badly, compared to other countries’.

As for the UK’s crisis management of Covid-19, David points to how, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson was ‘out of the loop’ due to falling ill with the virus and being hospitalised, ‘there has been a complete lack of leadership’, at a time when the UK is facing its worst crisis since the Second World War: “Everything stops because Boris Johnson is in hospital.”

About Dr David Rubens: he is the founder in 2019 and executive director of the Institute of Strategic Risk Management, which he spoke about at IFSEC 2019. Visit

Click here for part two of this three-part interview:

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