Ready and resilient: help is at hand for communities

In partnership with Adler & Allan.

BERG can help with advice for communities like Kendal, pictured after the December 2015 floods.
BERG can help with advice for communities like Kendal, pictured after the December 2015 floods.

Mark Calvert is chief executive of Adler & Allan, one of the UK’s leading suppliers of environmental, compliance and resilience services. His company has invested heavily in Business in the Community’s unique BERG business resilience programme.

Where did Adler & Allan’s responsible business journey begin?

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We have always tried to be responsible in the way we operate, but as the company grew, we wanted to formalise that and joined Business in the Community (BITC) in 2013 – and got involved in BITC’s Business Emergency Resilience Group, or BERG.

Why was BERG right for the company?

Historically, Adler & Allan has helped to respond to disasters and emergencies, so it was a natural connection. I was quickly asked to join BERG’s leadership group, which was originally about ten to 15 people from across the public sector (including the Environment Agency, relevant government departments and civil contingency planning groups), large private sector businesses and voluntary organisations like the Red Cross. Its initial focus was to help businesses in the event of natural disasters like floods, cyber attacks, civil disturbance or terrorism.

What did BERG initially offer?

It created a ten-minute plan, designed to help businesses prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies. It was very helpful, but office based and theoretical. Then came the floods of last winter.

Defra (the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) set up a round table group to examine what had happened, the quality of response and what could be done better.

Part of that was the Property Resilience Grant; it was not just about drying out and redecorating, but how to make your home more resilient for next time.

What was the response like?

The uptake was low. The general public was sceptical about the government seeming to give them money for nothing. One issue was that the grant in Scotland to help those affected was unconditional, while the English grant had conditions and was more complex.

How did you address that?

We looked at how we could get BERG representation on the ground in Cumbria, the area worst affected by the floods to help inform people about the grant process and guide them through it.

I agreed Adler & Allan would take a lead and two days later we had a 40ft container in the Asda car park at Kendal as an advisory drop-in centre. Asda was part of BERG, while fellow member BT provided a wi-fi hot-spot.

That has been rolled out and we have mobile units or shops in Kendal, Lancaster, Carlisle and Keswick.

BERG’s key task was to help households which qualified for support to get through the bureaucratic process – and find an appropriate solution for each property, or look at a street-based scheme. It was about explaining exactly what was on offer and practical things like how to get a surveyor.

What were the main challenges?

It was mainly around the questions people were asking – lots of them about insurance.

These were people in crisis, who were out of their homes and needed help. So we brought in people from Aviva to advise on insurance issues and Environment Agency staff to help too.

We worked closely with local authorities in the north-west of England – and after presenting, with Defra, on what we could do, we extended the service more widely. We have liaised well with councils in Lancaster, Allerdale (which covers Workington and Cockermouth) and more recently, Carlisle.

What was the priority for BERG?

It was about de-mystifying the grants process, getting across simple information and assessing if people qualified for assistance – then helping them get it.

We started slowly but now about 15 people are signing up every day. That’s about 2,000 households which we expect to rise to 4,000 – about 50 per cent of the total affected by the flooding.

The cut-off for claims is 31 March 2017, but that might be extended. There are a lot of homes affected and a limit to how quickly contractors can do the work.

What has been Adler & Allan’s commitment to the BERG programme?

We have 20-25 staff manning the BERG centres permanently and we have put in around £680,000 to date as a business.

That’s a big commitment. What’s in it for the company?

It is our field of expertise. We do flood mitigation for utilities like ScottishPower and SSE, and work alongside the Environment Agency on major projects.

We will do some of the work following the floods in Cumbria but as a top-up to local contractors rather than instead of them.

There will be some commercial benefits but nowhere near what we have invested in BERG. However, we see a range of other benefits; more people will see Adler & Allan in a positive light as a company because we have helped local communities during really difficult times.

Also, it is beneficial for the company to sit around a table with the government and its agencies and large corporate firms – to approach problems with a practical, can-do attitude rather a bureaucratic one. We think this “on the ground” approach has delivered better solutions at local level.

How has the BERG message on business resilience got out into the business community?

Again, it’s been a slow process but we are making progress with the support of the high street banks who have put money into a video called We Are Resilient, targeted at SMEs.

The central message is that it doesn’t need to cost you more to do this, but it will make a huge difference if you are prepared in the event of a disaster.

Why has it been so hard to get the message across about flood resilience in particular?

It’s a mindset issue. If you get flooded once, you think it will never happen again. The second time, you think that it’s happened twice and couldn’t happen a third time. The third time, it’s becoming the norm and you have to address it.

Last winter, we had three devastating floods within a month affecting large parts of England and Scotland as a result of Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank.

The Prince of Wales was a regular visitor in the aftermath to places like Ballater in Aberdeenshire and Cockermouth in Cumbria – and he played a big part in driving forward BERG.

It was about a co-ordinated response to people asking “who’s helping us?”. It’s about a consistent effort, constantly delivered; we must talk about resilience all the time, in summer and winter, not just after a terrible event.

We need to look at planning regulations and how to build more resilient homes so people can get back in more quickly after a flood.

Why can BERG really make a difference in this area?

It is about co-ordinating the response. The blue light services are in the frontline but floods require a much broader response and it’s about bringing everyone together in an efficient way to provide the best service and avoid duplication.

The emergency services can call on us, for example, if they need boats to get people out or soup and water for 100 people who have suddenly been decamped to a community centre. Our centres now have insurers, loss adjustors, contractors, charities and access to people with boats, food providers and so on.

What’s the long-term objective of BERG?

We want to offer an emergency response service through centres across the UK. This winter, we’ll be about 50 per cent there. BERG has had conversations with the Scottish Fire Service and we are looking at offering our co-ordination services to help them avoid making multiple phone calls.

We are creating databases to show what’s on offer from all the different organisations in each area. We are making progress in Scotland – last year we provided 1,500 flood soakbags (a convenient lightweight alternative 
to sandbags) to the Scottish Flood Forum and helped out in Aboyne and Ballater.

Terry Ahearn, chief executive of SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency), is joining our leadership group.

We want BERG to be a genuinely UK-wide organisation, working alongside local authorities – to be part of the planning process rather than just responding after an event, but also being there to help with the response and recovery.

How is the BERG leadership group evolving?

New members join on a monthly basis and the group has a really broad base, with access to phenomenal expertise and to some of the largest corporates in the country.

They have access to lots of people, so for example, when a household or a business opens a bank account, they get detailed information about BERG and advice on what they need to do in terms of resilience.

What’s the ultimate goal?

To build resilience and knowledge in the long term by making communities and businesses better prepared for emergencies and ensuring they 
respond more quickly and effectively – and can recover much faster.

Adler & Allan

– Adler & Allan is one of the UK’s leading suppliers of oil and environmental services.

– Its head office is in Harrogate, North Yorkshire and its main operations centre is near Oxford.

– It has UK-wide offices and depots (including an office in Edinburgh and service centre in Uddingston, South Lanarkshire) and empliys 550 people.

– The company’s main areas of expertise include: emergency response; compliance; asset resilience through innovative engineering solutions; and environmental and fuel services. It provided fuel to the London Olympics in 2012.

– The business is able to tackle a range of challenges, from environmental spills and ground remediation to fuel transport.

– It has been involved in responding to major emergencies including the Buncefield oil storage depot explosion and fire in Hertfordshire in 2005 and major floods in 2007, 2013 and 2015.

– The company has put an increasing focus on planned preventative maintenance to reduce the likelihood of emergencies happening in the first place and has formalised this through its work with the Business Emergency Resilience Group (BERG).

This article appears in the WINTER 2016 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.