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Call for civil resilience force

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that the UK is woefully unprepared for a range of disasters on a national scale; a new voluntary civil resilience force could be the answer to boosting national resilience. This was one view from a panel discussion about the UK’s national resilience planning and preparedness, led by the business group Resilience First and co-hosted by PA Consulting.

Besides the pandemic, the UK faces a range of large-scale and complex threats from natural disasters and accidents to deliberate attacks. A civil resilience force, citizen education and new compliance requirements for business should be considered in a UK Government’s Integrated Review, the webinar heard.

Elisabeth Braw, Senior Research Fellow, Modern Deterrence, Military Sciences, at the Whitehall-based think-tank RUSI, opened the discussion. She said: “National resilience is important because without it we are completely exposed to calamities heading our way either from mother nature or from our adversaries. For military aggression the UK is very well prepared but below that threshold we are underprepared.”

“A lack of forward thinking and planning has been exposed by Covid19. Our adversaries will have noted this and are ready to exploit it. It is just unsustainable for the wider public in the UK to have been so unprepared as they were for the impact of Covid19.”

“We need opportunities for people to play their part in national security other than joining the armed services. We need a reserve for other critical functions as well. It would be a phenomenal resource allowing the government to surge in a crisis. We need to view the public as a crisis resource not a burden that the government needs to look after.”

“Young people could be selected for their talent and skills with resilience training between their A levels and university including first aid, survival skills and disaster preparedness. This would create a critical mass of the population who could act as a surge resource for first responders.”

On the scope of the Government’s on-going Integrated Review, Alex Ellis CMG, Deputy National Security Adviser at the Cabinet Office, said: “The Integrated Review will define the Government’s ambition for the UK’s role in the world and the long-term strategic aims for our national security and foreign policy, setting out the way in which we will be a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation.”

“It will set a strong direction for recovery from COVID-19, at home and overseas, so that together we can “build back better. Increasing our collective domestic resilience will of course be a key consideration of the Review as a whole.”

Cate Pye, Partner, PA Consulting, added: “As we emerge from our Covid19 hibernation we are facing a different environment to the one in which we entered it. The pandemic has created a renewed imperative to the role of national resilience. The government has a vital role in setting the framework, incentives and international relationships. But companies and individuals also have a role to play in building resilience and helping the nation and in filling the roles that we will need in society which we have not had previously.”

Robert Hall, Executive Director of Resilience First, summed up. He said: “The UK needs to urgently consider how to improve significantly its national resilience in the face of a range of threats, some of them malicious. The government is already committed to a review of this area and they should be considering a number of radical ideas already implemented by other countries.”

“These ideas should include new resilience compliance reporting requirements for business and total defence exercises including business and citizens as well as government and first responders. The idea of using young people as a reserve force in different areas is also worth looking at. During the pandemic several public services, including the NHS and the police, have called in surge reserves from their retired employees. Why not consider training young people to be ready to offer this support if needed.”


Resilience First is a not-for-profit business body, launched in June 2018. It runs other events; details at

Cate Pye is a Strategic Partner and Adviser who has worked at senior levels in the defence, security and cyber sectors. She has advised on policy, strategy and delivery of large and high-profile programmes and change initiatives. Cate has recently returned to PA Consulting to lead its Digital Trust and Cyber Security Transformation arm.

Elisabeth Braw directs RUSI’s Modern Deterrence project, which focuses on how governments, business and civil society can work together to strengthen countries’ resilience against existing and emerging threats. Prior to the defence think-tank RUSI, she worked at Control Risks and had a career as a journalist. She is a columnist for Foreign Policy and contributes to the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the Times and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Robert Hall, Executive Director of Resilience First, has worked in the risk, security and resilience arena for many years, including Director of the Security & Resilience Network at the business body London First; and Director of Resilience at G4S Risk Management Consulting.


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