Odd Events

24th May 2013

A couple of news stories have made me pause and take note this week. One is currently still running at the time of writing, a BA aircraft with an engine fire which has closed both runways at Heathrow, so we will see what lessons may emerge from that subsequently.

The other stories which gave me pause related to Belper in Derbyshire and Stockholm in Sweden, and in both cases it was the dissonance between my perception and the reality of the new item. Let us start with Belper in Derbyshire, a small town in the Midlands which grew during the industrial revolution as a Mill Town, home of the 2nd ever water powered cotton mill. A prosperous place during the Victorian era it is now a pleasant post-industrial town of 20,000 or so. Thornton's chocolates were made here for many years but they moved to a new site in the 1990s and since then Tesco decided to re-develop the site for a new supermarket. Which is where the story gets interesting.

Tesco have been opposed in a number of towns as it is felt that they destroy the local retail trade and take people out of the town centres. This is the case in Belper, where an action group has been opposing Tesco's plans since 2007. On Friday May 10th there was a major explosion at the proposed site and this was followed by a fire. The explosion resulted in a large plume of smoke and dust that forced traffic to stop, and it has been confirmed that the explosion resulted in a release of white asbestos. You can read the local paper's coverage here. It seems that opposition to the Tesco supermarket has turned to direct and violent action – not exactly what one might expect in quiet Midlands town. This story does emphasise the need to be vigilant about neighbouring premises and what activities they may attract as well as what they do themselves. Something that should be reflected in your risk assessment.

The second story was similar in that the combination of the incident and the place seemed oddly different from one's expectations. "Riots in Stockholm After Shooting" said the headline. In Stockholm? Riots? The article went on: "Rioting youth torched cars and fought police in a Stockholm suburb into the early hours of Monday, injuring four police officers and causing substantial damage to property. A total of about 50 cars were damaged in the fire, which forced a temporary the evacuation of a nearby residential building." It seems that there were protests which turned violent, following the shooting of a 69 year old man armed with a knife by police. There is some echo of the London riots here, which started with the shooting of an armed criminal.

The lesson here is to remember that both these events are relatively rare but that you should not simply assume that such things don't happen in Belper/Stockholm/near us, and that you should consider the impact upon you as well as the likelihood of such events. Low likelihood and high impact events should be part of your risk assessment and be considered as part of your strategy, and these scenarios are also useful in informing the exercising that you undertake.