Disasters happen – but it’s people that make all the difference

This week, as we remember the bombings which took place in London on 7 July 2005, we look back on an ordinary day that turned into hell on earth.

Our hearts go out to all those who were affected, and we still send our deepest sympathies to the bereaved and those who have suffered in the aftermath.

I was caught up in the King’s Cross fire in 1987, and my memories are all too clear. Will I get out? How will I get out? Who’s going to help me?

As soon as the bombs went off on the morning of 7 July, emergency machinery sprang into action that was robust, tried and tested. Specialised people-power became the order of the day, as individuals gave their all to help those affected, and latterly to return London Underground and the bus services to normal. This work was exhausting, traumatic in the extreme and tested human metal to the ‘nth degree.

I vividly recollect two poignant impressions of the London attacks last year. The first was a telephone call from a former member of Metronet staff, who had recently taken early retirement. He called within minutes of the news breaking and simply said: “My track licence is up to date and I have my PPE [personal protective equipment] kit. I am an hour-and-a-half away and ready to travel.”

The second was the eerie silence and the lack of traffic as I walked from Holborn to the Bonnington Hotel near Russell Square, to check on the new staff who were being inducted. However, I needn’t have been concerned. Members of my HR team had beaten me to it and had safely escorted all of them back to our offices.

From an HR perspective, the staff of London Underground, Metronet and Tube Lines are highly trained and committed to running a safe and efficient service on behalf of the travelling public. However well a service like the London Underground is operated, no-one can legislate for or manage to cover every eventuality, particularly from unknown terrorists or those who wish to attack our way of life.

Since the attacks, emergency procedures and processes have been revised and rigorously tested. Initiatives for proactive training and development have been revised and, where necessary, improved. All those involved in the rescue operations have been offered specialised counselling services, and any injured staff have been treated with the utmost compassion.

With regard to the emergency services, whose staff undertook such sterling work, all co-ordination activities have been fully audited, and recommendations for new communication systems agreed. Further training activities to strengthen existing multi-disciplinary skills will be introduced as soon as possible.

The London Assembly’s July Review Committee has outlined a number of fundamental requirements to improve the responsiveness and co-ordination of emergency response teams, especially with regard to new technology and communications.

But one thing that has not, nor will be, changed, is the commitment of individuals to maintain and operate the safest metro system in the world by some of the most dedicated Underground staff.

Many people helped on that dreadful day, including specialist engineers, general managers, safety managers, members of the Emergency Response Unit, first-aiders, London Underground and Transport for London staff of all disciplines, doctors, nurses and members of the public.

One year on, all those involved must again be applauded for their efforts, determination and bravery in saving lives and reducing the suffering of all those people affected.



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