Island ‘should have dedicated emergency planning officer’

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JERSEY must take on the lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure a greater level of preparedness for future emergencies, two senior advisers have said.

Joe Carnegie, the government’s emergency planning officer from 2014 to 2016, and former United Nations strategic adviser Nigel Hall were speaking as the Island marked the third anniversary of the start of the March 2020 lockdown.

Mr Carnegie said that the current system, in which one emergency planning officer covers both Jersey and Guernsey, had its limitations and that he believed having an officer focused solely on Jersey would be beneficial.

He said: ‘Given the scale and duration of the pandemic, I think the government did as good a job as it could have, but I don’t think we were as prepared as we could have been.

‘Having a dedicated emergency planning officer means having someone who is constantly scanning the horizon.’

In his former role, Mr Carnegie said he had worked closely with colleagues, notably Dr Ivan Muscat, in 2014, as Jersey made preparations for how a case of the deadly Ebola virus would be dealt with should it arrive in Jersey.

‘Ebola could have had a huge impact if it had reached Jersey. By working with Ivan, I was able to ask questions as a lay person and use his scientific expertise to work with others in government to make the right preparations,’ he said.

Reflecting on the introduction of a pan-island officer for emergency planning, Mr Carnegie said he felt financial considerations might have been a factor. ‘Emergency planning is an insurance policy and, if you aren’t claiming on the policy, then you might look at other options,’ he said.

He added that it was important to ‘thoroughly review’ the Island’s response to the pandemic to identify lessons that could be beneficial in the future.

Mr Hall, a former British Army Brigadier, policy and strategic adviser in UK delegations to the UN, said: ‘Having an emergency planning officer based in Guernsey is a situation that clearly has been found wanting and therefore Jersey should have its own on-Island officer.

Nigel Hall Picture: ROB CURRIE. (35538232)

‘The most important thing is to have a resilience council at strategic level, with a diverse range of views from people who are experienced enough to challenge ministers and offer advice on risks and priorities.’

He added: ‘A pandemic was number one on everyone’s risk register. We knew it was coming and it’s not acceptable that Jersey wasn’t prepared.

‘Jersey’s biggest failing was that the Chief Minister, chief executive and other senior figures didn’t do the due diligence.

‘Our preparedness should have been regularly assessed, in the same way that emergency service vehicles are inspected at regular intervals.’

Public Health officials have recently been considering how to prepare the Island for a possible bird-flu pandemic.

Professor Peter Bradley, Jersey’s director of public health, said it was important for countries to prepare for possible infections.

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