Chris Zebrowski is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations and Director of the Centre for Security Studies (CSS) at Loughborough University, UK. His research investigates the historical evolution of the logics and techniques employed to govern crises. Between August 2020 and September 2021, he was co-I on a UKRI-funded project titled Enhancing the use of ResilienceDirect in the COVID-19 response, which examined the use of information and communication technologies in the UK’s COVID-19 response. He is author of The Value of Resilience: Securing Life in the Twenty-First Century (Routledge: 2016).
Democratizing Resilience: An examination of the use of communications in the UK’s COVID-19 response
Since its restructuring at the turn of the century, UK Civil Contingencies has promoted information-circulation as the primary means of binding together multi-agency emergency response assemblages. Breaking from the top-down hierarchical diagram of governance which characterized Civil Defense, a more democratic, bottom-up approach was instituted based on ideas of resilience (Zebrowski 2016). Key to this new design was the role of information circulation in enhancing collaboration within and across responder agencies. It is clear that in the wake of the UK’s COVID-19 response that this informational vision of emergency response has fundamentally broken down. The calamitous management of the response in the UK was characterized by centralized, top-down decision-making, and serious impediments to the free flow of information between different levels of government and emergency responders. Drawing on interviews taken by my research team with 41 emergency response professionals involved in the UK COVID-19 response between August and December 2020, I will argue that the re-emergence of command-and-control approaches to emergency governance marginalized the role of local democracy and undermined the effectiveness of the UK’s COVID-19 response.