As we all know too well, in the early hours of 14 June 2017, 72 people were killed by a fire at Grenfell Tower in west London. On 30 October 2019, the report of the first phase of the Grenfell Tower fire revealed how the fire began, spread and became a disaster. One of the aims of Sir Martin Moore-Bick's report was to set out what went wrong, so that mistakes were hopefully not repeated.
As the report describes, lessons had not been learnt from a fire in Camberwell in south London on 3 July 2009. Here six people died after residents of the block there were told to stay in their homes. ‘Mistakes made in responding to the Lakanal House fire were repeated’ [at Grenfell], Sir Martin added.
The report shows that there was a systemic failure within the London Fire Brigade (LFB) to learn lessons and adapt tactics in the light of other fires in blocks of flats. The evidence ‘taken as a whole strongly suggests that the ‘stay-put’ concept had become an article of faith within the LFB so powerful that to depart from it was to all intents and purposes unthinkable’ he wrote. Stay-put policies require buildings and compartments within buildings to be resilient to fire, the incidents at both Lakanal House and Grenfell Tower demonstrate that refurbishment projects frequently fail to take this into account.
Learning lessons from major events is not often readily grasped. Carefully planned and deliberate actions are required, with leadership for such actions coming from the top. It means aligning lessons (good and bad) with future tasks, analysing and diagnosing organisational needs over the horizon, and adopting leadership programmes to develop strategies that move beyond ‘lessons learned’ to facilitate a more agile, iterative adaptive organisation. It also means developing resilient conversations with communities, maintaining a resilient built environment as a feature of wider community resilience.
The Grenfell tragedy can be a marker for organisations not to repeat previous mistakes and ensure that lives and reputations are not lost in the ashes of a failed building.
(This article is jointly written by Resilience First and The Fire Protection Association.)