Wigan Council

Here for You – Supporting Our People In an Emergency 

Briefly describe the initiative/ project/service; please include your aims and objectives

Wigan Council is a Category 1 Responder as defined by the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. These responders need to be ready to identify residents who are most likely to be at risk in a wide range of emergencies, some of which come with a warning period, such as a storm that may cause flooding or property damage, while others require an immediate response, such as a terrorist incident, utility outage or the accidental release of dangerous substance. The Council are responsible for formulating Wigan Council’s emergency response plans, both generic and specific.

The main objectives of the initial response by all Category 1 Responders to emergencies are to:

– Warn and inform.
– Save and protect life.
– Relieve suffering.
– Prevent escalation.
– Protect the health and safety of personnel.
– Safeguard the environment.
– Protect property.
– Maintain or restore critical services.

Information sharing during an emergency is necessary so that responders can make the right judgements. If responders have access to all the information they need, they can make the right decisions about how to plan and what to plan for. If they do not have timely access to all the information, their planning and decision making will not be as good and vulnerable people may not receive the support they need in a timely manner.

Those residents at risk due to certain factors may be less able to help themselves in an emergency. Those people who might be classed as vulnerable will vary depending on the nature of the emergency, but plans should consider:

– Individuals who may struggle with their mobility e.g. need physical support.
– Individuals who may struggle with cognition and may need additional support to understand the situation.
– Individuals with a sensory disability.
– In all cases, those that live alone with risk factors are flagged but living alone is not a risk factor in itself.

Wigan Council holds and owns data about people which can identify vulnerabilities and higher risk locations on numerous systems. While it is possible to identify vulnerable people and higher risk locations via these different systems it is resource intensive in terms of staff time and frequently means that this information cannot be supplied to Incident Commanders, those managing the response to emergencies, in time for it to inform their decision making and planning. In addition to this, emergencies occur at any time and outside of the normal working hours of most Council staff. So, a common experience for Wigan Council was having to identify sources of useful data, agree data reuse and develop data reuse processes very quickly during an emergency.

This typically elevated the risk of either using data inappropriately, e.g. sharing far more data than was strictly necessary, or delaying their response to the most vulnerable residents, neither of which were satisfactory outcomes. An alternative for Wigan Council was to use a less data-driven approach, for example approaching all residents in a flood area, much of which is unnecessary and, again, delayed, or reduced help to those who needed it the most. This demonstrates that advance planning is essential because it allows ethical factors to be fully considered without the limitations of acting during an emergency period, and to consult and inform residents about the use of their data. Planning the use of data well in advance of an emergency has enabled all of these processing activities to be designed and implemented legally, ethically and transparently.

Aims and Objectives: To create an approach that encompasses a “data product” and a process that:

– Uses the data about people and identifies risk factors and higher risk location for responders from across the different Council systems to identify vulnerable people and their home address and higher risk locations across the Wigan Borough.

– Access data streams which is maintained and updated used by the different system users/holders across the Council; to ensure accuracy, save time and be the most up-to-date data held by the Council.

– Is user friendly and simple to use for Wigan responders that uses existing software e.g. ESRI GIS

– Enables a plotting of the geographical area affected by the incident and system identify the properties within that area where vulnerable people are located and what the vulnerabilities are, along with higher risk locations for responders.

– Can filter the different vulnerability characteristics for the type of incident responding to.

– Can present the information visually on a map of the area and provide address lists for use by responders.

– Is GDPR compliant, secure, with restricted access and auditable trail of who accessed it and when.

– Can be accessed 24/7 and provide the information within minutes to inform Incident Commanders decision making, enabling support given to our most vulnerable residents during an emergency


What are the key achievements?

Setting up a project team was the starting point for the project, and this was key to the success of the initiative and to overcoming barriers and challenges.

Wigan Council’s project team included:

Members of the Civil Contingencies team who were able to specify the risk factors they wanted to use to prioritise residents at highest risk in different emergencies.

Analysts in the Joint Intelligence Unit who were able to identify the required sources of data and matching approaches.

A technical support analyst and with GIS development expertise to design data movement processes and the product.

The Council’s information governance (IG) manager and policy officer, who could ensure the project complied with its information governance policies and processes.

The Wigan Project Team also held a workshop/consultation session with representative from ‘Blue Light Services’, Greater Manchester Resilience, lead for IG from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the Council’s insurance team, the Environment Agency and utility companies. This was to solicit their views and input to the project and sense check the objectives of the Project.

In addition, we worked closely with the SAVVI team to ensure that we used the SAVVI data standards. This provided the framework for the data elements of the project, supported our IG approach and provided constructive challenge to the data elements used to comply with the needs of the initiative and the IG data minimisation principle.

Working with SAVVI also ensures that other Local Authorities could build on this work as well as adapting to utilise their own data and systems to provide an analogous tool.

We have created a database using data that the Council holds that identifies:

– Vulnerable people.
– Their address.
– Homes with increased risks.
– Reason for vulnerability.
– Higher risk locations for responders.
– Stored in a secure environment with: o Restricted access – via login permissions
– Auditable access

This gives timely, access to up-to-date information that assists:

– Incident Commanders to make better informed decisions and save lives.
– Vulnerable people/addresses to be identified quickly.
– Emergency Responders to prioritise these addresses.
– Vulnerable person to receive additional support to help them manage their way through the emergency in a timely manner.
– Households to receive the appropriate support they require in a timely manner.
– Incident Commanders to warn responders about higher risk locations and take appropriate mitigating actions.

This project has created a database view using data we currently hold and will seek similar from partner organisations in future.

The project delivered a GIS layer that identifies:

– Vulnerable people.
– Their address.
– Homes with increased risks.
– Reason for vulnerability.

The tool can be used to create an area (drawn or around a central point) that has been identified and will be used to create a list of the households impacted and their needs based on the expertise of the first responders of the emergency. It is ESRI GIS based and uses the existing GIS (spatial mapping) approach that the Council uses for mapping e.g. care homes, schools etc. It did not incur any additional costs. It is accessed via a weblink linked to the individual’s user id so access to only those with the relevant permission to access.

The responders had access to the training guide that was produced, tested, and refined. Additional testing on a previous flooding incident was able to demonstrate the power the tool gives. Below is a view of the tool as it is used to extract the data needed to inform the responders.

By using this tool, it also enables integration with the existing mapped amenities and community assets. As the data streams are updated by the system users, the database contains up to date information at any time it is required. A key achievement was also to navigate the IG challenges and ensure we did the right thing in line with GDPR. The DPIA was created by the project team and the support of the SAVVI team was invaluable.


How Innovative is your initiative?

Incident Commanders must frequently make difficult decisions, in high pressure, challenging and changing environments, based on the information available to them at that moment in time.

The concept for the ‘Here For You’ project was to develop a system that would use the information already held by Wigan Council, on its different systems, to identify vulnerable people and their home address. Such a system should also be capable of plotting vulnerable people in any geographical area within Wigan Borough and be available to Incident Commanders within minutes of an emergency occurring, helping Incident Commanders to make more informed decisions about where to direct resources and provide speedier support to those most at risk during an incident.

There are several innovative aspects to this project:

– Phase 1 has delivered the tool required, providing information within minutes rather than hours or days.

– The system also allows users to amend the location/defined area impacted, quickly and offers updated information on vulnerable people within minutes. This is particularly useful in situations such as flooding where the flood waters are projected to expand in time, or when there is smoke/toxic flume and the wind direction changes or is forecasted to change over time.

– This enables Incident Commanders to forward plan and target resources to support our most vulnerable residents at a time of need – not just a tool for the time of the emergency.

– Using the SAVVI data standards created a “re-use” of the approach that can be used by other LA’s.

– We used existing data, expertise and the right people committed to a clear outcome.

As we were using data that had been collected for another purpose, an impact assessment was completed. We altered the wording on the back of council tax bills and included an article within the Council’s borough wide newsletter to advise residents that we would be using their data to assist in an emergency. By using existing resident contacts and the privacy notices we already had e.g. council tax and overarching privacy notices, we avoided additional costs of comms for this project and could ensure every household in the borough had been informed of these changes. In addition to this, we identified the legal gateways to enable us to use the information to avoid any potential data breach.


What are the key learning points?

The SAVVI model allows other local authorities to adapt our learning and approach, along with the methodology we now have in place, to replicate the system using their own data streams, and quickly start to support their vulnerable residents more effectively.

Key learning points include:

– Do not be afraid to challenge when people tell you cannot use data to achieve your objectives. You just need to find the ways and means to do so with the support of your GDPR officers and Legal teams, do not give up, you will find a way.

– IG – focus on principles of data minimisation need to be a focus .

– IG – reviewing privacy notices e.g. also amended our Council Tax bill to inform residents.

– Business reuse of our existing GIS approach and building on what we already had.

– Being bold in a solution making the most of the already available data in the organisation.

– Aim to remove out of hours “rush” to do analysis that you know will be needed. No cobbling together at the last – thinking about other such responses that relies on joined up datasets.

– Aim for live, up to date data that is the result of a planned and tested process with the right data fields and no more.

– Think about your end users – we had them in our project team. We needed a tool that was Easy to use for responders.

– Plan for training for end users.

– Ensure security measures are in place and access permissions are logged and up to date for all users.

The people make all the difference! Having a core project team who met every 2 weeks through the core part of the project

– Clear roles and responsibilities.

– Regular communication and clear actions for every project team member.

– Clear deliverables.

– Mutual support and a sense of common goal.

Additional Comments

In Phase 2 we hope to improve the system further with the help of partners by sharing their data streams about known vulnerable people across our borough.