Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 11 secondsThe Emergency Manager may ask themselves the question, “Why am I doing this?”. Well the answer to that question is because the Emergency Manager has to make a decision about the benefits and costs of what it is they are trying to achieve, and the benefits could be lives saved, fires extinguished, disasters averted but the costs could be lives lost, injuries, potential financial loss, environmental loss and reputational loss and it is this loss that we are going to focus on now. An incident occurred in 1969 at an oil storage depot in East London at Dudgeon’s Wharf. The incident involved an oil storage tank which had been involved in a fire but the fire had been extinguished by the plant operators.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 secondsThe Fire Service attended and whilst 5 fire fighters were on the top of the tank, a decision was made to open a portal lower down using hot cutting gear. The operators at the time didn’t realise the nature of the gases within the storage tank and tank exploded, killing the 5 fire fighters and 1 of the store operators. A public enquiry was held which focused upon the causes of the disaster but it didn’t really look at the decision-making processes of the emergency responders on the scene. Moving on to 2007 and a fire that occurred at Atherstone Upon Stour in the UK. Here, a fire in a large food processing plant resulted in the deaths of 4 fire fighters.

Skip to 1 minute and 32 secondsThe subsequent enquiry led to the prosecution of the Fire Authority under safety regulations and also 3 of the decision-makers at the scene. Now this had a profound effect upon the way that decision-makers looked at the cost element of the benefit cost equation and not only there was reputational risk now added to the cost assessment, but also the fact that you could personally find yourself in a Court of Law justifying your actions. So we move on to our final case study which is the Kerslake Report into the Manchester Arena bombing of 2017. This report

Skip to 2 minutes and 11 secondsfocused upon the actions of the emergency responders at the time and the Fire and Rescue Service in particular came in for criticism. At that time the Fire and Rescue Service believed that they were dealing with the type of incident that required them to hold back until the area was declared safe when actually what was required was for an emergency response immediately alongside their Police and Ambulance colleagues. The report was heavily critical of the Fire Service, it said that they were “risk-adverse”. So we’ve seen over time the issues that arise, whereas in 1969, very little examination of the decision-making process is by emergency responders, going right through reputational risk, litigation risk and now we see public criticism.

Skip to 2 minutes and 54 secondsIt all shows the difficulties within which the Emergency Manager now has to make those crucial decisions based upon their analysis of the benefit versus the cost.

Why am I doing this?

You have now begun to see how the emergency risk environment is evaluated.

Watch the video where Paul Amos discusses the reasons why this process is so important to the emergency manager and how external expectations have developed over time

Paul compares three case studies:

  • Dudgeons Wharf fire 1969

  • Atherstone-upon-Stour fire 2007

  • Manchester Arena bombing 2017

Your task

The very public level of scrutiny seen today has profound implications for the way risk is perceived by the public in the form of official scrutiny, political process and the media. This is the environment within which emergency responders now operate, that they should avoid being risk averse, whilst at the same time be aware of the possibility of legal sanction should anything go wrong.

In your view how can emergency managers resolve this dichotomy when deciding on a context for evaluating and dealing with risk?


Davis A.,W.,M. (1970) Public Inquiry into a Fire at Dudgeons Wharf on 17th July 1969 London: Stationary Office

Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service (2007) Report on the Fire at Atherstone-on-Stour [online] Leamington Spa: Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service. available from [11 May 2018]

Lord Kerslake (2017) The Kerslake Report [online] available from

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Managing Risk in an Emergency Context

Coventry University

Contact FutureLearn for Support