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Matt Field

British Diplomat

Part of Speakers' Corner

8th October 2013


The work of diplomats, and Embassies, can often seem very cerebral and detached. But as our colleagues in Nairobi recently experienced, it can also be very practical and traumatic. Last week, along with colleagues across Brazil, we’ve been looking at our crisis plans. These are the preparations we make for the kinds of terrible incidents which could affect British visitors to Brazil – a bus crash, a fire in a night club, a volcanic ash cloud closing Brazil’s skies. You can get yourself quite worried imagining all the different things that could go wrong, even if you know the chance of any of them happening individually is very small.

Foreign Secretary William HagueThe UK Foreign Office spends a great deal of time, energy and money getting better at this kind of preparation. This wasn’t always the case. But in recent years a series of incidents involving British people around the world – Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Tsunami, the Fukushima disaster – have shown that we need to be able to respond quickly, professionally, and smartly. For many people in the UK this may be the only time they come into contact with a British diplomat, and getting it wrong quickly ruins our reputation with the public, the media and our politicians. In 2012 our Foreign Secretary, William Hague, opened a new Crisis Centre in London.

 The fact is that you cannot predict exactly what will happen. But you can prepare, practise, and learn from what has happened in other places. Our colleagues in Kenya have had to deal with the horrendous events at the Westgate Centre in Nairobi . As the High Commissioner, Christian Turner , has made clear, the situation saw incredible work from all staff, even as they were trying to find out if friends and family were themselves involved. There will be lessons for all of us, such as the way they were able to use social media to track missing people. Later in the year we’ll carry out a full crisis exercise in Brazil. And as long as we keep learning, and practising, we’ll be more prepared for anything that might happen here.