17 years ago today, London was shaken by a series of terrorist bombings on public transport that left 56 people dead and hundreds injured. As well as remembering all those affected by the tragedy, it is timely to reflect on the lasting legacy of that day.
Although living and working in London at the time, I was very fortunate in that nobody I knew personally was caught up in the bombings. I do however have two very distinct memories of that period:
- Friends assuming that the resilience and continuity business would boom as a result of the attacks; and
- Endless commentators going on about “paradigm shifts” and how our society had “crossed a rubicon”.
Addressing the first point, I can categorically say that I saw no increase in appetite for business continuity following the 7 July attacks. I suspect that this is part of a more general phenomenon, first identified by Diane Vaughan in her analysis of the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster, that direct experience of a hazard tends to make one less concerned about it. Thus, businesses in London having been caught up in a major terrorist incident and survived, concluded that they were actually sufficiently resilient and no further action was required. Sadly, many businesses appear to be drawing the same erroneous conclusion from surviving the Covid-19 pandemic.
As regards the second point, having finally discovered what a “rubicon” is I would query how accurate these proclamations were. “Experts” appeared to be predicting a prolonged period of continuing terrorist violence met by increasingly repressive security measures that impacted permanently on the freedom of us all. Whilst there have been further appalling terrorist outrages since, and changes to legislation that have impinged on civil liberties; I would strongly challenge that these constitute an irreversible change to our society. Rather, I would argue that the terrorists completely failed in their objectives of undermining democracy and pitting communities against each other.
So, at least in my view, neither prediction made in the heat of the moment in 2005 came to pass; and looking at the two together makes for an interesting contrast. It appears that people simultaneously have an overoptimistic and unfounded belief in the resilience of individual organisations, whilst taking an unnecessarily pessimistic view of the resilience of society in general. This is particularly curious as most of the organisations that we work in have only been in existence for a matter of years or a few decades, whereas our society has successfully responded and adapted to centuries of change. Whatever the current turmoil at the heart of government, maybe we can all learn valuable lessons in resilience from observing our democracy in action.