Communications has had a really vital role in helping our communities and our staff and officers understand and react to the coronavirus threat. This series of blogs highlights the critical roles we, as communicators, have played in helping the policing family tackle the complexities of the last six months.
Back in March, when I was offered the chance to provide mutual aid to NPCC’s Operation Talla, the national policing response to Covid-19, I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of something that policing had never experienced before. Back then, no one knew how long the coronavirus outbreak would grip the UK, how life for everyone would change dramatically, how policing and communications would play a big role in the crisis and how fast-paced and changeable it would be.
At the peak of the outbreak, there were around 20 communications officers from varying organisations providing support to the NPCC and we each had our own responsibilities within the team. On a typical day, I would pull together the media summary, which is then sent out to all forces. The comms team would then get together for a virtual tasking meeting at 9.30am, where based on news coverage and other issues, priorities were set for the day and individuals tasked with work. These would then be progressed throughout the day and the team would meet again at 4.45pm for a debrief meeting.
As well as daily actions, we all had different pieces of work we were responsible for. For instance, I was responsible for updating, maintaining and distributing the core script. This document, which was 50-pages long at the height of the outbreak, contained all key lines and messages for forces across all of the different work streams. It was vital that forces had access to the most up-to-date key messages so they could answer internal and external questions, and with information changing so quickly, this piece of work took a big chunk of my time.
In addition to this, I was also responsible for a number of key work streams including testing, PPE, death management, football, protests and public order. For each of these I regularly liaised with the NPCC leads identifying where there had been an update in the regulations and/or policing’s position. I would then develop internal and external lines for sign-off, liaised with other organisations, such as PHE, Home Office or Cabinet Office, for their sign-off before being in a position to share with forces and adding to the core script. This process might sound like a piece of cake; however sometimes it could take days to get sign-off from all of the interested parties and in that time, the situation could have changed and you’re back to square one. Similarly, the majority of these work streams were complex and politically sensitive areas so careful management was required.
This week, I have returned to my BAU role and I have been able to reflect on the last three months with Op Talla. I’m still relatively new to the policing world, joining a force comms team in 2014 and now working for a national police operation; however, do have experience in dealing with major incidents. Despite this, I can honestly say that this was not something I have ever experienced before. During its peak, the pace of the work was relentless, most of us were working 10-12-hour days and overnight you were required to have expertise in subject matters you’d never even considered before. In addition, throw into the mix that everyone you’re liaising with is working remotely, some of whom you’d never met before and we were all working from different IT software and had access to different platforms.
I know this all sounds very negative, but actually, I view my attachment with Operation Talla as being an incredible opportunity. During the past few months, my confidence has grown both personally and professionally, I’ve been able to achieve things I didn’t think I could, I’ve been part of a national team, which has had some really positive feedback from forces, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with colleagues from across policing and other organisations that I wouldn’t have done so ordinarily. We do not know how long coronavirus will continue to impact our lives and how it will affect policing, but if you get the opportunity to do an attachment with NPCC and/or Op Talla – do it! I promise you won’t regret it!
Natalie Reed, Communications Officer at Operation Hydrant