Scientific advice and evidence in emergencies - Science and Technology Committee Contents

8  Conclusions

229. There are three key phases of any emergency; preparation, response and recovery. Scientific advice and evidence can have a key role to play in every phase. We found that, although the Government generally seeks and acts on scientific advice and evidence in the response phase, it was not clear how science was used in the preparatory stages, particularly in the National Risk Assessment. The volcanic ash emergency of April 2010 was a clear example of how a lack of risk assessment and preparation can hamper the emergency response. To a certain extent, the Government is learning the lessons of previous experiences. We are pleased that space weather is currently being considered for the 2011 National Risk Assessment and that scientific advice is being integrated from the start. The Government Chief Scientific Adviser's review of some of the concepts used in risk assessment is also welcome, although his involvement is certainly overdue. However, we are concerned that the Government's attitude to scientific advice is that it is something to reach for once an emergency happens, not a key factor for consideration from the start of the process. We conclude that scientific advice and an evidence-based approach must be better integrated into risk assessment and policy processes early on.

230. The SAGE mechanism was apparently useful to Government, but we are not sure what codes, principles or guidance govern its operation. We do not accept that SAGEs should be given a carte blanche to operate however they please just because an emergency is occurring. We conclude that the Government Office for Science should take responsibility for ensuring that all future SAGEs operate in a more organised, transparent and accessible manner and adhere to a published code (existing or new).

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