Preparation For A Dangerous Uncertain Future; Combining Policy, Foresight And Experience


This will take the form of a conversation between Sir David Omand and Professor Brian Collins, both Commissioners of the National Preparedness Commission NPC followed by Q and A with attendees.

In a recent submission to Government, Lord Toby Harris, Chair of the NPC said:

Indeed, it is now said that we live in a TUNA world – Turbulent, Uncertain, Novel and Ambiguous[i]. Global geo-politics is volatile in the context of a changing world order with the post-war certainties rapidly eroding. And our society is facing multiple threats and hazards that are unpredictable, are new to us, and - because of the interconnectedness of modern society – risks to which we are increasingly vulnerable with consequences that may be broader and deeper than we might imagine.

In the forward to his recently published book, How to Survive a Crisis, David put forward to argument;

Human societies are experiencing serious challenges: wars, massacres and genocides, internal conflict and strife, famines, natural disasters of every kind and serious cyberattacks that compromise infrastructure and lock up vital data for ransom. Understanding the nature of crisis and how best to survive one – the fundamental aim of this book – is more important than ever.

In his opening paper when NPC was formed, Brian suggested:

It is the duty of the state to build resilient communities, so that the weakest and most vulnerable members of society are not affected disproportionately by crises and major shocks. This is part of the social contract between the citizen and the state. If that social contract breaks down or if citizens no longer feel they can trust their government, this undermines faith in democracy and democratic structures.

The conversation will start with David and Brian speaking briefly on these headline issues, drawing on their published work and professional experiences. This will be followed by a brief discussion between them on what each has said followed by questions, suggestions and answers with the attendees.


Sir David Omand GCB is Visiting Professor in War Studies, King’s College London. His posts in British government service included UK Security and Intelligence Coordinator in the Cabinet Office, Permanent Secretary of the Home Office, and Director of GCHQ. He served for seven years on the JIC. He is a member of the senior advisory board of Paladin Capital, investing in cybersecurity companies. He has published four books: Securing the State "Hurst 2010"; Principled Spying: the Ethics of Secret Intelligence with Prof Mark Phythian "Oxford 2018"; How Spies Think: 10 Lessons from Intelligence "Penguin 2021" and How to Survive a Crisis: Lessons in Resilience and Avoiding Disaster "Penguin June 2023".

Professor Brian Collins is vice chair of the National Preparedness Commission, whose mission is to help the UK be better prepared for an uncertain future. He took up the role of Professor of Engineering Policy at UCL on 1st August 2011 retiring as emeritus in 2020. He led the creation of a £278M capital investment programme in 14 Universities in the UK, UKCRIC, which he launched in 2017 which enables the UK to have a robust and innovative research and analysis base for informing the £700B estimated spend in Infrastructure in the UK in the next few decades. He was also co-investigator on a £10M research programme investigating liveable cities for the future. Prior to joining UCL he was the Department for Transport’s Chief Scientific Adviser and CSA for the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. During that time with GCSA, he led the creation of the network of CSAs and was involved in the studies that created the CSA for national security, and the SAC for GCHQ of which he was the first chair from 2012 to 2015. He left both DCSA positions at the end of June 2011. He has contributed to many committees and boards; Safer Complex Systems as part of Engineering X at RAEng, Science as an Open Enterprise at Royal Society, Cybertrust and Crime Prevention Foresight study, CST report ‘A National Infrastructure fit for 21st Century, RAEng Trustee Board, EPSRC Council, Vice President on the Trustee Board of IET. Prior to these activities he was Global CIO for Clifford Chance, IT Director for the Wellcome Trust, Chief Scientist for all UK Intelligence Services and Director of Technology at GCHQ at the end of the Cold War and Deputy Director at RSRE just prior to privatisation into now what is Qinetiq and DSTL.