10 Lessons we should learn from the Gatwick drone debacle

24th December 2018

It’s amazing how one minute everything can be right with the world and the next it can all descend into chaos and some of the best-laid plans can be disrupted and left tattered or in ruins. All that money, all that time, all the hope, all that saving and suddenly the whole world implodes.

At least that’s how the people who were travelling from Gatwick, who’ve had their travel plans cancelled or delayed, must feel having no choice but to wait to see if any compensation will be paid out or spend even more money to catch the next plane out.

But it’s not only the inconvenience and paying out more money that must be hard to come to terms with. What must surely be more painful for them is the realisation that they will not be spending Christmas with their friends or loved ones.

And what of Gatwick airport and the airlines? According to a European ruling, flight delays should be covered but claims can be turned down if ‘extraordinary circumstances’ apply, and this includes sabotage. Experts are divided on the issue, but some believe the interference from the drones can be seen as sabotage.

While they’re not entirely at fault for criminals flying drones in their airspace, Gatwick Airport and the airlines will no doubt suffer some reputational damage as the media comb through the footage, the regulations and relay the stories of real-life individuals and families who’ve had their holiday and Christmas plans ruined because little was done initially to deal with the threat, in spite of claims that Britain has the tech, expertise and even the weapons to deal with the drones.

So what lessons could the average individual or business learn from such a catastrophic event? Here we’ve listed a few so that they can be taken on board for any of your 2019 disaster risk management planning – which can also be used in your personal life:

  1. Don’t think that something small can’t have a huge impact.OK, the drones weren’t that small. They were big enough to cause enough damage to bring an entire plane down if they got sucked into their engines, according to some reports. But the point is that they weren’t as big as the thing they could’ve brought down. Just the mere sight of them caused panic and chaos and resulted in one of the world’s biggest airports grinding to a standstill. What can be deduced from this? A number of things. Don’t disregard small details. Don’t disregard the fact that something tiny may disrupt your business or plans. A single loan hacker can do as much damage as a team of them, if not more. Have you got disaster recovery plans in place that can deal with the size of any threat?
  2. Make sure you’re insured properly.You can’t replace something like time lost with family but things like flights and accommodation can be insured. Many policies provide cover in the event that there are delays or abandonment of trips in the event of extended delays (typically 12-to-24 hours) but not all do. According to GoCompare Travel insurance, 84% of providers offer cover within the first 12 hours of a delayed departure with pay-outs ranging from £7.50 to £300. Meanwhile, 90% of policies offered some cover for abandoning a holiday. It’s important to know the terms and conditions of any type of insurance going forward. You never know if you might need it.
  3. Surround yourself with the people that have the right expertise: Should something threaten your business or plans you should have the people present that know how to get you or the company out of the sticky situation it finds itself in. If you think you don’t have the staff that can deal with the kind of disruption faced by Britain’s second busiest airport this month then it’s probably something you’d need to build in your 2019 strategy. You never know when someone or something could threaten your livelihood.
  4. Show some compassion:In the run up to Christmas it is sad to hear of complaints that companies showed little compassion for the plight of passengers. According to one report a traveler criticized an airline for effectively dumping them at another airport in the early hours of the morning to sort out accommodation and travel on their own with little or no information. If your company is inadvertently linked in some kind of disaster that impacts your customers, remember to think about their welfare and the stress this may cause them. Even if it’s not your (or the company’s) fault that an incident occurred – it’s better to help and show empathy.
  5. Remember to communicate with your clients in the event that something goes wrong:According to one report, police blamed “poor communication” for confusion over Gatwick Airport chaos and the fact that there was miscommunication over whether in fact there was a drone or drones sighted in the first place. If mistakes are made – even if chaos ensues – it’s best to be honest and open with customers and tell them about what has happened.
  6. It’s important to keep up with the latest technology:There’s conflicting information out there as to whether the government and Gatwick Airport had the tech to bring down the drones. Experts say we could’ve used computer programming, used guns that shot out giant nets or well-trained birds of prey to bring down the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Now some reports are even claiming that bazookas capable of bringing down drones are being tested by police to prevent the same chaos at Gatwick Airport again and elsewhere. While a drone may not be an imminent threat to your business can you honestly say, hand on heart, that your business’ technological infrastructure is up to date and able to handle any type of catastrophe? If not, you should bring in the expertise in 2019 to remedy the situation.
  7. You should have a contingency plan in place:You can’t quite blame passengers for not considering that a drone would cause chaos and grind one of Britain’s busiest airports to a complete standstill. Perhaps you can foresee that that there could be some delays, but not days of delays thanks to a small machine in the sky. But maybe all corporates and individuals should at least consider the possibility of a catastrophe – manmade or other causing destruction and mayhem. A plan should be in place to deal with this type of catastrophe. At the very least there should be insurance in place because as we can see, not everything can be prevented.
  8. Technology be used to do good…and bad. Drones have many uses. They can film live events, be used in races, survey dangerous locations, deliver items, help with security (for example law enforcement and wildlife patrol) and deliver vital lifesaving medical treatment for peole in the future too. But they can be used for more nebulous activities such as spying and warfare and as we have now learned can be used to terrorise civilians and business. When we embrace technology be it for work, recreation or sport we have to be prepared for the risks – whatever they may be. You don’t have to operate drones to be tech savvy. If your business is online, it can evolve. You can embrace Artificial Intelligence, blockchain and a whole host of innovations. But there may be downsides to them as well. It’s important to keep informed and be aware of the pros as well as the drawbacks.
  9. You’ve got to keep within the rules: It’s hard to keep up with the pace of new technology all the time. But, as things evolve it’s important to introduce rules to help manage things and bring about a little order. We had to introduce traffic signals when cars were invented and graced our roads. When flying become the norm we had to introduce aviation regulations and controls too. Now that drones are in our lives we’ve had to create rules for their use as well. According to Gatwick Airport’s website, drones must stay well away from airports, aircraft and airfields. There is a one-kilometer exclusion zone and it is illegal to fly any unauthorized drones within this area. Drones also need to be flown below 400 ft (approximately 120m) at all times. It says: “it is a criminal offence if a drone endangers the safety of aircraft and the operator could go to prison for up to five years.” Obviously, these rules weren’t obeyed in this instance, but think about how things could change when new technology is introduced. Regulation is bound to be introduced – but will your business be ready?
  10. Keep abreast of what’s happening on social media:When people were stranded at Gatwick, miserable and stressed by the lack of communication, they took to social media to lash out, complain and deal with the general boredom of being stuck at an airport with little information. If chaos ensues, it’s best to keep abreast of what your customers are saying on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Are these complaints valid? More importantly, can they be addressed. Limiting reputational damage is vital in this day and age, especially on social media. But do you have the staff at hand to cope with the social media onslaught. Are they trained in sending out one consistent message that can deal with complaints with empathy? If there’s anything we learned from what happened at Gatwick airport is that when chaos hits few people and organisations are equipped to deal with it.

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