NI Hub Chief of Staff reflects on extraordinary time

As the news was breaking from Wuhan, I was sitting at my desk in DoJ and watching the unfolding of the outbreak of a flu virus that appeared to have the potential to take many lives, on a world scale.

Like everyone else, my initial thoughts were of those who had already succumbed to the disease and I had a general sense of fear about what we would face in the coming weeks and months.

It quickly became clear to me that this threat to society would require all of the efforts of those in leadership, scientists, medics and public servants, in preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. 

So when I received the call on St Patrick’s Day asking me if I would be willing to help in the looming fight against Covid-19 by joining the NI Hub as acting Chief of Staff I immediately said yes, even though I had no idea what the role would entail!  

It turned out that the role involved helping to coordinate the flow of Covid-related information across the NICS on behalf of the NI Executive and the Head of the Civil Service, David Sterling.

Within a few short days and with the generosity and goodwill of the permanent secretaries and their leadership teams, the Hub was up and running. It was staffed by an eclectic group of willing volunteers with a wide range of knowledge and expertise from across all the NICS departments.

The team worked in collaboration with the Departmental Operations Centres (DOCs), assisted by statisticians and analysts, a daily rhythm was established in drafting a daily Situation Report in support of the Civil Contingencies Group, led by HoCs and in turn providing essential information to the Executive Ministers.

Over the next three months the working days felt long, unrelenting and also rewarding as we pulled together with the DOCs, Civil Contingencies team and many partners in responding to the ever-changing pandemic.

The continued determination and commitment of all of the staff made it a remarkable experience for me and it was a privilege to be their Chief of Staff.         

As I return to my post in DoJ and reflect on a time that was both extraordinary and challenging, I am grateful that the very best of our humanitarian instincts came to the fore in supporting the NI effort in responding to the Covid-19 crisis, as best we could with the information that was available to us day by day. 

Anthony Harbinson

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