'Stock up on candles and battery-powered radios': Deputy PM says UK must be prepared for catastrophe

5 December 2023, 10:28 | Updated: 5 December 2023, 10:44

Oliver Dowden wants Brits to stock up on candles and battery-powered radios
Oliver Dowden wants Brits to stock up on candles and battery-powered radios. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Brits should stock up on candles and battery radioes if the country is struck by a disaster that renders digital devices unusable, the deputy prime minister has suggested.

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Oliver Dowden said people are too reliant on modern inventions that could affect them if a serious catastrophe happened.

"It always used to be the case that everyone would be able to access a battery-operated radio," he said.

"How many people have a communication device that isn't reliant on digital and electric?

"We shouldn't assume that the resilience we had as individuals when we were growing up is the same now because society has digitised."

He spoke ahead of the launch of a government website designed to encourage people to be ready for major incidents.

These includes terrorism, natural disasters, cyber attacks or even another pandemic like coronavirus.

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The deputy prime minister said Brits need to think of old-school ways of resilience in the digital age
The deputy prime minister said Brits need to think of old-school ways of resilience in the digital age. Picture: Alamy

Mr Dowden said during a visit to the military laboratory in Porton Down that people could stock up on battery-powered radios, torches, candles and first aid kits if power was ever cut off, or if digital communications went down.

"The Government needs to ensure we are resilient in this digital age – including considering those analogue capabilities that it makes sense to retain," he said.

"If you had a power outage and you wanted to get news, where would you get that news from? In the olden days, you'd switch on the radio and you'd hear what was going on."

He also spoke of the dangers of AI - weeks on from Rishi Sunak's discussion with Elon Musk about the technology - and said a "teenage kid" in his bedroom could do more damage in hacking with artificial intelligence.

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The new site will allow people register up as volunteers if a crisis strikes their area.

A new "resilience academy", which includes the website, will also help businesses prepare for future problems.

Mr Dowden told the Commons: "The Government has a role in bringing all actors together and to give them the skills they need. Today, I can announce we are developing a new UK resilience academy that will improve the skills of those groups.

"It will provide a range of learning and training opportunities for the whole of society.

"For professionals, there will be a curriculum to build skills, knowledge and networks, and a centre for excellence for exercising.

"For businesses, there will be greater guidance and particularly assistance on threats to critical national infrastructure and cyber.

"And for citizens, there will be a unified Government resilience website, which will provide practical advice on how households can prepare as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the simple steps individuals can take to raise their resilience."