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October 2017



Command, Control and Coordination of Emergencies

Response to every emergency requires to be tailored to its particular circumstances. These circumstances will dictate the appropriate level of management required. The key principle is having the right people in the right place at the right time.

The management of emergency response is based upon a framework of three ascending levels, namely Operational, Tactical and Strategic.

Operational: The level at which management of immediate ‘hands on’ work is undertaken at the site(s) of the emergency or other affected areas. Operational Commanders will concentrate their effort and resources on the specific tasks within their areas of responsibility, for example the Police may concentrate on establishing cordons, traffic control and evidence gathering whilst Ambulance personnel may undertake immediate triage and treatment of the injured. In most but not all instances the Police will coordinate the operational response at an identifiable scene, usually the Forward Control Post, and each agency must strive to ensure an integrated effort.

Tactical: The purpose of tactical management is to ensure that actions taken at the operational level are coordinated, coherent and integrated in order to maximise effectiveness and efficiency. Although each of the senior officers or managers will have specific service or agency responsibilities, together they must jointly achieve a level of multi-agency coordination which ensures that Operational Commanders have the means, direction and capabilities required to deliver the most effective coordinated response. Multi-agency coordination can be complex and involve a wide range of Resilience partners. Many emergencies will be managed successfully by this level of support without the need for recourse to a strategic level of management. Additionally, on some occasions, the oversight of an incident might involve a mix of senior and chief officer representatives depending on availability, local arrangements and other relevant factors. Coordination above the operational level will involve partners convening at a Multi-Agency Coordination Centre (MACC). However on many occasions this coordination may be achieved virtually through the use of tele/video conferencing facilities.

Strategic: Strategic management must comprise representatives of appropriate seniority or authority who are empowered to make executive decisions in respect of their organisation resources. This level of management has overall responsibility for the effective multi-agency response and when required will establish the policy and strategic framework within which subordinate command and coordinating groups will work. The direct involvement of strategic management may not be required in all instances but this should be continually assessed. If required, a Strategic level group of chief officers can convene virtually by tele/video conferencing or may be accommodated at the designated MACC.

Operational, Tactical and Strategic are sometimes referred to as Bronze, Silver and Gold.

The procedures for mobilising the structures described will be flexible and adapted to the circumstances.

As mentioned above, it is not always necessary to establish all three levels and the principle of subsidiarity applies; that is to say, the control of the emergency is exercised at the lowest practical level with co-ordination at the highest level necessary.

To ensure an effective response, membership of the Resilience Partnerships, at whatever level, should consist of those individuals who are best placed to deliver the required outcomes.

Further guidance on structures for multi-agency response can be found in the Preparing Scotland Hub.

Response Scale

Under the principle of subsidiarity, local resilience arrangements are, in most cases, the primary vehicle for ensuring the appropriate coordination of response. Local arrangements should reflect what works most effectively in a specific area. Cooperation should extend beyond the Responder agencies, to include voluntary sector and community based organisations which have important resources, including local knowledge and networks.

The geographical scale or the technicalities involved in an incident may require a more regional or even national approach from some responders. The coordinating structure in response to an incident should reflect this. The coordinating structure should also have regard to the nature of the incident and the location. For similar events, such as flooding during severe weather, it would be appropriate to develop response through a Resilience Partnership convened under routine local arrangements. However, where the same incident, such as an aircraft crash, involves partners over a wider area and crosses LRP or RRP boundaries, then Resilience Partnership membership should reflect all those agencies directly involved in response.

Providing all required responding agencies are fully participating at the appropriate level, the terminology of ‘local’ or ‘regional’ is of limited significance and the term Resilience Partnership can be used to describe the response structure during an incident. The term ‘Resilience Partnership’ should be regarded as completely synonymous with the incident management structures outlined above i.e. ‘The Resilience Partnership is responding at Operational, Tactical or Strategic level as appropriate’. Additionally, from a more geographical perspective in some instances a Resilience Partnership, for a specific single event, may be operating across local and regional boundaries.

Response Objectives

Whilst many organisations and agencies have their own specific roles and responsibilities, agreed multi-agency objectives during an emergency must be determined, and understood from the outset. To achieve this it is essential that there is a shared understanding of multi-agency coordination arrangements based on the principles of the three management levels stated on page 4.

Although every emergency has unique characteristics which must be considered, the following is a generic guide relevant to all management levels:

  • Protecting human life, property and the environment
  • Minimising the harmful effects of the emergency
  • Managing and supporting an effective and coordinated joint response
  • Maintaining normal services as far as is possible
  • Supporting the local community and its part in recovery
  • Managing and supporting an effective and coordinated joint response.

During an emergency it is essential that there is a shared understanding of multi- agency coordination arrangements.

Incident Types

Incidents broadly fall into two categories: spontaneous, those for which there is no or very little prior warning and; non-spontaneous, those where some early indication of a potential incident exists.

Spontaneous incidents are often referred to as ‘intensive’, ‘no warning’ or ‘sudden impact’. Incidents where some prior warning exists are often referred to as ‘extensive’, ‘slow burn’ or ‘rising tide’. Broadly speaking spontaneous incidents will be at a single site or scene (more rarely at multiple scenes) whereas non- spontaneous incidents will generally be more geographically widespread. The divide between the two categories is not absolute. After the initial stages of a spontaneous incident, more formal management structures will quickly be put in place. As time progresses, the response to a spontaneous incident may look little different to one where some prior notice had been available.

In a similar manner, even in emergencies where prior notice is available, aspects of the initial response may be spontaneous. For instance, prior notice of a severe weather emergency across a wide area may cause responders to put broad arrangements in place. Nevertheless, actual incidents within that area, the flooding of a particular village for instance, may have aspects of a spontaneous response in the early stages.

The exact terminology is less important than the shared understanding between responder agencies as to the nature of the incident.

It should be noted that the Civil Contingencies Act uses the term ‘emergency’. The term ‘major incident’ is, however, also widely used in practice. Other terms may also be encountered, ‘Disaster’, ‘Major Accident’ or ‘Major Incident Control Committee (MICC)’ incident (in the case of Grangemouth). Providing a clear understanding exists between responders, these terms are essentially interchangeable and for all practical purposes, carry the same meaning.

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