Communication and shared situational awareness are key in critical incident planning

Communication and shared situational awareness are key in critical incident planning

If you don’t work in the blue light services, you will probably never have heard of the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme (JESIP).The guidance has been developed by police, fire and ambulance service colleagues in the UK following several public enquiries which said joint working between the three emergency services would enhance the collective ability to save lives and reduce harm.

The JESIP guidance states that major and complex incidents do not happen very often, but when they do we need to ensure that we have the most efficient, effective and, most importantly,joined-up response that is possible. The guidance is aimed specifically at the emergency services, but lots of the material in it is of considerable potential use to other organisations facing critical events.

The guidance defines communication as the capability to exchange reliable and accurate information i.e. critical information about hazards, risks and threats, as well as understanding the organisation’s responsibilities and capabilities. The understanding of any information shared ensures the achievement of shared situational awareness which underpins the best possible outcomes of an incident.

The guidance suggests that the METHANE mnemonic is used when passing information, in the initial stages, between emergency responders and Control Rooms to enable the establishment of shared situational awareness. It provides a useful template for any critical incident response planning teams.

• Major incident declared?
• Exact location;
• Type of incident e.g. explosion, building collapse;
• Hazards present, potential or suspected;
• Access – routes that are safe to use;
• Number, type, severity of casualties;
• Emergency services now present and those required.

The JESIP guidance also addresses the issue of decision making in an emergency. It notes that a wide range of decision making models exist to practically support decision makers working under difficult circumstances and suggest that a guiding principle is that they should not be over complicated. It proposes the Joint Decision-Making Model to guide operational commanders on how to bring together the available information, reconcile objectives and then make effective decisions together.

The JDM is organised around three primary considerations:
Situation: what is happening, what are the impacts, what are the risks, what might happen and what is being done about it? Situational awareness is having an appropriate knowledge of these factors.
Direction: what end state is desired, what are the aims and objectives of the emergency response and what overarching values and priorities will inform and guide this?
Action: what needs to be decided and what needs to be done to resolve the situation and achieve the desired end state?

All critical incident planners, in the public or commercial sectors, can learn from how the emergency services handle major incidents. After all, that is their job. The JESIP guidance highlights that reliable and accurate communication and shared situational awareness are key to making the right decisions during a major incident and reducing the harm caused by the critical event.