Major incident management: creating an integrated approach

Commercial Response Organisations are a group of service providers that act in support of those responsible for major incident preparedness, response and management over a range of disruptive events and major incidents. In this article, Martin Iversen explores what they do and how their role is becoming increasingly vital in building resilience across industry, commerce and communities

‘Everything we know about the future is wrong, we just don’t know by how much’ … I’m not sure when or where I first came across this statement. I do remember thinking at the time it was one of those catchy little phrases that conference speakers throw out as a (hopeful) opening, attention grabbing ice-breaker. What I have come to realise is that it is a concept, that once accepted can drive a level of thinking and mindset that is essential for modern business – especially if that business is preventing and preparing for major incidents.

In the business and commercial world, we are used to planning, operating and adapting to a world described as volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous. It is increasingly apparent that in order to continue to manage major emergency events, build effective and robust response mechanisms and create resilience in businesses and across our communities we have to think and act with a similar mindset.

One of the problems we face is that most preparedness planning is based on our current level of understanding and thinking – what we know we know. Twenty, or even ten years ago would we have predicted some of the major incidents that we are having to manage today? The space we need to get to is what we don’t know we don’t know – anticipating and predicting the future. Can we take what we know today and imagine what we might be dealing with in five, let alone ten years’ time? The difficulty is that even if we can, convincing people that our predictions might have some sense of reality and then to plan and resource around them. So, what does the future look like?

A gaze into the future
What is very clear is that as the future unfolds the rates, scales, kinds and combinations of events requiring specialist response management will be vastly different to what we have seen in the past. In particular those intent on carrying out terrorist acts will continue to enhance, change, adapt and develop their skills and methodologies in an attempt to out-step our security, police and response organisations capability and capacity. On a more domestic note, industrial and commercial accidents will happen, as unexpected and unpredictable as they are.

To add to this, the escalating and still to be understood and quantified effects of climate change will impact our daily lives with the potential to stretch resources more widely and for longer periods.

Agencies and organisations responsible for incident management will continue to adapt scope and range of operations to ensure they are prepared to manage anticipated events. We are already seeing Police and Ambulance Service Hazardous Area Response Teams (HART) and other response personnel in the ‘Hot Zone’, an area historically the domain of the Fire and Rescue Services. The military will be deployed more frequently in support of civilian agencies placing an additional burden on their already stretched resources. The scope, skills requirements and reliance on voluntary organisations will challenge current capacity.

Indications are that resources to deal with the escalation and diversity of incidents while managing business as usual will become increasingly challenged. Financial resources will be more constrained, and this will impact on the traditional frontline organisations. We will also see a more aware, savvy, educated and demanding stakeholder base: political, community and media. This will place an additional burden on decision-makers at all levels, and will also set in the context of a fast paced, social media driven, globalised society.

Given this quite stark outlook, there will be a requirement for specialist input to scenario identification, response management and recovery. A gap I would suggest can and will be filled by organisations outside those traditionally seen and recognised in emergency response – Commercial Response Organisations.

Commercial Response Organisations
Commercial Response Organisations (CROs), such as Braemar Response, are a small, specialist and in some cases, niche group of service providers that act in support of the government, local authority, emergency services, industry, commerce and those responsible for safeguarding critical national infrastructure. While for most their scope of work is primarily response, for a number, including Braemar Response, their scope of work involves a wider engagement cycle of risk and threat identification and assessment, to preparedness, response, control and event mitigation, with experienced personnel also providing essential business continuity guidance enabling speedy recovery from an adverse incident or event and return to normal operating. CROs like Braemar Response undertake training and competency building at each of these stages.      

Often described as all hazard, all risk responders CRO’s routinely find themselves involved in incidents and events that may be natural (major flooding), industrial (chemical response), criminal (post incident support) or infrastructure (support to airport, road and rail networks).

At central government level, Braemar Response are part of the DEFRA CBRN Recovery Team framework contract. As part of the framework, Braemar Response, along with a wider range of government, military and emergency service personnel, took part in a major ‘real play’ decontamination exercise aimed at testing the framework including the handover of an incident from ‘Blue Light’ emergency services to recovery. The exercise also evaluated Braemar’s capability and competence. Braemar Response was also involved in the UK’s national response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and maintains the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) contract for Oil Spill and Hazardous and Noxious Substance response maintaining equipment stockpiles at five locations across the country.
Support for Blue Light services includes crime scene decontamination and removal of hazardous substances. For example, following the July 2005 terrorist incidents in London, Braemar Response assisted the Metropolitan Police in post incident decontamination and recovery work. On a routine basis CRO’s support Fire and Rescue Services in joint incident response providing specialist equipment and in post incident decontamination and clean-up, thereby releasing resources.

As previously mentioned, work with the private sector, industry and commerce ranges from risk assessment and pre-incident preparedness, through incident response to Business Continuity. A key aspect of this is embedding personnel in crisis and emergency management teams bringing specialist knowledge, experience and expertise to assist in major incident management.


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