Mass Rescue Operations


The International Maritime Rescue Federation Mass Rescue Operations Project:

Identifying additional resources


The IMRF’s mass rescue operations (MRO) guidance is provided in 30 separate chapters. For downloadable documents referenced in this chapter please use the drop-down menus or return to the MRO project main page under ‘MRO Library’. For a general introduction please see chapter 1, ‘Complex incident planning – the challenge: acknowledging the problem, and mass rescue incident types’.

This chapter discusses:

the need to identify additional SAR resources to help fill the ‘capability gap
possible additional search resources
possible additional rescue resources
building known local resources into the planning
planning generically to include resources that happen to be in the area at the time
planning for the potential involvement of volunteer ‘non-professionals
planning additional shoreside resources
planning additional coordination resources

1 Filling the Capability Gap at Sea

1.1 Chapter 4 discusses the ‘capability gap’ inherent in the IMO’s definition of a mass rescue operation as “characterised by the need for immediate response to large numbers of persons in distress such that the capabilities normally available to the SAR authorities are inadequate”. In chapter 4 we suggest three ways of filling this gap at sea: regional cooperation; identifying additional rescue resources; and extending the time available for rescue by supporting those in distress on scene. We also discuss the additional resources needed ashore, including, most importantly, trained people.

1.2 The guidance in this part (chapters 13-16) focuses on the three ways of filling the capability gap at sea, and also considers some of the funding issues inevitable to MRO planning and response. Questions related to the additional people and other resources needed ashore are discussed in chapters 4, 11, 24, 25 & 26.

1.3 The use of regional resources for the at-sea response is considered in chapter 14. We look at ‘extending survival times’ by using specialist resources, including on-board support, in chapter 15. Funding issues are discussed in chapter 16. This chapter considers the most obvious means of extending rescue capability to fill the gap: identifying additional SAR resources.

2 Search, and Rescue

2.1 In this guidance material we tend to focus on the rescue part of search and rescue. This is partly because the search area will be relatively small in many cases in which an MRO is required: a sinking passenger ship, for example. However, there are other scenarios in which this will not be the case.

2.2 The organisation and conduct of searches at sea are specialised subjects, well covered in the IAMSAR Manual. The reader should refer to Volume II Chapters 4 & 5 and Volume III. Here, chapter 9 also refers to the search aspects of an MRO.

2.3 Many of the units well-suited to searching at sea are also those well-suited to rescue operations – the retrieval of people from the scene of the emergency and their transport to a place of safety. However, by definition, there are insufficient such units available in an MRO. We should therefore consider how to find additional search and rescue units. IAMSAR Volume II Chapter 1.3 also provides guidance on this.

3 Identifying Additional Search Resources

3.1 The lack of sufficient designated SAR units in an MRO means that those units which are capable of carrying out rescue should be reserved for that part of the operation. Some designated SAR units that cannot rescue people – typically fixed-wing aircraft – may be required in a communications or coordination capacity, for example as Aircraft Coordinator. See chapters 21, 22 & 23.

3.2 It follows that additional search units may be required in an MRO, particularly one which involves a large search area. MRO planners and coordinators should consider the following resources in particular for this purpose:

aircraft incapable of carrying out rescues and not required for coordination / communication work (or capable of combining these tasks with a search function)
units for which it would be unduly hazardous to attempt to carry out rescue work in the prevailing conditions
units not required for rescue work because there are sufficient other units on scene better able to carry it out
for incidents close inshore, land SAR units able to see the search area.

4 Identifying Additional Rescue Facilities

4.1 Although there will be a search element in an MRO – and in some cases this will require major effort – the chief concern is likely to be finding sufficient rescue capacity; that is, enough units to retrieve the people in distress and transfer them to a place of safety. (See chapters 8, 9, 10 & 11 for discussion of the rescue process.)

4.2 The extra rescue resource required must be identified from among units in the area which, although not designated SAR units, are still capable of carrying out rescue operations in the prevailing conditions. These units are likely to include:

o   rescue-capable military and civilian aircraft – usually helicopters fitted with winches or able to land on or low-hover to recover casualties
o   merchant shipping in the area, including ferries
o   government vessels in the area, including military, customs and border control craft
o   port and harbour authority vessels nearby
o   offshore industry support craft in the area
o   fishing vessels in the area
o   leisure vessels in the area.

4.3 These can be roughly grouped into two broad categories: units known to operate in a particular area, and units that just happen to be in the area at the time of the incident.

4.4 When vessels or rescue-capable aircraft operate in a particular area, MRO planning for that area can specifically include them. For example, where two or more ferries are working a particular route, they can support each other in the event of an emergency: they should be prepared to do so, and their capability and availability should be built into the MRO plan for that area. This capability extends beyond a ferry accident: the vessels concerned, ready to help each other, will also be ready to help in other cases. The same principle applies to offshore industry support vessels. Although they are there principally to support the offshore installations they serve, they will also be prime additional facilities for other MROs within their reach. Other vessels which operate in a specific area should also be built into the planning. If they are potentially useful resources, include them!

4.5 Other units will simply happen to be in or passing through the area when the emergency is declared. They too will be useful and should also be included in the planning but, in this case, generically. Traffic patterns should be analysed to gain an idea of the sort of resource that can generally be expected to be available.

4.6 In both cases – units that can be pre-identified, and passers-by – the crucial questions are how to alert them to the emergency and how to best use them in the MRO. The alerting process should be part of the planned MRO communications network: see chapter 25. IAMSAR Volume II Chapter 1.3 discusses identification and broadcast alerting systems that should be available to the Rescue Coordination Centre. At the beginning of an MRO there will be a huge amount of information to gather and much pressure on communications systems in consequence; but finding out who is available to help with the rescue, and asking for their help, should be an early priority. For the use of both surface units and aircraft, whether designated SAR units or not, see chapters 22 & 23.

4.7 A class of potential responders and rescuers that requires additional attention are the ‘non-professionals’, if we may call them that to distinguish them from those whose capabilities, including communications capabilities, we can be more sure of. These ‘non-professionals’ will chiefly be leisure craft in the area. While it is important to acknowledge that some of their crews will be highly capable, and their vessels potentially very useful, the problem for the SAR Mission Coordinator lies in not knowing whether or not this is the case, particularly in terms of crew capability. Well-meaning but inexperienced leisure boaters can put at risk their own lives, those of other rescuers, and those they are trying to save.

4.8 Chapters 20 & 22 discuss how such craft might be used – or not used. Here we must identify that, in some scenarios, they may represent additional rescue and/or search resource. We should also acknowledge that, where such craft are present, they are likely to respond. If an obvious incident occurs in an area busy with leisure craft, many will want to help. Means of controlling and coordinating their actions will have to be established – and communicating with some of them may be difficult. See chapters 20 & 25.

5 Additional Shoreside Facilities

5.1Rescue’ includes delivery to a place of safety, usually ashore. Significant measures need to be put in place at the place(s) of safety, as discussed in chapter 11. These will include facilities such as reception centres and transport, the provision of which will be part of the MRO planning. Necessary facilities additional to those under the direct control of the emergency response authorities should be identified at the planning stage.

5.2 As noted above when discussing the offshore phase of the MRO, volunteers who were not part of the original planning may well come forward offering to assist in the shoreside response. Some will have useful capabilities; but including them in the response on an ad hoc basis involves risks, including disruption of the planned process. MRO planners should develop a policy on whether, and how, to use such volunteers, and how to communicate that policy at the time of an incident.

6 Additional Coordination Facilities

6.1 The capability gap is not necessarily restricted to the rescue itself. Maritime and shoreside emergency response coordination facilities designed and staffed for day-to-day work are likely to be inadequate in an MRO. The communications traffic in particular will be greatly increased, with more information to be gathered, analysed and exchanged and more units and organisations to talk to.

6.2 It follows that additional coordination facilities should be identified at the planning stage, both in terms of additional staff and, if necessary, equipment at the usual coordination facilities, and additional points in the coordination structure. These should include an On Scene Coordinator and, if multiple aircraft are involved, an Aircraft Coordinator, as well as additional coordination and communications facilities at landing sites and reception centres, etc.

6.3 Key coordinators at each of these points, and especially at the main coordination centres, should be specifically trained in MRO coordination, including, of course, the local MRO plan. In some circumstances it may not be possible for the On Scene Coordinator appointed to have had this specific training; when the master of a passing ship is given the role, for example. In such cases the SAR Mission Coordinator should ensure that the On Scene Coordinator understands as much of the plan as is necessary and that s/he is not overloaded. See chapters 17, 19, 20, 21 & 24 for discussion of the various links in the coordination structure.

7 Summary

One of the ways of filling the MRO ‘capability gap’ is by identifying additional SAR resource.
We may need additional search as well as rescue facilities.
Units selected for search action should be unsuited for rescue work, or sufficient capable rescue units should be available to enable some to be used for searching.
There are two broad categories of potential additional resource to plan for:
those that can be pre-identified as likely to be in a particular area, and so can be specifically included in the MRO plan (ferries and harbour craft, for example); and
those which simply happen to be in the area when the incident occurs and which can only be included in the plan generically (‘vessels of opportunity’, for example)
The plan should include how units in both categories are to be identified and alerted.
o Additional facilities will also be required ashore, and to supplement coordination of the MRO. These should be identified and included at the planning stage.
o A policy should be developed and procedures agreed regarding help volunteered by ‘non-professionals’.

8 Further Reading

8.1 IAMSAR Volume II Chapter 1.3 discusses the identification and alerting of additional SAR resources, and the reader should also consult Volume II Appendix G, ‘Facilities and equipment selection’. Sections G.1-4 are particularly helpful on the selection of SAR facilities for maritime MROs.

8.2 For detailed guidance on searching, the reader is referred to IAMSAR Volume II Chapters 4 & 5, and Volume III.