The International Maritime Rescue Federation Mass Rescue Operations Project:

General guidance on funding


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

This chapter discusses:

o the problem of funding rare but large-scale and challenging operations
o permanent SAR capability, compared to that required for MROs
o the funding of MROs in progress – at sea and ashore
o the need to ensure that questions of cost and payment do not delay response
o planning and preparing for MROs as necessary, and ongoing, expenses
o the categories of expenditure to be expected in planning, training, and the testing of plans and training
o how the necessary funding can be assured

1 The Funding Problem

1.1 Funding is one of the basic issues underlying the MRO question. An MRO, by definition, is one in which “the capabilities normally available to the SAR authorities are inadequate”. In other words, what constitutes an MRO depends on the SAR facilities to hand.

1.2 In this IMRF guidance we tend to distinguish between ‘designated SAR facilities’, which are equipped and trained for SAR as at least a part of their regular function, and ‘additional facilities’ such as vessels of opportunity. We have focussed on the latter in chapter 13 as one means of helping fill the capability gap. In practice, in many parts of the world, only such ‘additional’ units will be available for SAR. Reliance on vessels of opportunity and similar units, however, will usually mean that actual response capability at any one time will be uncertain. The more designated SAR facilities available, the more certain will be an adequate SAR response – and the greater the number of people who can be rescued without the incident becoming a ‘mass rescue operation’.

1.3 It may be that, as the planning proceeds and the risks are quantified by analysis, a case may be made for enhanced SAR resource provision. The MRO threshold – the point at which extraordinary responses have to be instigated – will rise accordingly. SAR capability will improve in the areas in which enhanced resources can be provided.

1.4 However, the premise underlying the IMO definition of an MRO is that designated SAR facilities cannot cover every eventuality. MROs are rare. The expense of maintaining sufficient resources within range just in case such a rare need arises cannot be justified by governments or individual organisations. Having sufficient designated SAR facilities for any eventuality permanently on stand-by is simply impractical.

1.5 While this certainly is not a justification for taking no action at all to improve local SAR capability –especially in areas in which heightened risks have been identified – it does mean that the question of MRO funding is primarily one of ensuring that sufficient planning and training have been carried out in preparation for such events.

1.6 Nevertheless, there is still significant potential and actual expense involved in MRO preparation and response. As the IAMSAR Manual says:

“There may be resistance to paying the high price in terms of time, effort and funding that preparedness for major incidents entails, particularly as they are rare events. The levels of cooperation, coordination, planning, resources and exercises required for preparedness are challenging and do not happen without the active commitment of SAR authorities, regulatory authorities, transportation companies, sources of military and commercial assistance and others.”[1]

[1] IAMSAR Volume II Chapter 6.15.10.

2 The Funding of MRO Response

2.1 There are thus two separate issues to be considered as regards MRO funding: the funding of preparations and the funding of actual response, including its ad hoc components. We will consider the funding of MRO preparations below. First, let us look at the question of funding an MRO actually in progress. We may broadly distinguish between the costs of the at-sea and the shoreside parts of the response.

2.2 Traditionally in at-sea SAR, costs lie where they fall. The obligation to assist people in distress is long-established by custom and international regulation, and the help needed is given freely, both to the casualty and to the coordinating authority. This is the fundamental position, which should be defended.

2.3 In this IMRF guidance, however, we have discussed the extension of ‘rescue’ into such areas as on-board support and, to an extent, salvage. The people aboard a disabled passenger vessel on a lee shore, for example, are in distress – but their rescue can be achieved by towing their ship to shelter. The line between ‘SAR’ and ‘salvage’ is blurred in such cases. Yet one important distinction between SAR and maritime assistance services such as salvage is that the latter are not provided free of charge.

2.4 The important point here is not that questions of payment for non-SAR services – or services seen as being distinct from SAR in the traditional sense – should not arise: they inevitably will. The point is that such questions should not be allowed to delay the response. This, as a general principle, should be understood and accepted at the highest levels of management. Funds should be identified to cover potential MRO expenditure, and means of apportioning these funds without delay should be agreed.

2.5 MRO planners should seek to ensure a common understanding among stakeholders at the planning stage, identifying any services for which charges may be made, and agreeing a process of assessment and payment which will not delay the MRO itself.

2.6 This process should include agreement as to what services relate to support, for lifesaving purposes, and what services are truly salvage; the salving of property. There will come a point at which SAR operations, including ‘life support’ operations, can be agreed to have ended. Further activities, including salvage operations, will then be funded on the usual basis.

2.7 Not all responders can be involved at the planning stage. The SAR Coordinator (see chapter 18) should ensure that clear policies and procedures are in place so that, so far as possible, any questions of costs that may arise do not cause delay during the mass rescue operation.

2.8 Questions about the costs of the response ashore should be easier to agree as the stakeholders can be more readily identified and involved at the planning stage. Authorised expenditure – on hiring accommodation and transport, and providing welfare and medical support, for example – should be agreed in general beforehand, as should accounting and payment processes.

3 Funding the Preparation for MROs

3.1 How to handle expenditure at the time of an MRO should have been agreed at the planning stage. Until an MRO occurs, however, it will be the planning and preparation processes themselves that actually require funding.

3.2 The first principle here is that planning and preparing for MROs should not be regarded as an optional expense. It need not be a very great expense, but it is essential to effective response. This principle has to be understood by the senior managers responsible for allocating funding. The risks associated with the necessary funds not being available should be clearly defined.

3.3 The second principle is that MRO planning and preparation is not a one-off expense. While it will be higher at the outset if plans and training are not yet in place, it will remain an ongoing expense at a lower level once they are. Plans need to be tested and revised over time; training needs to be repeated for new personnel or on a refresher basis.

3.4 Expenditure on planning will chiefly be composed of planners’ time and on meeting and other administrative costs – the setting up of websites for sharing plans and information, for example. The initial formulation of the plans will inevitably incur considerable effort, and therefore greater cost. Keeping the plans under frequent review is also necessary, but will be less onerous.

3.5 Planning leads to training, which may be a significant cost in itself, involving trainee and trainer time, travel and accommodation as well as venue and other costs. It should be noted, however, that not everyone needs to be trained in everything. Training should be carefully and appropriately targeted, which has the additional benefit of keeping the cost down. See chapter 26.

3.6 Planning and training lead in turn to tests of both, in drills or exercises. These can appear particularly daunting in terms of time, use of resources, hire of equipment and venues, etc. However, it should be noted that not every exercise must (or, indeed, should) be a full-scale live affair, with all the expense such an event entails. Tabletop discussion exercises can sometimes be more valuable, and cost less. See chapter 28.

3.7 Planning, training and testing all need to be supported at the organisational level as well as in concert with other stakeholders, which implies and includes the necessary funding. Identifying, agreeing and allocating the necessary funds is a part of the ongoing planning process. Seek formal agreements whenever possible, for clarity and reassurance.

4 Assuring the Funding

4.1 Obtaining funding for rare contingencies will always be challenging, and ensuring the necessary continuation of that funding as time goes by will be more so. All the organisations involved, from central Government down, will have limited funds available and many calls on those funds – often for much more immediate and obvious matters than MRO preparation. How are the SAR Coordinator and his/her colleagues to make a convincing case for the necessary money?

4.2 We may assume that those who have ultimate responsibility for deciding how the available funds will be spent will want to have robust MRO preparations in place as a matter of humanitarian principle. But other arguments are likely to be needed too. What these are will depend on local circumstances, but they will include the protection of reputation. The reputation of the State or region will be at severe risk if an MRO is required and the response is inadequate. So will the reputations of organisations with relevant responsibilities.

4.3 The consequential impact of a poorly-handled emergency – which is usually the result of poor preparation – should be highlighted when making the case for MRO funding. Damage to reputation can have very far-reaching effects and be far more costly than the funding that would have helped prevent it. As an example, a State or region which has a high reliance on tourism will suffer economically if an MRO involving tourists is mishandled. Reputation is key. Preparation protects reputation – and is not cost-free.

4.4 The value of having formal agreements in place, owned at the highest levels, can again be emphasised here. Having such a formal agreement to refer to can be of great assistance to the MRO planner!

5 Summary

o Funding the capability to respond to rare and challenging events is a question of balance.
o The level of normal SAR capability should be based on risk assessment. It will be less than that needed to deal with every conceivable MRO, for practical economic reasons.
o MRO funding is therefore a matter of funding planning, training, and the testing of plans and training, and being prepared to fund the additional expenses likely to occur in an actual operation.
o As regards expenditure, the main aim throughout is to ensure that no delay occurs during an MRO due to uncertainties or disputes over cost and payment. This, as a general principle, should be understood and accepted at the highest management levels.
o MRO preparation funding should be accepted as both a necessary and an ongoing expense. The risks, including risks to reputation, of not funding MRO preparation adequately should be made clear.
o Formal agreements on funding should be made during the planning phase whenever possible.

6 Further Reading

6.1 The IAMSAR Manual discusses SAR funding in general in Volume I, particularly at Chapter 5.4, ‘Resources’. MRO funding is discussed briefly at Volume II Chapter 6.15.10, quoted in full above.