Mass Rescue Operations

Philosophy & Focus

The International Maritime Rescue Federation Mass Rescue Operations Project:

Complex incident planning: ownership of plans


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:

o the need to plan
o the additional planning necessary for efficient mass rescue operations
o ownership of the plan by those responsible for developing and maintaining it
o ownership of the plan by those who will implement it

1 The Need to Plan

1.1 Any organisation’s operations require planning. This should involve a strategic manager or management team devising a plan; the training of relevant personnel in how the plan works and their roles within it; and the testing of both planning and training to ensure that the plan works in practice.

1.2 In emergency response operations it is usually the case that responding organisations’ planning will need to take other organisations’ planning into account. In maritime SAR, for example, the centre which coordinates the response may be run by one organisation, while at least some of the SAR units (rescue vessels, aircraft etc) are operated by others. For the response to be efficient and effective it is necessary for these organisations to plan together – to link their own plans with those of the other response agencies. The IMO recommends the establishment of committees for this purpose, at the regional, national and/or international level as appropriate.

1.3 In some cases additional SAR resources such as shipping in the area will also become involved in the response – and this complicates the picture further. It is usually impractical for the relevant emergency response organisations to plan directly with such resources or their parent organisations. The response organisations – and especially the coordinating authority – therefore need to develop a generic plan to include such resources. The resources themselves should also have their own emergency plans.

1.4 For ships at sea generic guidance on their potential roles in SAR operations is available to operators and masters in Volume III of the IAMSAR Manual. It is recommended that where practicable – for ships operating regularly in a particular area, for example, such as ferries – this generic planning should be enhanced by direct planning with the relevant SAR authorities. This is a requirement for some passenger ships. See chapter 5.

1.5 The situation is more complicated in mass rescue operations. By definition, in MROs ‘the capabilities normally available to the SAR authorities are inadequate’. It is therefore necessary to plan specifically to fill this ‘capability gap’. Extra resource has to be identified, and its involvement in the response planned for.

1.6 In MROs the organisations which usually respond to maritime emergencies will also have to work with ‘strangers’. These may be organisations with which they do not usually work – shipping companies and shoreside major emergency response organisations, for example – or officials at higher levels than they usually encounter. MRO planning should encompass all these probabilities.

2 Ownership of Plans

2.1 What do we mean by the ‘ownership’ of plans? In this context, we mean two things.

2.2 First, someone has to be responsible for developing and maintaining the plan. This will be the organisation itself in the general sense – the plan is that organisation’s plan: the organisation owns it. However, it is recommended that a named individual or group within the organisation should be given specific responsibility for the plan – developing it, testing it, keeping it effective and up-to-date. That person or group is the plan’s owner in the specific sense that they are responsible for it, on their organisation’s behalf.

2.3 But we also have a second meaning of ownership in mind here. For the plan to be truly effective everyone who will have to put it into effect should also ‘own’ it. That is, they should UNDERSTAND their tasks and responsibilities under the plan; and they should AGREE those tasks and responsibilities. In this way it becomes their plan too, not just the organisation’s or the planning manager’s. They own it – and, owning it, they want to make it work.

2.4 If those who are identified as having a role in the plan do not own it in this latter sense, the plan will be less effective. The worst-case scenario (other than not planning at all!) is when an organisation’s senior managers order a plan to be made and then for that plan, once ‘complete’, to be put on a shelf to gather dust. The people who the plan says will be involved in implementing it may not even know that it exists, or will quickly forget that it does. They do not own it; it is not theirs.

2.5 Such a state of affairs is worse than useless, because the organisation seems to have a plan, but it is very unlikely to work in practice. Contrast this with the desired position. Everyone in the organisation, from the most senior manager to the most junior employee with a role to play, cares about the plan: they know what their own responsibilities are under it; they want it to work, and they know how to make it work.

2.6 This is not to say that each individual has to know every detail of the plan. That is neither practical nor necessary. But each individual should know their own part and – owning the plan – should be able to trust their colleagues to know their parts too.

3 Ownership of MRO Plans

3.1 So far we have talked about ownership of one’s own organisation’s plan. But we have also acknowledged that, in maritime SAR and especially in maritime MRO planning, we have to plan with other organisations.

3.2 ‘Ownership’ extends to these other organisations too. In MROs there should be a carefully coordinated patchwork of different response organisations’ plans, effectively creating one ‘big plan’.

3.3 It is not necessary for individuals to know the details of all the component parts of the ‘big plan’. What is necessary, however, is that all responders should know that the big plan exists.

3.4 They should also know their own part within the big plan; including, very importantly, who they should be talking to when it is implemented. In many cases individuals will have roles and responsibilities which do not change when this happens. They need only know that a larger operation is under way around them. Other individuals will have specific responsibilities in a major emergency. Many of these people (strategic managers, for example) may not have a response role at all except in such emergencies: they become involved as part of the process of filling the ‘capability gap’.

3.5 In every case, the fundamental principle remains the same. All responders should own the plan. If they do, they are more likely to fulfil the responsibilities the plan requires of them, and it will work. If they do not, the plan will either work less efficiently or will fail altogether, as individuals or organisations attempt to make things up as they go along – a recipe for confusion or, at worst, chaos.

4 Planners’ Responsibility to Establish Ownership

4.1 There should be a number of ‘lead planners’ in the planning process: individuals with clear responsibility to plan their own organisation’s MRO response, which includes planning to work with other organisations as appropriate.

4.2 It is part of these lead planners’ responsibility to encourage ownership of the resulting plans.[1]

[1] Dwight D Eisenhower remarked that “by ‘leadership’ we mean the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it…”

This responsibility is also carried by the senior officials and managers with overall responsibility for the planning process. The end result must be UNDERSTANDABLE and PRACTICAL.

4.3 Time and effort need to be given to each stage of the process: planning, training, and testing, internally and with other organisations. Ownership should be encouraged at each stage.

4.4 Involving others in the planning process, whether as representatives of your own or of partner organisations, will improve it, and will allow people to feel that they are part of the developing plan.

4.5 Allowing meaningful feedback at the training stage will also help establish ownership. People will be more likely to own the plan if they know that they can comment on it or ask questions about it (provided that such comments and questions are treated seriously).

4.6 Finally, it is important to maintain ownership during the testing process. The feedback just described is part of this process, as are exercises and actual incidents, which should be carefully analysed and used as a live test of planning and training. In each case ownership is shown by individuals and organisations wanting to improve the plan, based on their experience. Improvement should never be ‘somebody else’s problem’.

5 Summary

o Planning is necessary, and involves training: both planning and training should be tested.
o Organisations which may have to work together should plan together.
o Ownership’ of the plan means, first, that named individuals or groups are given specific responsibility for developing and testing it, and keeping it up-to-date.
o Ownership’ of the plan also means that everyone who may have to put the plan into effect should understand and agree their part in it.
o Individuals do not need to know the whole plan, only that there is a plan, and what their own role will be in implementing it.
o Ownership’ by all who may be involved in an MRO needs to be actively encouraged if a plan which will only be used rarely is to be effective.