Mass Rescue Operations

Training, Exercises and Drills, and Learning from Experience

The International Maritime Rescue Federation Mass Rescue Operations Project:

The IMRF Workshop guide


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 IMRF’s MRO workshop package, including administration, facilitation and funding
o the place the workshops can have in MRO planning
o the standard workshop formats

1 IMRF Mass Rescue Operations (MRO) Workshops

1.1 As discussed in chapter 25, good communications between responders are vital before an MRO is required as well as during the operation itself (and afterwards). It is only through such good, and comprehensive, communications that an effective MRO response can be planned and carried out.

1.2 Detailed MRO planning is the responsibility of the relevant SAR Coordinator (see chapters 5 & 18), working with partner organisations identified as having a role to play in MRO response. The aims of this process may be summarised as:

o integrating the preparation and planning efforts of all stakeholders
o enhancing incident coordination and establishing supportive systems
o improving cohesion between all stakeholders to optimise response capability.

1.3 The IMRF MRO workshop package is intended to assist, not replace, this local process. Detailed planning can only be done locally, at the national or regional level. The IMRF MRO workshop is designed to help this process by:

providing an opportunity to focus on MRO issues
bringing stakeholders together in a safe and interactive environment, where open discussion is encouraged
raising awareness of the challenges commonly experienced in MROs
sharing experience from around the world of what are rare but extremely challenging events
identifying misunderstandings or gaps in response planning for further action later by the local stakeholders.

1.4 The IMRF MRO workshop can be tailored to local requirements, and is offered in two basic forms, the ‘stakeholder’ workshop and a more general version.

1.5 The stakeholder workshop is designed for representatives of organisations who are likely to work together in the event of an MRO in their country or region. It can be used at an early stage of an MRO or major incident planning process, to help focus stakeholders’ attention on the challenges and local capabilities; and/or it can be used to help review existing MRO or major incident planning, to test that it is fit for purpose.

1.6 The IMRF‘s general MRO workshop is designed to improve attendees’ understanding of MRO challenges and potential solutions, without focussing in detail on local or regional circumstances. It enables attendees to discuss MRO issues in general but in depth. Attendees do not have to come from the same geographical area, as is preferred in a ‘stakeholder’ workshop.

1.7 The workshops are usually one-day events – either a single working day or taking place overnight, occupying an afternoon and the following morning. The latter structure allows for travel time before and after the event and may prove more cost-effective for some participants. It also allows for additional, informal discussion during the middle evening.

2 Planning Responsibility

2.1 The IMRF’s stakeholder workshop does not remove planning responsibility from the local stakeholders. It is only a tool that may be used as part of the planning process. It raises issues and challenges that other responders have identified elsewhere – but it cannot cover all the difficulties that may arise locally, or during a particular MRO. Similarly, it shares other responders’ experiences and proposes solutions that have been found helpful elsewhere – but it does not cover all the potential solutions and it cannot identify those of particular relevance locally.

2.2 Local stakeholders should use the workshop as a planning tool to help identify their own challenges and their own solutions.

3 The ‘Stakeholder’ Workshop

3.1 The IMRF stakeholder MRO workshop is tailored to suit local conditions and requirements. The IMRF’s workshop planners, administrators and facilitators work with local contact organisations to identify:

o local concerns
o the local stakeholders who should be invited to participate, and
o the core scenario for the exercise that forms a major part of the workshop.

3.2 The standard format is as follows:

o introduction, by the workshop hosts and the IMRF facilitator
o brief presentations by each of the stakeholder organisations present
o a ‘tabletop’ exercise, designed to promote discussion of each of the challenges that commonly arise in MROs conclusions.


4 The ‘General’ Workshop

4.1 The general version of the IMRF’s MRO workshop can also be tailored by arrangement. Its standard format is:

o introduction, by the workshop hosts and the IMRF facilitator
o presentations on MRO issues by subject-matter experts
o a ‘tabletop’ exercise, designed to promote discussion of each of the challenges that commonly arise in MROs conclusions.

5 The Workshop Introduction

5.1 As well as general welcomes etc, the purpose of the brief introductory session is to explain the aims of the workshop and how it will proceed. The aims are:

o to encourage and facilitate communications between participants
o to enable discussion of the challenges MROs present, and possible solutions to them.

Stakeholder workshops have the additional aim of identifying items for subsequent action by the local SAR Coordinator and stakeholder organisations.

5.2 The workshop facilitator will explain that recognising (at all levels) that an MRO may occur is the first step to successful response. The second step is planning. In this context we are planning to minimise the effects of accidents – that is, planning effective & efficient responses to an emergency. A mass rescue response will be a multi-agency one, so the planning must be multi-agency too.

6 Presentations

6.1 In stakeholder workshops the primary purpose of asking each organisation present to speak about their own maritime MRO responsibilities and capabilities is to ensure that all present are up-to-date on their colleagues’ position in these respects. It is not unusual to find that there are gaps in organisational understanding of partners’ MRO roles and responses, or of what they can and cannot do – especially if the organisations concerned only work closely together infrequently; in an MRO, for example.

6.2 The stakeholder presentations also allow the IMRF workshop facilitator to gain a better overall understanding of local arrangements, which s/he can then refer to during the tabletop exercise, and to note points of misunderstanding or uncertainty, or apparent gaps in the local response arrangements.

6.3 Noting these shortcomings is particularly important. They should be raised by the facilitator at the appropriate stages of the exercise, to enable discussion, clarification, or identification of items for further action by the local SAR Coordinator and/or individual stakeholder organisations. This is one of the primary aims of the workshop.

6.4 In the general version of the workshop, the presentations are on particular MRO subjects, for example:

mass rescue / complex incident planning
mass rescue resources, including funding
communications – priorities, systems & structures
the SAR Mission Coordinator, On Scene Coordinator and Aircraft Coordinator roles
use of surface and air units
coordination with shoreside authorities
rescue, including support during transfer to a place of safety
accounting for people, including searches

6.5 Particular subjects for discussion can be agreed with the workshop hosts beforehand. The presentations are given by subject-matter experts.

7 The Tabletop Exercise

7.1 The tabletop exercise is designed to enable discussion of the main challenges likely to be encountered in an MRO[1].

[1] For discussion of exercise types in general see chapter 28.

It is not an ‘IMRF guide on how to conduct MROs’! Nor is it a test or critique. It is simply intended to enable the workshop participants to examine the issues and to discuss – openly and in a safe environment – common difficulties and solutions based on others' experience.

7.2 The exercise itself is a simple one, in the sense that it does not have a very detailed scenario or timescale. A scenario of local relevance is presented, but with only sufficient detail to generate the necessary discussion. The scenario will be a realistic one that the workshop participants can identify with – but it should be explained that the aim of the workshop is not to solve the particular problems related to this scenario. The scenario is only there to prompt debate of the MRO issues in general. 

7.3 If desired, the exercise can incorporate questions of particular local or regional relevance. This will be agreed by the workshop hosts and the IMRF workshop planner at the planning stage, and the IMRF facilitator will be briefed accordingly.

7.4 The discussions work best if the workshop participants can be seated around tables in groups of 6-8. Attending organisations should be mixed among these groups, to enable inter-disciplinary discussion at the table group level as well as overall.

7.5 The exercise is run on a ‘stop-the-clock’ basis. A few questions are asked, based on the initial scenario. The participants are invited to discuss these questions in their table groups. One group is then asked to give their answers. The other groups can comment if they wish once they have heard what the first group has to say. Different groups are asked to lead at each stage of the exercise.

7.6 Once the first set of questions have been dealt with, the scenario is moved on. There are six discussion sessions in total in the standard format of the exercise, each with several questions to be considered. The overall aim is to enable at least some discussion of each of the main MRO themes identified by the IMRF. Five sets of questions are discussed using the table group format. The last set is intended to promote a final, general discussion by the whole workshop, and to prompt any conclusions the participants wish to draw.

7.7 Taken together, the discussion sessions focus on:

o major incident planning & training: what is expected?
o integrating stakeholders’ preparation and planning efforts
o enhancing incident coordination and establishing supportive systems
o improving stakeholder cohesion to optimise response capability
o practical aspects of mass rescue operations at sea, including rescue and support techniques
o accounting for and supporting survivors during their transfer to a place of safety
o shoreside responses to a maritime MRO, and integrating the at-sea and on-shore elements
o communications
o learning, training & exercising.

8 Conclusions

8.1 Detailed conclusions resulting from the workshop will be for the participating organisations to define.

8.2 The IMRF facilitator will highlight any particular points s/he feels are outstanding, and the following general conclusions:

o efficient coordination of all stakeholders’ responses is vital to effective MRO response
o good communication is vital to successful coordination – before, during and after an MRO
o there needs to be an overall MRO plan, and individual stakeholders should check that their own plans coincide with it
o the planning process requires effort but, if done thoroughly, will result in continuous improvement (see chapter 5).

9 The IMRF Facilitator

9.1 The IMRF MRO workshop package consists of a schedule and an exercise drawn up in consultation with the workshop hosts along the lines described above.

9.2 The IMRF will also supply a facilitator, primarily to run the tabletop exercise. The facilitator will be an MRO subject-matter expert drawn from one of the IMRF member organisations, with previous IMRF MRO workshop experience. As discussed, his/her role is to raise the various MRO-related questions identified by the IMRF MRO Project and to chair the subsequent discussions. S/he can suggest possible solutions, but should make it quite clear to the participants that the final answers can only come from local stakeholders.

10 Workshop Funding

10.1 The workshops are relatively cheap to run and may be partially or wholly funded by host organisations, participating organisations, or through the IMRF itself, from general or event-specific funding streams. They are offered on a not-for-profit basis, in accordance with the IMRF’s main charitable aim of improving global SAR.

10.2 Costs are usually confined to hire of a suitable venue and presentation equipment (ideally these are provided by the workshop hosts); refreshments; the IMRF facilitator’s travel and accommodation costs; and any travel and accommodation costs incurred by the participants. A charge may also be made in some circumstances to cover the IMRF planner’s and facilitator’s time.

10.3 Participating organisations are usually expected to cover their own representatives’ costs. The host organisation usually covers the cost of venue, equipment and refreshments. The facilitator’s costs may be covered by his/her parent organisation; by sponsorship; or by levying an attendance fee.

11 Arranging a Workshop

11.1 Organisations interested in arranging, or participating in, an IMRF MRO Workshop should contact the IMRF secretariat by e-mailing [email protected].

11.2 Working with the workshop hosts, the IMRF secretariat will arrange date, venue and other administrative details, and will identify a suitable facilitator. Funding issues and the details of the exercise scenario will be agreed by the hosts and the IMRF team.

12  Summary

o The IMRF MRO workshop package is offered as an aid to the planning process.
o The workshops:
provide an opportunity to focus on MRO issues
bring stakeholders together in a safe and interactive environment
raise awareness of the challenges commonly experienced in MROs
share MRO experience from around the world
help identify shortcomings in response planning for further action later by the local stakeholders.