Mass Rescue Operations

Philosophy & Focus

The International Maritime Rescue Federation Mass Rescue Operations Project:

Complex incident planning: risk analysis


The IMRF’s mass rescue operations (MRO) guidance is provided in 30 separate chapters. For downloadable documents referenced in this chapter, please go to the 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 analyse the risk of a mass rescue operation being required
o risk analysis in general terms (particular analytical tools are not discussed here)
o examples of MRO risks, and their planning implications

1 The Need to Analyse the MRO Risk

1.1 Risk analysis is a necessary part of the planning process, especially when planning for complex incidents. Mass rescue operations are a sub-set of the complex or ‘major’ incident type – a category of emergency which requires thinking, planning, training and response beyond what is normally expected. This will inevitably require some inter-agency planning.

1.2 MROs are in the ‘low likelihood but high consequence’ or ‘low probability but high impact’ group of emergencies. Given the potential impact, the risk remains considerable and we must prepare for such events. They are rare, almost by definition: if they were not, we might expect the response organisations to be able to deal with them as a part of their routine operations. The likelihood of a particular MRO occurring – a cruise ship overturning, an airliner ditching, etc – is low. But the consequences of such an accident, with large numbers of persons in distress, are high. It follows that MROs have to be planned for; and, because of the low probability of a particular event occurring, it also follows that such planning should be generic in nature.

2 MRO Risk Analysis

2.1 Planners will have various risk analysis tools available to them. It is not our purpose here to propose particular tools or methods. General guidance is available in the IAMSAR Manual, Volume I Chapter 6.3 & Appendix L. Here we will consider only the initial stages of the analysis process.

2.2 It is important to remember that a maritime mass rescue operation may result from various causes. We are not only considering passenger ship accidents, for example – see chapter 1. However, the effects are more important than the cause. MROs are such that, whatever their cause, there are aspects of the response which will be similar or the same – the recovery of people, their landing and care at places of safety, etc – and planning can and should be generic as a result.

2.3 That said, analysis will tend to show that there are areas of slightly enhanced risk. Passenger ship accidents are more likely to occur on a busy ferry route, for example; and airports whose runways end at or near the sea are more likely to see a ditching incident. Some areas present special risks: the cruise trade in areas remote from SAR facilities, for example (see chapter 12), or places where seasonal flooding is a known hazard.

2.4 Such analyses of enhanced risk should result in enhanced planning. On a ferry route it makes obvious sense to include the ferry operators in the planning, training and exercise phases. Not only are their ships a possible source of a mass rescue operation, they are also a major potential SAR resource, helping to fill the MRO ‘capability gap’. Similarly, port authorities should be involved in maritime MRO planning in their locality, as should seaside airport authorities and offshore industries. So should response organisations in areas known to be prone to natural disaster. The cruise industry must play a major part in planning for accidents in remote areas their ships visit; and so on.

2.5 The MRO ‘capability gap’ is a very important factor: see chapter 4. Mapping available SAR facilities is an essential part of the risk analysis process.

2.6 An MRO may occur anywhere. SAR authorities – ‘SAR Coordinators’, as defined in the IAMSAR Manual: see chapter 18 – should initiate generic response planning if it is not already being done. Particular risks should be identified in the risk analysis stage of such planning, and, if possible, specific resources and responses should be identified too and incorporated in the MRO plans.

3 Risk Analysis: A Dynamic Process

3.1 Risks may change over time. So may potential mitigations. It follows that risk analyses should be kept under regular review, and should be revisited when planners become aware of developments that may affect previous assessments.

4. Summary

o Risk analysis is a necessary part of the planning process.
o Planners should select suitable risk analysis tools from the wide range available to them.
o MROs are ‘low probability, high impact’. Given the potential consequences, the risk is considerable and we must prepare for it.
o MROs may have many causes, but tend to have common effects.
o Risk analyses are likely to show geographical areas of enhanced risk, and areas of enhanced or reduced response capability.
o Mapping available SAR facilities is an essential part of the risk analysis process.
o Risk analyses should be kept under review.

5 Further Reading

5.1 For general guidance on risk management in the SAR context see the IAMSAR Manual, Volume I Chapter 6.3 & Appendix L. See also chapter 5 of the IMRF guidance.