In the 5th century BC, General Sun Tzu wrote in “The Art of War” that “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”. Given that effective Incident Management requires the formulation and application of appropriate tactics to support operational response whilst complying with strategic intent, it can reasonably be said that the fundamental principles of Incident Management have not changed in centuries.
Incident Management requires structure and clarity to be effective. As Sun Tzu implies, there is an incident site, or the “front end” which could be anywhere from a refinery, storage facility, hotel, conference or sporting venue to an offshore installation or vessel. The “front end” must provide the immediate response in terms of firefighting, rescue, potential evacuation and accounting for all personnel – this is often referred to as the “operational” response.
What is then required (depending on the scale of the incident) is “tactical” level support to the incident site in terms of logistics (equipment, transport etc.), support for any evacuees (and their families) and liaison with external agencies or regulators. All of this effort must fall within the agreed overarching plan set by the Crisis Management Team who sit at corporate level and provide the strategic framework within which the operational and tactical responses are delivered.
The key components of effective management of this layered response are:
- acquisition of accurate information from the incident site
- management of that information
- the setting of objectives and priorities to achieve the overall strategy
- accurate tasking of the actions required to achieve the objectives set.
This is where clear planning will support those involved in what is often a fairly unstructured event. If clear roles and responsibilities are identified before the event, this will steer the actions of all involved towards a degree of structure and clarity of purpose.
It must be recognised that there will be incidents which, although they require active intervention to stop them escalating into a crisis, do not require all three incident management levels to be activated. Again, if there are well written (and well-practiced) plans in place, then any response can immediately be scaled up or down as appropriate – the global Incident Command System (ICS) has this “scalability” as one of its key strengths.
Of course, what has changed remarkably since Sun Tzu’s time is the introduction of technology, and in Incident Management terms this translates into robust and highly developed Command and Control software.
A good example is the Access Intelligence Control Point (AICP) software extensively used by Restrata to support client’s Incident Management plans. The strengths of AICP are that as information from the incident site is captured via a single identified point of contact, it allows for the recording and dissemination of this information which in turn assists tactical leaders to formulate appropriate priorities, objectives and actions in support of the “front end”. All information is clearly displayed in electronic format and includes vital issues such as:
- The number of people involved
- Those accounted for
- Those still missing
- The number of casualties, their condition and their location
- The tracking of people as they leave the incident site, either to a reception centre or hospital
- The tracking of logistical support
- The setting of priorities and objectives
- The allocation and progress of actions.
Whilst these functions are essentially tactical support, they are formulated based on timely and accurate information direct from the site. A great strength of AICP is that it is web-based and therefore (securely) accessible remotely by corporate members of a Crisis Management Team from anywhere in the globe. Access levels are pre-determined, but this capability allows key players to maintain situational awareness and provide strategic direction. This in turn not only provides targeted support to the tactical teams, but allows the sharing of accurate and up-to-date information with key partners, stakeholders, government bodies and media outlets, all of which are vital to maintaining organisational reputation – an asset which may have taken years to build, but which can be lost overnight.