Natural and/or man-made catastrophic events are quickly becoming the norm. Indeed, since the 1970s, the number of weather and climate-related disasters alone has more than quadrupled to around 400 per year.i Unfortunately for responder agencies, few things are more challenging than procuring and deploying the right resources to the right people and places during complex disasters covering wide areas and causing mass casualty and damage. In these scenarios, the imperatives of incident response routinely overwhelm the resources and capabilities of individual agencies acting alone. Meeting the life and property-saving objectives of the disaster response, then, requires an influx of personnel, skills, technologies, facilities, equipment, and/or funding from other organizations. Though the organizations themselves share many of the same functions, the number and weight of those commonalities haven’t been enough to close what’s become an acute incident response performance gap. The gap has been studied carefully in the incident management literature.ii And the consensus seems to be that emergency responses undertaken by clusters of public safety agencies incur a higher likelihood of the following: Extended response times Higher potential for loss of property and life Lack of shared situational awareness on the ground Disputes and competition as to who is in charge, when, and where Difficulties in filtering and validating the flood of information generated during the disaster Difficulties in coordination among response agencies due to incompatible infrastructure iii What’s going on, here? Well, researchers have sought explanations to this pattern of delays in getting assistance and rescue underway, not to mention delays in decision making, and lack of clarity in command and control structures. It turns out there are myriad. Some of the reasons given: individual agencies develop independently of each other, creating heterogeneity in practices. Also cited, inadequate information and knowledge flow between participants, springing either from a lack of trust, confusion on the ground, or competition between agencies. iv Significant challenges, all of them; but not insoluble problems. Indeed, the incident management community has moved aggressively in recent times to correct many of them, foremost the glaring absence of an industrywide command and control structure for facilitating collaboration and interoperability. Those efforts, in particular, culminated in the development of the ISO 22320 standard.
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