Command and Control: aspects of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Incident Command System
4.1 IC policy and supporting information
It is good practice that the SFRS is continually modernising its operational guidance (albeit on occasion behind schedule), drawing on information to support change from many areas. In incident command specifically, it is positive that the Service will go ahead with the review of the policy and we will look on with interest at the outcomes generated, when we re-visit. It is important that the practical application of the policy is usable and inclusive so that all stakeholders invest in the process.
The SFRS has invested a lot of time and resources in the generation and upkeep of its SOPs. They are very detailed and therefore, not necessarily user friendly, we support the proposed review.
The SFRS has fulfilled our recommendation from the report Risk-Based Operational Decision-making in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (November 2014) by creating an Operational Discretion policy. However, more work is required for its successful use. Organisational learning and procedural change also needs to result from its appropriate use. Consideration also needs to be given to policy impacts on OC staff or whether they require a bespoke solution.
4.2 Inter and intra operability, supporting the incident ground
It is very apparent that the SFRS has worked hard to gain the status of a trusted partner in working with resilience, industrial and wider community stakeholders. Relationships are well established, particularly in the central belt of Scotland where access is less problematic and we encountered good information sharing, training and exercising regimes. This is less apparent in remote rural locations where site operators would welcome more exposure from local SFRS resources. These types of activities should be uniform in approach and application and not predicated on geographical location.
It is positive that the SCAF document provides a robust structure for pre-planned and response arrangements. However, it would be enhanced by a review, in consultation with wider resilience partners to develop a more integrated working document.
Resilience is a key outward facing role in the SFRS, it is a complex function which requires sensitivity and continuity. There is a reputational risk for the organisation if not carried out appropriately. Governance and role sizing of this key area is paramount in order to support officers performing the role and the SFRS's partners.
The JOSIC course highlights good practice, with good interaction between all emergency services. It is encouraging that the principles of JESIP are being embedded in both the FDO cadre and OC staff. Further learning needs to be focused on watch based Commanders, with some already believing that professional trust has been, to an extent, eroded from their role.
The SFRS has taken a leading role in hosting and developing the CAR, however the CAR is described by partners as being in a precarious position, with very little forward momentum. This good work is in danger of being undone as the continuity of the project has stalled.
The SFRS tac-ad is an evolving role at present. It is acknowledged as a skills gap by senior managers. Some aspects are fully implemented however many are not. Some FDOs find difficulty maintaining multiple specialist skills, where others have none, despite repeated requests for development.
4.3 Incident command system
It is good practice that the three OCs, although having different operating systems are working closely to find common, best practice 'ways of working' to harmonise staff and processes further.
The introduction of the new command and control mobilising system will truly merge the three OCs into a national operations control, with shared best practice and improved resilience. However, the journey to get there has been complex, with five project managers in six years and challenging procurement and design specifications, resulting in delayed milestones. We are concerned that current operating systems, at the end of their lifespans are not operating efficiently. This coupled with competing demands from the supplier and little evidence of contingencies should significant systemic failures be encountered, could put the Service in a compromising position.
The SFRS is investing in technology to upgrade CSUs and where possible, standardise layouts and operating procedures. This shows good progress but a bespoke course and training requirements for operators has been slow to materialise affecting consistency of use. Staff would benefit from reciprocal training with the incident command training team. The staffing and operation of CSUs should be standardised.
OC staff are in favour of supporting the incident ground, by attending on-scene where possible, at larger protracted incidents. This option would enhance understanding between control operators and operational crews and improve the standard of messages passed on the incident ground, promoting good practice.
The SFRS is addressing the weakness identified in incident ground communications, through a commitment to procure new digital fireground radios. It should ensure a thorough design specification, evaluation and testing of concept is carried out, covering as wide a geographic sampling area as possible. SD end users should be fully integrated shareholders in the process. The Service should also ensure, in consultation with industrial partners, an adequate provision of intrinsically safe radios.
The difficulties encountered with the new call-sign system are reported from all areas. The Service should seek to improve understanding of the current system or design, in consultation, a more user friendly version to improve clarity.
Command support is important from the outset of every emergency incident. It is not a desirable position that command support packs are not standardised and their usage not consistent. The mixture of legacy and SFRS documentation will affect version control and could lead to important information or procedures being missed or incomplete. This is an organisational risk; standardised equipment should be introduced along with procedural guidance.
Decision logs are very important at all levels of incident response. It is good practice that the SFRS has implemented them through all layers of incident command. It is also positive that an agreed tri-service log is in use, with loggist courses available. Access to this course would benefit CSU staff who have to carry out the function as part of their role.
Usage of the official SFRS notebook is poor, particularly with station based Commanders. Staff need to be educated on the importance of logging decisions made on the incident ground and a clear rationale supporting that decision. This can be carried out post incident whilst reflecting on performance. Compliance with the GIN should be encouraged and effectively monitored.
Sectorisation and use of cordons are well established in the Service and in most cases, used effectively. Consideration needs to be given to larger incident cordon control and specifically multi-agency gateway control. This aspect requires a greater level of control, to accurately account for personnel in the hazard area and better highlight a joint understanding of risk, prior to entry. Smaller incident cordons can be on occasion notional and poorly marshalled. This would benefit from closer scrutiny, especially in remote rural areas.
4.4 Organisational learning
The SFRS is an organisation committed to continuous learning, with good systems in place to support this. The Service is now promoting an ethos of a safe space for learning, rather than combing over incidents to identify what went wrong. It needs to get to a position, where staff are comfortable discussing perceived poor decision-making, made at difficult times, under difficult circumstances.
The OA culture is improving, with robust scrutiny of larger operational incidents resulting in action plans for improvement. There is room for improvement in actual incident ground OA, which we find is not culturally embedded at present. The OA 21 process is an area of good practice and the department's work with TED to map across elements of the incident command assessment to the OA template should pay dividends in the future, aiding capacity.
Debriefs are now culturally embedded in the SFRS and carried out at the majority of incidents attended. Firefighters are exposed to this process at the beginning of their careers endorsing the principle from day one. We scrutinised evidence of structured debriefs from both operational incident grounds and the OC environment and our findings are predominantly positive. There is good evidence of shared learning and action plans to promote improvement. However, there are areas which could be improved upon:
- The process of feedback from significant incidents, takes too long to inform future practice.
- Very little shared learning from smaller incidents which could identify developing trends.
- Having collated all available learning, a more accessible repository needs to be found, so staff can easily access, locate and utilise information for training.
FDO duty group meetings are an example of good practice, said to reinforce a good communication protocol and instil confidence in the support networks available to officers. This good practice should be formalised, to ensure it is carried out across all areas, supporting all officers. Also, command seminars promote shared learning, we would advocate the continuation of this type of training. However, there would be a great benefit from opening up attendance to Watch Commanders, promoting a more inclusive learning environment.
4.5 Incident command training
Incident Command training is standardised across all areas of the SFRS. The current model is said to lack focus on underlying decision-making, focusing too much on structure. It lacks a practical element to the training which would add value to the operational role and improve decision-making under stress. The current model requires modernisation and we welcome the SFRS plan to explore enhanced digital platforms in partnership with Police Scotland. This is a positive step but does not address the practical training aspect which still requires development.
We look on with interest at the work TED are carrying out with OA, mapping across aspects of the incident command assessment criteria onto the incident ground OA form, reducing duplication of work. This coupled with the utilisation of a reflective journal for Commanders could pay dividends in safely extending incident command accreditation. We also support the implementation and development of Strategic Commander training and view the recent course as a positive step.
It is of concern that a recommendation from our report in 2014, to train all frontline ICs to ICL1 is still proving to be problematic. The SFRS needs to assess whether this is an attainable outcome and if not, develop an achievable alternative delivery model, which safely meets the training standard. Any alternative should incorporate practical and technical training with the ability to be delivered locally.
The SFRS has no QA of training delivery, although it is reported that TED are developing a QA team. Training delivery, especially over such a large area, needs assurance to provide comfort as to the consistency and quality of the delivery of the training standard. As the Service expands its training establishment footprint, it should consider a QA system incorporating peer review and ensure an effective cross pollination of instructors promoting consistency of delivery across all of its sites.
Training collaboration between all three emergency services is in its early stages. The JOSIC course is an area of good practice that will benefit integrated incident command and control for all three services and should be commended. The success of this partnership approach should be the foundation on which to build further training collaboration. This will further promote cohesive critical decision-making across all three emergency services.