Update on the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s planning and preparedness for COVID-19
Findings - working with others
Internal stakeholders/Representative Bodies acknowledge the positive way in which the ‘Working Together Framework’ has ensured effective joint working, weekly meetings with a Principal Officer as a troubleshooting forum is seen to have worked well. Sharing of decision logs and joint problem solving at a strategic level has also been welcomed. However, there are areas of potential duplication, the briefing of different groups separately is an inefficient use of time that could lead to delays in information exchange, action and decisions.
Partners representing Regional and Local Resilience Partnerships (RRP/LRPs) have been pleased with the level of engagement and participation of the SFRS management. This is true at regional and local levels. The SFRS staff have chaired or co-chaired partnership meetings and have been active in meeting community requests for support. It must be noted that not all areas required or sought assistance from the SFRS, as much of the ‘heavy lifting’ was done by the Local Authority (LA) and NHS health boards.
Partners commented that C-19 has placed the SFRS in a less central/pivotal role and a more passive position than it normally would occupy. This is an unnatural role for the fire service and lessons may be learnt on how they can support others going forward.
Partners recognise the difficulties that national organisations like the SFRS have in planning especially when boundaries are not coterminous. C-19 has identified that some additional challenges have appeared in areas where the SFRS delivery areas are not aligned with the LA or NHS health boards.
These challenges need to be fully understood to ensure there is no negative impacts.
Multi-agency training is of significant importance to all, as it ensures agencies are able to operate effectively, responding to the most major incidents that have greatest community impact. Learning from other significant incidents has shown weakness in decision making, communications and information sharing.
Partners and the SFRS should ensure that plans are developed to re-instate joint training without delay when circumstances permit.
We are pleased to hear that the SFRS has utilised the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and Kent FRS for access to procurement and other framework opportunities. The provision of new firefighting PPE from this route has enhanced organisational resilience in this area and should demonstrate value for money.
Meeting local needs
The SFRS continues to work in partnership with LA partners and communities on the core functions of prevention, protection and response to improve the safety and wellbeing of the most vulnerable people throughout Scotland. In order to effectively deliver the strategic plans and specific objectives during the crisis, the SFRS has a principle governance body COTAG leading this work.
As part of the NHS response to C-19 a temporary emergency critical care hospital has been designed and set up. The NHS Louisa Jordan hospital is based at the Scottish Events Campus (SEC) in Glasgow. The SFRS were able to provide specialist Fire Safety advice and developed plans to ensure that the additional risks of this facility were mitigated. The Service will dedicate fire cover provisions from the nearby fire station if the hospital is ‘stood up’.
The Community Resilience Action Group (CRAG) was utilised to support calls for assistance and there are examples of support from the SFRS in delivery of prescriptions, food supplies, storage of PPE and sites for C-19 testing. However, staff were not utilised in a consistent way across Scotland, which was in part due to differing requests from partners and the availability of other agencies to provide support. This has meant the SFRS has not had the same public profile as other agencies responding to C-19.
It was evident that the ‘tripartite’ agreements between the NFCC, Fire Brigades Union and Local Government Association were not utilised. Many staff had little awareness of the agreements, nor did we find evidence that the SFRS were influencing or was an active participant in those discussions. The NFCC were active in reporting the impact of C-19 on the fire sector, the areas reported on include; levels of demand, infection rates and absenteeism etc.
The SFRS appear not to have been participative which may have assisted monitoring and anticipating the impact of C-19.
Community Asset Register
We found that these assets were not utilised. It was evident that accessing the assets is an issue, as is the maintaining the list of resources available. The SFRS host the CAR and it is acknowledged that the SFRS are not the owners of the resources, failure to utilise the capacity and capability of the resources available is inefficient.
The SFRS should work with partners to seek how the CAR assets can be accessed and deployed, and if a national, regional of more local alignment may maximise their usage.
Early planning with partners identified the potential increase in the levels of demand placed upon Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS), this could affect their attendance at incidents attended by the SFRS. It is pleasing to note that the interim arrangements for the SFRS to continue to operate in the interest of any casualties is at the centre of the planning assumption.
Agencies recognise that the use and utilisation of technology will be central to BAU. It was raised that the digital platforms used by partners were not always compatible leading to some partners not being able to engage and contribute.
The SFRS should work with partners to identify interoperability issues and work together to remove potential barriers.
The SFRS continues to be committed to collaboration with all stakeholders in sharing information, good practice and preventative measures which have a positive impact on the organisation and the communities they serve.
We challenged senior managers in the SFRS on the evidence presented to ensure the delivery of an effective operational response, and were given assurances that the comprehensive planning and procedures produced are suitable and sufficient.