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A developing emergency case study

Incidents and emergencies can occur suddenly. However, in many instances you will have to respond to an incident that develops over a period of time and requires an escalating scale of response.

The scenario in the table below shows how an incident may grow from a relatively localised minor issue to a large-scale emergency affecting many agencies.

The scenario does not mean to imply a failure on the part of the event organiser to tackle things quickly. Rather, it demonstrates how an incident could develop and outlines the types of action and planning that may be required.

The incident could have been contained at any point during the development, but, for the purposes of the scenario, we assume that efforts prove ineffective at each stage.

Case study: Example of a developing incident

Setting: Early morning on the second day of a two-day music festival in a rural setting

Incident progress Action taken Emergency plan
A volunteer steward reports smoke coming from a car in the car park. They also report someone running away from the scene back into the event site
  • Additional staff despatched to the scene to investigate
  • Steward’s report logged
  • Event staff, including volunteers, need to be properly briefed on what to do if they witness an incident
  • It is unlikely that every member of staff will be given an event radio, so the event organiser needs to consider how such a report will be made quickly and effectively
  • There needs to be a central point to which staff can report and which initiates responses called ‘event control’ in this scenario
Staff on the scene confirm that a car is on fire in the car park
  • Event control despatch onsite fire resources to the scene
  • For a small event, this may only mean hand-held fire extinguishers
  • Summon offsite emergency assistance
  • Make sure that appropriate fire-fighting resources are deployed around the site and that staff are trained in their use
  • Critically, people should recognise when an incident is beyond their control and not place themselves at risk
  • Establish with the emergency services what kind of response time might be required for offsite resources to be despatched
Fire spreads to adjacent vehicles
  • The fire is now well beyond the capability of the onsite emergency response
  • Focus switches to establishing a safe cordon around the incident
  • As the incident develops, it is important to obtain accurate and regular information
  • You will need to send a trusted deputy to manage actions on the ground while you remain at the event control
  • If everyone heads to the scene of the incident, it is difficult to make, or even consider, strategic issues in the face of overwhelming immediate operational concerns
Fire threatens a number of live-in vehicles within the car park
  • Staff have to sweep through the car park and make sure that all people sleeping in vehicles are woken and removed to safety
  • The situation has now become very serious and you need to be able to rapidly deploy a large number of people and resources. This may mean waking people who are off-shift or redeploying staff from other functions
  • The role of a central communication and decision-making hub ‘event control’ is critical
  • Awareness of the incident will rapidly become widespread across the site
Fire and rescue service arrives with one tender but is unable to gain access
  • Special resources are required to clear vehicles parked in the access lane to the car park
  • Make sure that all risk areas of the site are accessible to emergency vehicles
  • Agree access routes with the emergency services
  • Implement plans to remove vehicles blocking emergency routes
LPG cylinders in live-in vehicle ignite
  • Exclusion zone established around the incident
  • Assess in advance how car parks are set out and separate camping and live-in vehicles from ordinary car parking
Major incident declared by fire and rescue service
  • Fire and rescue service is responsible for identifying the inner cordon and for the health and safety of all those operating within it. Police are co-ordinating the response
  • You transfer authority for the management of this ‘major incident’ to the police
  • You remain in control of all areas of the site not immediately affected by the incident
  • Identify someone to liaise with the emergency services as they deal with the practicalities of the incident
  • Make available site resources to facilitate response – this could include putting staff at the disposal of the incident commander to assist with crowd management
  • At this point, you are going to have to determine, in conjunction with the emergency services, what happens on the rest of the site
  • Immediately cancelling the show may simply result in a rush towards the car park, which is the very thing you need to avoid
  • While the emergency services will have their own plans for dealing with serious fires, casualties etc, you will still have a critical role to play in supporting that response and in discharging your duty of care to people who remain onsite
  • You may need to consider mass evacuation of the site, or a significant proportion of it
  • You will need methods of quickly and effectively getting information to the public and staff at the event – and a process for quickly determining what will be said
Location declared a crime scene by police following the report of someone running from the initial incident
  • Particularly where there are casualties, the police have a duty to investigate whether a crime has been committed and attempt to identify the suspect, who may still be on the event site
  • You will have to co-operate with the police in their investigation
  • Witness statements, incident logs and other key evidence may need to be gathered
  • By this stage, the incident will inevitably have attracted media attention (along with the inevitable camera-phone footage and messaging broadcast from onsite)
  • This will lead to pressure on the event organisers and emergency services for statements and an increasing requirement for information for concerned relatives and friends of those onsite
  • If there have been serious injuries or even fatalities, the mechanism for handling these enquiries should be carefully considered. Media releases are usually co-ordinated by the police
  • A media plan is an important element of any large-scale emergency plan
Car park inaccessible to departing patrons
  • With the car park unusable because of ongoing fire and police operations, there are huge implications for people stuck onsite
  • What can you do to enact contingency plans for alternative routes offsite, transport or even accommodation for people who can no longer leave the site?
  • Co-ordination with the local authority may be needed to enact contingency and civic resilience plans. This could include setting up emergency shelters for displaced people
  • The response period to the incident will by now be causing fatigue and other problems for you; you need to consider deputies or relief teams

Note: The above scenario is fictitious but not far-fetched. Such an incident could develop to the extent that Highways and Environment Agencies are involved in dealing with the aftermath and the incident extends over many days.

It illustrates how you need to have a flexible and adaptable emergency plan reaching into all areas of site planning, staffing, resources and briefing. At each stage the key factors are effective communication (internal and external), and a command structure which allows joint decision-making with an ever wider number of organisations.

Updated 2013-05-30