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‘But that’s the way we have always done it’ is no longer good enough when it comes to incident action planning

22 Mar 2021 2:37 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

By John Klich, Superintendent, Toronto Paramedic Services, IPSA Member

Incident management does not always result in the positive or desired outcomes we hoped for. Lots of things can go wrong during an event response; the scene can de-stabilize, people can get hurt, equipment can fail. In the aftermath of an event, the incident commander’s decisions may be questioned and challenge. Questions that may be asked include: Did you have a plan? Was it a reasonable plan? Did you follow the plan?

A well thought out incident action plan for a scheduled event can mitigate many of the issues that arise when emergencies or incidents occur. This article discusses some of the considerations for making sure your plan for a scheduled event is realistic and reasonable.

Three measures that can help ensure your incident action plan is realistic and reasonable include:

  1. Referring to best practices and guidance from authoritative sources
  2. Consulting with the stakeholders
  3. Cross-checking with other plans

Guidance, best practices

As the incident action plan is developed, there will likely be some aspects that may be new or unconventional for your organization. Refer to established practices to determine the value and risks of any of these actions.

Even for previously used strategies and tactics, it is worthwhile to stay current by asking the following questions:

  • Is there any guidance or best practice to inform the action plan?
  • Is the guidance directly applicable or does the situation require exemptions or considerations?
  • What is the rationale for these exemptions?

Depending on when a critical event occurs, there may be limited opportunity for research or consultation. Specialists or subject matter experts can help provide best practices for a tactic or strategy; this may be especially helpful when guidance is required for matters of health and safety, labor relations, or specialized circumstances involving technology.

However, having the right staff involved in the management of the event can close this gap.

Meet with stakeholders

For large-scale events there will be multiple stakeholders from multiple agencies and jurisdictions. In the 1 October After-Action Report, it was noted that, “The Fire Alarm Office and fire department line personnel were not aware that the festival was occurring.”

One approach is to provide appropriate engagement based on how the event would normally impact them. For those actively involved in the event (staffing, equipment, property and services), direct planning and interaction will be required and should be documented in an incident action plan. Avoid making assumptions about who can do what, where people or stuff can go, or how something will be accomplished. Seek out clarification and confirmation of their roles and responsibilities.

For stakeholders that are not directly supporting the event, some level of notification is usually sufficient. Notification provides those stakeholders with the opportunity to review their plans and if deemed necessary, to make their own preparations for the event.

Review other plans

The incident action plan may rely on other plans or standard operating procedures. Reviewing and referencing these other plans will reduce ill informed decisions and incorrect assumptions.

For example, Guidelines for Field Triage of Injured Patients provides recommendations for which patients should be transported to a trauma center. Similarly, Mutual Aid & Assistance (MAA) agreements provide the rapid sharing of resources.

Alignment with other plans will ensure that conflicts and gaps are minimized. Even within an agency, continuity plans may conflict. A classic example of this is when many groups have separately identified the same location as their back up site; when the power goes out at headquarters, all these business units show up to the same place not realizing there is not enough space or infrastructure to support all of them at once.

Review how your plans integrate with other plans like transportation, crisis communications, and resource management. Make sure that your tactics or strategies are not based on an assumption, but rather they are grounded in what is expected as outlined by policy and procedure.

It is especially relevant to review how your plan aligns with your agency’s use of social media. Social media influence can change everything from crowd behavior to agency reputation in a matter of minutes. Innovative Uses of Social Media in Emergency Management provides some context on the value of integrating a social media policy with your incident action plan.

Event considerations are continually changing based on everything from social media and designer drugs to new responder equipment (e.g. UAS) and even the weather (Lightning injures 33 at music festival in Germany, 2015).

“But that’s the way we have always done it” is no longer good enough when it comes to planning. Now more than ever, incident action plans require due diligence to ensure the decisions and objectives are reasonable.

About the Author

John Klich is a Superintendent with Toronto Paramedic Services, currently assigned to supporting the Ambulance Communications Centre. His primary focus is business continuity and emergency preparedness & planning to ensure the 9-1-1 call center is operating 24/7. His previous portfolios included Community Paramedicine and Operations. John also has experience as a paramedic Field Training Officer and a Flight Paramedic. John has a BA in Social Science and several college certificates including Emergency Management, Crisis Communications, Incident Management System and Security Intelligence Counter Terrorism.

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