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Establishing and maintaining effective communication is vital for maintaining safety at wildfire incidents, and in successfully implementing a tactical plan to resolve the incident. Information needs to be continually exchanged between personnel for safety and effectiveness and to enhance and maintain situational awareness. Refer to National Operational Guidance: Operations for further information about communication methods.

The size and topography of wildfire incidents may make establishing and maintaining effective communications challenging. Some wildfires occur in locations that have communication black spots that can prevent the successful transmission of messages across the incident ground. Teams may also be required to work considerable distances from one another so it may not always be feasible to rely on verbal messages and runners as a contingency plan. It is therefore important that communications are monitored and reviewed throughout the incident. A plan for using an alternative communication system in the event that the initial system fails should always be made before deploying teams.

Incident commanders should therefore consider a range of ways to communicate, including:

  • Radios (airwave and incident ground)
  • Mobile phones
  • Satellite phones
  • Line of sight relays (particularly on hilly or mountainous terrain)
  • Repeater units
  • Command and control units or mobile communications units
  • Specialist communications provided by other agencies (for example, mountain rescue teams)
  • Ground to air and air to ground communication (when deploying aircraft)
  • Runners

Many wildfire incidents will require a multi-agency response. The incident commander should therefore consider how communications will be established and maintained between the fire and rescue service and other organisations. If other emergency services are present at a wildfire incident, the JESIP Joint Doctrine: The Interoperability Framework should be implemented, as detailed in National Operational Guidance: Incident command.

Clear, concise briefings are a vital part of the communication strategy for all wildfire incidents. Good briefings ensure that all personnel are situationally aware and that personnel are deployed safely, effectively and efficiently. Refer to National Operational Guidance: Incident command for further information about briefings and National Operational Guidance: Operations for further information about logistical arrangements and communication.

The following actions should be carried out when briefing personnel:

  • Explain how the LACES safety protocol will be implemented and managed throughout the incident
  • Explain the emergency evacuation procedure and evacuation signal
  • Describe the situation, including information on:
    • Location and size of the incident
    • Observed and predicted direction of firespread
    • The topography over which the fire is burning and any effects it may have on the fire
    • Fuel type, condition, arrangement and any changes
    • Weather forecast (short and medium term, if available)
    • Observed and predicted fire behaviour
  • Describe the scene of operations and identify potential hazards and control measures to personnel
  • Explain the tactical plan (or appropriate parts of the tactical plan)
  • Outline:
    • The role and tasks of the team
    • The role and tasks of other teams (as appropriate)
    • The location and tasking of crews or teams already deployed
  • Outline how the team will operate and complete the task
  • Explain contingency plans
  • Provide information on logistical issues, including:
    • Predicted length of deployment
    • Reliefs
    • Welfare issues
    • Roll call
  • Provide information on the command structure and communication:
    • Lines of command
    • Means of communication
    • Communication processes and procedures

It is important that all information communicated throughout the incident is clear and concise. Wherever possible, locations should be identified using appropriate grid references - for more information refer to Use effective navigation for further information. Personnel receiving transmitted information should always acknowledge receipt and confirm their understanding.