The aim at every incident is to integrate communications and decision-making between the incident commander, operational personnel and fire control rooms.
Effective communication is fundamental to achieving successful and safe resolution of incidents. It provides the incident commander with knowledge about the situation and progress of tasks. Obtaining accurate and timely information is crucial to underpin situational awareness and subsequent decision-making. It helps the incident commander perform the role in a confident and determined manner and thereby assert their leadership and authority.
Communication also plays a vital role in co-ordinating activities, completing tasks and handover of command. Sharing accurate and timely information is also critical for helping others to have a common understanding of the situation, what is happening and what needs to happen next. Even the most effective plans will only work if the people putting them into practice understand them.
As well as exchanging information, good communication helps to build relationships between people. These relationships are important so that people are effective when they carry out their tasks to resolve the incident. Incident commanders should be aware that effective communication is essential for good leadership and makes it easier for people to follow instructions, understand briefings and have confidence in what is being stated.
Effective communication should:
- Provide information that is:
- Relevant and concise
- Be easily understood
- Be delivered confidently
- Include active listening
- Ensure verbal and non-verbal communications are aligned
- Ensure assumptions are questioned
Key principles should be considered when establishing an effective communication strategy to ensure:
- The communication structure and strategy is appropriate for the size, type and location of the incident
- Communications will be effective and resilient
- That information received in support of the incident is accurate, appropriate and timely
- That information is obtained from a reliable and credible source, or if not that it is checked and verified
- That appropriate methods of communicating information are used if there are security implications, or the need to relay sensitive or distressing information
- The appropriate recipients are provided with relevant information, via an appropriate method
- The relevance of the information
A good flow of information is one of the most important assets for an incident. An incident commander should ensure they:
- Gather information, issue orders and receive situation reports
- Issue orders to personnel
- Receive situation reports from all areas, including sector commanders
- Assess and provide for the needs of other agencies, and plan to meet with them
- Carry out a risk assessment and add this to the briefing on arrival
- Brief personnel about the tasks they need to perform and the hazards and risks they face
- Thoroughly brief personnel to share any safety critical information
A structured method, such as using an IIMARCH (Information, Intent, Method, Administration, Risk assessment, Communications and Humanitarian issues) template, may help incident commanders when preparing a brief. Further information on this approach, and a Word version of the IIMARCH template, can be found on the JESIP website. The JESIP Mobile App includes a prompt for use of the IIMARCH briefing tool, with the ability to share.
For multi-agency incidents the M/ETHANE message protocol can be used to exchange information about the incident with other responders via the fire control room and other agencies’ control rooms.
Incident commanders may also hold briefings on the way to an incident. The extent of the briefing will depend on the type and scale of the incident. If personnel have little experience of the incident type, or there is high risk, a comprehensive briefing should be provided.
It will be necessary to organise safety briefings. As the incident develops, or if the risk of injury increases, those briefings may need to be more comprehensive.
Incident commanders should also establish suitable arrangements for communications. This is usually the role of command support under the guidance of the incident commander, and may include:
- Establishing communication links with fire control rooms
- Ensuring they correctly assign radio channels and call signs
- Establishing communications with other agencies
- The use of talk groups
- Requesting the support of a communications tactical adviser
- Establishing communications with sector commanders and other command support functions to receive regular situation reports
- Ensuring sector commanders can communicate between themselves
- Using local systems; some new and complex buildings and structures, including those extending underground, have communication systems installed for use by emergency services
Ensuring there is an effective handover between commanders is a crucial step in the handing over of command. It is an important stage in the formation of the new commander’s situational awareness, which will be partially based on the situational awareness of the current commander and will be further developed from the range of information that will be gathered. Failure to conduct an effective handover can lead to poor situational awareness and can result in inappropriate or ineffective decisions being made.
Handovers should be conducted in a systematic way. There are a range of methods for handing over, which should include:
- Information on the incident
- Information on the risks
- Information on the resources
- The plan, including:
- Tactical priorities
- Operational tactics
- The incident command structure and communication lines
- Key decisions, using the decision controls to articulate for each:
- What the goals were
- What they expected to happen
- How the benefits justified the risks
Further information may be found in Incident command: Knowledge, skills and competence: Interpersonal communication.