12 An MRO Communications Plan Structure
12 An MRO Communications Plan Structure
12.1 IAMSAR Volume II appendix C outlines an MRO communications plan structure, based on the diagram below. The fundamental principle illustrated in the diagram is again that of breaking up the communications workload into coordinated groups, to ease the pressure. IAMSAR Volume II appendix C says:
"Efficient communications in major maritime response incidents are best arranged by dividing communications between several different frequencies. The number of frequencies used may vary, depending on the circumstances, but is unlikely to exceed five. The diagram shows a major incident with numerous surface and air units responding and several different activities taking place on scene and, in support, ashore. The communications plan set up to deal with this incident is relatively simple so that all those responding may readily understand it. It needs to be established from the outset.
"The primary coordinating frequency – initially VHF FM channel 16 but a common working frequency may be assigned to ensure channel 16 is available for other distress alerts – is used by the casualty, the OSC, the ACO and, if possible, the SMC. If the incident is out of the SMC's VHF range, the SMC will communicate primarily with the OSC by satellite or MF or HF radio communications. Other units on scene should monitor the primary coordinating frequency if possible, to be kept up to date by SITREPs etc [see below], but will not usually transmit on it.
"Surface SAR units and other surface units such as ships responding to the distress alert will use a second frequency – usually VHF FM channel 6 – controlled by the OSC.
"Aircraft may also use this second frequency under the OSC's control, if suitably equipped. An ACO should be designated if responding aircraft are not equipped with marine VHF or in cases where it would be more efficient to control them separately (such as multiple aircraft on scene). The aircraft will then use a third frequency usually VHF AM 123.1MHz controlled by the ACO.
Additional guidance on multiple aircraft coordination and communications has been added to the 2016 edition of IAMSAR.
"If other activities are taking place on scene, additional frequencies may be used for the necessary communications. If a helicopter, for example, needs to winch to or from a ship, these two units should switch to a mutually compatible frequency not already in use, returning to the main working frequencies after the winching operation is complete. Another example would be a search being conducted as part of the overall SAR operation. In this case, the units assigned to the search will switch to a mutually compatible frequency controlled by a search coordinator. This coordinating unit reports to OSC or RCC, as appropriate.
"In a major incident, such as an MRO, there will need to be significant exchange of information with authorities ashore: the operators of a ship or aircraft casualty, harbour and other receiving authorities, shoreside emergency services providing support, authorities and agencies concerned with counter-pollution and salvage operations, and so on. These many organizations should communicate via the RCC, not directly with units on scene. This enables the SMC to maintain a clear overall picture of the response. Efficient procedures for this aspect of the communications plan can and should be pre-planned. The exchange of liaison officers is recommended."
12.2 It is important that all units responding should know who to call, and they should be told when first alerted whether this should be the RCC or, for units on or approaching the scene, the OSC or ACO. It is also important to clearly identify these latter units. They should adopt 'On Scene Coordinator' or 'Air Coordinator' as appropriate as their callsign.
12.3 The OSC and ACO are key links in the maritime communications network because they are key links in the coordination network. Their relationship with the SMC, and with each other, including the sort of information they will need to exchange, is discussed in guidance papers 4.3, 4.4 & 4.5.
12.4 The IAMSAR Manual does not designate other coordination links specifically but, as discussed in guidance paper 4.1, the principle of dividing the workload to make it easier can be taken further as appropriate in the circumstances, to include 'sub-coordinators' such as a search coordinator, an on-board coordinator, a land SAR coordinator, and so on. In planning the potential coordination network, MRO planners should ensure that these sub-coordinators also have clearly descriptive callsigns.
12.5 Care should be taken to ensure that all aircraft and surface units involved in an operation are capable of complying with the communications procedures planned. The communications plan illustrated above requires only that surface units should be able to communicate with the OSC (and/or a separate search coordinator), and aircraft with the ACO.
12.6 An exception to this will be when direct communications are required between a surface unit and an aircraft, such as when a helicopter is to land on or winch to an offshore installation or a ship on scene. In such cases the OSC and ACO will nominate a separate working frequency for the two units to use during this specific operation (if they have compatible radio systems), to avoid interference with other on-scene traffic.
12.7 Ideally the SMC, OSC, ACO and casualty (the units inside the red primary coordination circle above) should all be able to communicate with each other. However, the casualty's commander will be under great pressure, including the pressure of internal communications, and, as discussed in guidance paper 4.4, it may be preferable to restrict external communications with the casualty to either the OSC or the RCC, with that unit taking responsibility for ensuring that the other key players are kept up to date. There is also likely to be a separate search coordinator on the primary coordinating frequency and, if the emergency has happened on or near the shoreline, a land SAR coordinator too. Both may be asked to communicate only with the OSC or SMC, to ease the load on the commander of the casualty. So may an ACO if there is relatively little aircraft activity.
12.8 It is not necessarily the case that the casualty commander, SMC, OSC and ACO should conduct these communications personally. The actual communicating can be done by suitably trained officers – but it remains essential that these communicators should be able to report directly and, so far as possible, immediately to the relevant person.
12.9 There are benefits to conducting communications on an open radio net – others can keep up to date with what is going on, for example, by monitoring the traffic. But there are also benefits to using a private circuit – a satellite call, for example. People may feel that they can speak more freely and thus establish a better working relationship. The SMC / OSC / casualty links fall into this category. Specialist teams deployed aboard may also wish to open direct links. Care should be taken, however, to ensure that key information is properly shared among all those who may need it. Individuals who receive privately information which should be shared are responsible for ensuring that this is done.
12.10 Although the detail discussed above relates to communication during the MRO itself, the principles of an efficient communications plan need to be established at the planning stage. The details will differ, depending on the requirements of the particular incident, but the principles should not.