1.4 Mass Rescue Operations: The Capability Gap

Written by David Jardine-Smith. Posted in Philosophy & Focus

Version
2
Date Written
Friday, 06 February 2015
Source
International Maritime Rescue Federation
Type of Paper
  • Guidance Paper
Language
  • English

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Contents

Contents

This paper discusses:

o the nature of the 'capability gap'
o assessing 'normal capability'
o the identification of capability gaps
o planning to fill capability gaps by:
  cooperating regionally
  using additional resources, and/or
  extending survival times

1 Overview

1 Overview

1.1 For a general introduction to the IMRF's mass rescue operations (MRO) guidance, please see MRO guidance paper 1.1 'Complex incident planning – the challenge: acknowledging the problem, and mass rescue incident types'.

2 The Capability Gap

2 The Capability Gap

2.1 The IMO define a mass rescue operation as 'characterised by the need for immediate response to large numbers of persons in distress such that the capabilities normally available to the SAR authorities are inadequate'. In other words, the SAR authorities do not have enough resources themselves to enable them to handle a mass rescue operation. There is a 'capability gap'.

2.2 If the IMRF's MRO project can be said to have a single aim, it is to help SAR authorities and other responders to fill this capability gap. To say that such an operation is 'too difficult' is, we believe, unacceptable. The IMO does not define an MRO as being too difficult. Instead, it says that "the capabilities normally available are inadequate". Implicit in this definition is the idea that additional capabilities can be identified which will enable responders to conduct an MRO successfully. We have to 'think outside the box'.

2.3 It is also important to remember what 'rescue' means, for it is, of course, rescue that we are trying to achieve. Rescue is not just picking people up from survival craft or from the water.

2.4 The IMO define 'rescue' as the

'operation to retrieve persons in distress, provide for their initial medical or other needs and deliver them to a place of safety'

and they define a 'place of safety' as

'a location where rescue operations are considered to terminate; where the survivors' safety of life is no longer threatened and where their basic human needs (such as food, shelter and medical needs) can be met; and, a place from which transportation arrangements can be made for the survivors' next or final destination. A place of safety may be on land, or it may be on board a rescue unit or other suitable vessel or facility at sea that can serve as a place of safety until the survivors are disembarked at their next destination.'

2.5 A successful MRO provides for all of this – and the IMO's list of 'basic human needs' is not exhaustive. For further discussion of what constitutes a 'place of safety', see guidance papers 2.6 & 2.7.

3 Normal Capability

3 Normal Capability

3.1 What constitutes a mass rescue operation depends on what capabilities are normally available. If there are only a few SAR units available, for example, and/or they do not have much carrying capacity, the number of people at risk need not be very great before an MRO response is called for.

A SAR unit is defined by the IMO as "a unit composed of trained personnel and provided with equipment suitable for the expeditious conduct of search and rescue operations."

3.2 The IMO definition refers, wisely, to SAR capability. It is not only the number and size of local SAR units that count: it is their capability at the time an accident occurs. Are they in service? Are their crews adequately trained? Can they operate in the prevailing conditions? Can they reach the scene of the incident within survival times? If not, they should not be considered part of the 'normal capability'. The availability and capacity of 'places of safety' are also issues that require careful analysis.

3.3 Thinking through the IMO definitions and what 'the capabilities normally available' really are is the first step on the road to developing a viable MRO plan.

4 Identifying Capability Caps

4 Identifying Capability Gaps

4.1 SAR capability will vary geographically and according to the conditions at the time an incident occurs. Capability will be higher in an area well-supplied with rescue units and in good weather, sea and visibility conditions; and lower otherwise. Many areas of the world are beyond the range of designated rescue units. Other areas cannot be reached by sufficient rescue units within survival times. Bad conditions – poor visibility and heavy sea states in particular – will hamper rescue, or may even prevent it.

4.2 SAR capability should be assessed and mapped in order to contribute to risk analysis and MRO planning: see guidance paper 1.3. It may then be found that the likelihood of an MRO being required is higher than had at first been thought.

5 Filling Capability Gaps

5 Filling Capability Gaps

5.1 The uncertainties associated with the types of incident that may give rise to an MRO, where such an incident might occur, what the prevailing weather, sea conditions and time of day will be, and what SAR facilities will actually be available at the time, mean that planning for MROs should be generic. That said, the plans should still identify areas of enhanced risk, including areas where the capability gap is wider, and any areas of enhanced capability.

5.2 The primary aims of MRO planning are to identify the gaps, which must be done locally, and to identify the means of filling them. There are essentially three means available. We will consider each in turn.

6 Regional Resources

6 Regional Resources

6.1 One solution to a shortfall in SAR capability is to 'work with the neighbours'. A small State, for example, may have only a few SAR units, meaning that many incident types may constitute an MRO. Other States nearby may have the same problem. Agreeing to share resources, however – and, very importantly, agreeing on the details of how this will be done – can significantly improve SAR capability for all.

6.2 The same is true of better-resourced States: the only difference is the point at which an incident is large enough to qualify as an MRO. Planning to work with other States in the region, where this is possible, will enhance SAR capability.

6.3 There are limits to the practicality of this approach, mostly to do with distance, SAR unit range, and expected survival times. Nevertheless, it should always be considered. Guidance on the use of regional resources may be found in guidance paper 3.2.

7 Additional Rescue Resources

7 Additional Rescue Resources

7.1 A more general solution to the problem of a shortfall in SAR capability is to identify additional resource locally. It may be that, as a result of the risk analyses conducted at an early stage in the planning process, the authorities will decide to provide additional SAR units, thereby removing some categories of incident from the list of those which will require an MRO response. This would be an excellent result – but our main concern here is with those incidents that remain beyond normal SAR capability.

7.2 If sufficient additional designated units cannot be provided, other resources must be identified. In maritime MROs these will chiefly be drawn from shipping in the area.

7.3 What shipping may be available and useful will vary according to the circumstances – but all classes of shipping, from fishing vessels and leisure craft to ships of all kinds and sizes, should be considered. In SAR such vessels are sometimes referred to as 'additional facilities', 'vessels of opportunity' or 'Good Samaritans'. They are distinguished from SAR units "composed of trained personnel and provided with equipment suitable for the expeditious conduct of search and rescue operations". Under international maritime regulations vessels of opportunity have a duty to assist if they can – but they are not specifically equipped, nor are their crews trained, for this task.

Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention Chapter V Regulation 33 applies to nearly all ships – and the operators of exempted vessels are encouraged to comply with the spirit of the regulation too.

7.4 In some cases – ferries, government ships, or offshore industry vessels, for example – specific ships can be identified in particular areas which can, and should, be included in MRO planning, with their operators' and crews' active involvement. In most cases, however, shipping will be in the incident area by chance. Their operators and crews cannot be involved in the planning process for simple reasons of practicality – but the generic use of such shipping must still be included in the plan itself.

7.5 General guidance on the use of vessels of opportunity in MROs may be found in guidance papers 3.1 & 4.6.

8 Extending Survival Time

8 Extending Survival Time

8.1 A third, and perhaps less obvious, solution to the capability gap problem is to plan to extend the time available for rescue. This can be done by providing support to those on scene.

8.2 At the basic level, support packages can be delivered to people in distress to improve their chances of survival until they can be rescued. Examples include dropping liferafts, food, water and other survival equipment from fixed-wing aircraft, or from ships unable to recover people in the prevailing conditions. Fixed-wing aircraft will usually have a greater range than other shore-based units. They cannot conduct the 'retrieval' or recovery part of rescue, but they can deliver supplies that will keep people alive until other SAR facilities arrive on scene. This activity has to be planned for, however, and air-droppable material made readily available. Similarly, ships arriving at the scene may be able to provide life-saving assistance even if recovery is not, or not yet, possible. But this too should be thought about beforehand. See guidance paper 3.1 and the IMO's MSC Circular 1182, 'Guide to Recovery Techniques'.

MSC.1/Circ.1182/Rev.1. See also the IMO's Pocket Guide to Recovery Techniques, 2014 edition.

8.3 It may also be possible to provide assistance which will mitigate the risk to people on scene so that they do not need a 'mass rescue operation' in the traditional sense. We do not have to wait until people are in survival craft or in the water before responding. Providing the right sort of specialised assistance promptly may prevent an accident escalating to the point at which evacuation is necessary. Examples include taking a disabled passenger ship in tow, or providing firefighting teams to one on fire.

8.4 This is to acknowledge that 'traditional' rescue, as defined by the IMO, may not be the most appropriate response in some circumstances. As a possible alternative to retrieving people in distress, we should also think about supporting them, aboard a damaged but still tenable ship, for example, or – if an evacuation has occurred – aboard survival craft. The IMO's definition of rescue can be usefully amended to read:

'an operation to retrieve or support persons in distress, provide for their initial medical or other needs and deliver them to a place of safety'.

8.5 Guidance paper 3.3 discusses the use of specialist resources, including providing on-board support.

9 Planning to Fill the Capability Gap

9 Planning to Fill the Capability Gap

9.1 The common theme in the foregoing discussion is planning. Some of the proposals outlined above require SAR authorities to provide physical resources to help fill the 'capability gap' – stockpiled survival equipment, for example. However, all these means of filling the gap require careful thought at the planning stage.

9.2 For regional arrangements to work effectively, agreements have to be made and operating procedures worked out between the regional partners. If planning to use 'vessels of opportunity', alerting and coordination procedures should be decided beforehand. How will the communications structure work? What can vessels in the area reasonably be expected to do? Are there particular groups of vessels – ferries, for example – with which direct planning can be done? And how can we mitigate the effects of an accident by providing support to people on scene, so that they do not have to abandon their ship or so that they can survive for longer while arrangements are made to pick them up?

9.3 There are ways of filling the 'capability gap'. But they must be planned for.

10 Summary

10 Summary

o In planning for MROs we should consider the full IMO definitions of 'rescue', 'place of safety' and 'mass rescue operation'.
o Careful and honest analysis of normal SAR capability is required.
o SAR capability varies geographically and according to the prevailing conditions.
o In an MRO, the SAR capabilities normally available are inadequate: there is a 'capability gap'.
o MRO planning includes identification of the additional resources needed to fill this gap, and deciding how they should best be used.
o The planning should include using 'vessels of opportunity' in the incident area.
o The coordinated use of regional resources should be considered: 'working with the neighbours'.
o Also consider how survival times might be extended by providing support to those in distress prior to their rescue.

11 Further Reading

11 Further Reading

11.1 For further reading on the underpinning philosophy of complex incident planning, follow this link.

11.2 See also guidance papers 2.1, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3 & 3.4.

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