1 General Introduction
1 General Introduction
1.1 The reader approaching this series of guidance papers on mass rescue operations (MRO) might begin by asking what relevance they may have for him or her. That is a legitimate question. MROs are 'low-probability / high-consequence' events. Yes: they are immensely serious and very complicated – but are you ever likely to be involved in one? No: it's not very likely. So why focus on something that's unlikely to happen? Isn't that a waste of time?
1.2 No. One thing that is very clear from experience is that if you have focussed on the possibilities beforehand, and prepared as best you can, your response will be significantly improved. Which means that you will probably save more lives. It's as simple as that.
1.3 Does this apply to everyone who might become involved – every rescue unit crew member, every ship’s master, every shoreside responder and planner? Yes: it does. This is obviously so for the planners, but it applies too to everyone they may need to make their plans work – because plans do not work if the people who have to put them into practice do not understand them. And those people might well include you.
1.4 The International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) MRO project includes the development of an online library of relevant information, mostly provided by IMRF Members, and intended to help you think through the MRO problems and prepare yourself and your organisation. The information is grouped into five primary subject areas: 'Philosophy & Focus', 'Planning', 'Resources', 'Command, Control, Coordination, Communication', and 'Training, exercises / drills, and learning from experience'.
1.5 These primary subject areas are further subdivided into secondary ones, each of which is introduced by an IMRF guidance paper in this series: see paragraph 6 below. The papers are cross-referenced. The reader will be able to find the material he or she requires quickly, whether considering the whole or parts of the MRO problem.
1.6 Shared information forms the third and most important and detailed layer. Some of it is hosted directly on the IMRF website: some is accessed by links to its owners’ sites. However, the primary reference document on search and rescue (SAR) is the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual published by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). IAMSAR is copyright to the IMO and ICAO and must be purchased by the user: the IMRF project material draws heavily on it but we cannot link directly to its text.
IAMSAR (and other IMO publications) may be purchased from the IMRF online bookshop, with a 20% discount for IMRF Members: see www.international-maritime-rescue.org, or go direct to www.imrfbookshop.org.
1.7 So, the reader may well ask, will all this material provide all I need to run a successful MRO? Is this guidance a blueprint for success? Sorry – but no. We certainly hope that it will help; but it is guidance – things to think about, other people's experience and ideas to consider and perhaps learn from. It is not a set of rules to follow. Indeed, there is no such set of rules: there is guidance like this, but how best to apply it is down to your own judgement.
1.8 The philosopher Julian Baggini remarks that codification – setting out rules – is "the death of judgement. The more any kind of task or procedure is reduced to a formalised set of steps, the less we use and develop our judgement. There is a gap between what can be fully explained objectively and what is needed to achieve the best results practically." Good judgement is needed to bridge this gap: "It is not an excuse for lack of rigour but a way of dealing with the limits of rigour."
Julian Baggini, 'The tyranny of recipes', Prospect magazine February 2014.
1.9 The guidance material contained in this series and in its supporting documents certainly does not remove the need for good judgement, whatever part you may have to play in a mass rescue operation. It does not provide all the answers. But it does seek to raise the questions that others have had to face, and to discuss possible and practical solutions.
1.10 “It is worth taking action in advance to deal with disasters,” wrote Kenneth Watt in The Titanic Effect. “The costs of doing so are typically inconsequential, measured against the losses that would ensue if no such action were taken. The magnitude of disasters decreases to the extent that people believe that they are possible, and plan to prevent them or to minimise their effects.”
Kenneth E F Watt, The Titanic Effect: planning for the unthinkable, 1974. Prof Watt’s book is on economics – but his point remains applicable to maritime emergencies.