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2.8 General Guidance on ‘Remote Areas’ and Other Special Cases

Written by David Jardine-Smith. Posted in Planning

Contents

Contents

This paper discusses:

o   situations in which 'standard' MRO planning may have to be adapted
o   MROs in areas remote from SAR facilities
o   catastrophic and other incidents which reduce MRO capability
o   the response to emergencies caused by deliberate acts
o   migrants in distress at sea

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'.

1.2 Guidance paper 1.1 discusses various events which may necessitate an MRO. MROs may result from passenger ship or aircraft accidents, or offshore industry emergencies. In each of these examples SAR organisations should expect to be working alongside the operator of the unit involved, and should plan with them accordingly. On the other hand there will be no such operator involvement in other types of MRO discussed in guidance paper 1.1: MROs resulting from multiple incidents occurring simultaneously (a fleet of small craft being overwhelmed, for example); or from migrant traffic; or as a result of a disaster on land.

1.3 This is the only real distinction we have made in these guidance papers, however, arguing that MRO planning should be generic. In the other guidance in this section (papers 2.1 – 2.7) we have reviewed issues that should be borne in mind throughout the planning process, whatever the cause of the MRO. There will be differences in detail when the plan has to be put into effect – and the plan must be flexible enough to allow for these – but the overall response will follow the same general pattern.

1.4 Here we briefly consider some situations in which this may not be the case. The general pattern of the plan may have to be adapted.

2 MROs in Remote Areas

2 MROs in Remote Areas

2.1 It can be difficult to define exactly what a 'remote area' is. In this context the IMO refer to "an area remote from SAR facilities"; that is, one where sufficient designated SAR units cannot reach the scene of an accident within survival times.

2.2 The IMO's discussion of this subject took place in the context of a major review of passenger ship safety. The review was prompted by the increasing size and carrying capacity of some passenger ships, and an increasing tendency to engage in 'adventure cruising', particularly into sparsely populated areas such as the coasts of Greenland and the Antarctic Peninsula. The concerns were two-fold. First, so many people are now being carried on the larger passenger ships that in the event of an accident there will be insufficient designated SAR units to rescue them all, wherever they sail. Secondly, passenger ships are now operating in areas that are barely covered by traditional SAR services at all.

2.3 The first concern lies at the very heart of the IMRF's MRO project and this series of guidance papers. It is the 'capability gap' discussed in guidance paper 1.4. The second concern is really an extension of the first. Starting with high latitude 'adventure cruises' it soon became apparent that, in fact, the potential problem was more widespread. Many designated SAR units cannot go very far from land; they may be too distant to arrive within survival times; or, in the case of long-range fixed-wing aircraft, they cannot carry out rescues when they do arrive. Mid-ocean areas are as 'remote' as the adventure cruising grounds. It is also the case that many coasts, particularly in the developing world, are not covered by designated SAR units. 'Remote areas' are more widespread than may at first appear.

2.4 In addressing this problem, the IMO sought to improve the rescue capability of 'additional facilities', typically nearby shipping (see guidance papers 3.1 & 2.4), and issued MSC Circular 1184, 'Enhanced contingency planning guidance for passenger ships operating in areas remote from SAR facilities'.

The Circular advises operators to enhance their SAR cooperation planning arrangements (see also MSC Circular 1079, 'Guidelines for preparing plans for co-operation between SAR services and passenger ships'); to carry enhanced life-saving appliances, so as to extend survival times; and to coordinate their schedules so that at least two passenger ships are in the same general area at the same time, meaning that, in the event of an accident to one, the other can act as a SAR resource.

Circular 1184 also suggests that the relevant authorities consider deploying additional life-saving resources into areas identified as being 'remote', and provides guidance on how to identify such areas, for risk assessment purposes: see guidance paper 1.3.

2.5 MRO planners should assess whether there are areas within their overall area of responsibility which are remote from SAR facilities, and what might be the causes of an MRO in such areas. There will be a greater reliance than usual on additional facilities, by definition, so the analysis should include an assessment of shipping and other operations in the areas identified. Depending on the results of this analysis, the SAR Coordinator should consider whether SAR-capable resources should be deployed to fill identified gaps.

2.6 The importance of the On Scene Coordinator role in all MROs, including operations remote from SAR facilities such as Rescue Coordination Centres and designated SAR units such as rescue vessels and helicopters, is discussed in guidance paper 4.4. Maritime / shoreside response coordination in such circumstances is discussed in guidance paper 4.8.

3 Catastrophic and Other Incidents Which Reduce MRO Capability

3 Catastrophic and Other Incidents Which Reduce MRO Capability

3.1 A 'catastrophic' incident is a widespread one which affects emergency responders themselves, damaging or destroying equipment or infrastructure and leaving personnel unable to respond. There will be a requirement for an MRO, but the ability to conduct one will be compromised.

3.2 In some circumstances MRO planning can allow for the catastrophic scenario. In areas of volcanic activity or prone to flooding, for example, extra resilience can be built in and/or regional support arrangements can be agreed. In other cases the plan will have to be adapted at the time, bringing in replacement resources, identifying alternative places of safety, and so on. This does not necessitate changes to the plan's fundamental structure, however; only to its details. Flexibility is, again, key.

3.3 In general, planners should consider whether they are placing too much reliance on particular resources or procedures. After all, it does not necessarily take a catastrophic incident to require a change of plan. Some rescue resources may not be available when needed, and some locations identified as landing sites or places of safety may be unusable. Wherever possible, plan alternatives.

4 Emergencies Caused by Deliberate Acts

4 Emergencies Caused by Deliberate Acts

4.1 The list of possible emergencies considered above generally assumes accidental or natural causes. It is, unfortunately, also the case that an MRO will be required following a deliberate act – terrorism, arson, hostile military action, etc. This sort of cause will introduce another layer to the response, which may require SAR plans and actions to be adapted.

4.2 It will usually be the case when the incident is or appears to be accidental that it will be investigated for possible culpability as well as for future accident prevention purposes. The investigating authorities will need to be involved at an early stage, but they do not impact on the MRO itself. If the cause is, or appears to be, a deliberate act, however, law enforcement or other government agencies will have some impact on the plan – but it still may not be a fundamental one. If arson is suspected as the cause of a ferry fire, for example, investigators may need to ensure that people rescued are detained until cleared of involvement; or they made require access to the vessel while the MRO is still going on.

4.3 In other cases – terrorism or hijacking are examples – the criminal act may itself be ongoing and the rescue of its victims will involve police action (including military responses).

4.4 Apart from noting the possibility of such complications, this guidance material does not cover criminal investigation or police action. The MRO plan will still need to be implemented at some point. It will be adapted as necessary under the direction of the law enforcement or other agencies, but – as in catastrophic incidents, another example of the plan being affected by external events – the fundamentals of the plan will remain the same. People in distress will still need to be rescued.

5 Migrants in Distress at Sea

5 Migrants in Distress at Sea

5.1 We have included this category of potential MRO in our general consideration of the subject because, if in distress, people should be rescued whatever their status, and the overall rescue process should not differ according to who is being rescued.

5.2 This principle is clearly established in international law. Article 98 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) states (in part) that:

“Every State shall require the master of a ship flying its flag, in so far as he can do so without serious danger to the ship, the crew or the passengers:
(a) to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost;
(b) to proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress, if informed of their need of assistance, in so far as such action may reasonably be expected of him […]”

5.3 The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) is also quite clear on the subject:

“The master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance, on receiving information from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance [...]. This obligation to provide assistance applies regardless of the nationality or status of such persons or the circumstances in which they are found [...].”

SOLAS Regulation V/33.1

Similarly, the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue makes clear that States who are party to the Convention, “on receiving information that any person is, or appears to be, in distress at sea [...] shall take urgent steps to ensure that the necessary assistance is provided [...].”

SAR Convention, Annex 2.1.1

These obligations apply to all vessels at sea, with certain very specific exceptions such as warships, which are nevertheless encouraged to comply.

5.4 The key phrase in this context is probably that in SOLAS: the obligation to provide assistance applies “regardless of nationality or status”. Although not explicitly stated in any of these conventions, it is clearly implicit that the obligation to rescue applies to asylum seekers and migrants in the same way as it does to anyone else in distress at sea.

5.5 Although this is generally accepted by States’ SAR authorities, our argument here is a little disingenuous. The point of principle is absolutely clear: people in distress at sea must be retrieved, have their immediate needs attended to and be delivered to a place of safety, whoever they are. However: migrants and asylum-seekers are a special case when it comes to being landed.

5.6 We are concerned here with people who attempt to enter a State by irregular means and by sea, often in vessels which are unseaworthy due to their build, condition, crewing or equipment. In international humanitarian law distinctions are made between refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants; but their status is almost always unknown at the point of rescue, and there have been cases of delay in landing. That, unfortunately, has led to reports of people not being rescued, because their potential rescuer is concerned about the possibility of costly delay. There are also issues arising from rescue in territorial waters, cases where ‘distress’ is unclear, and as regards the principle of ‘non-refoulement’.

5.7 Non-refoulement is “a concept which prohibits States from returning a refugee or asylum seeker to territories where there is a risk that his or her life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

‘The scope and content of the principle of non-refoulement: Opinion’, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht and Daniel Bethlehem, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2001.

Although this is a principle enshrined in international humanitarian law, the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual does not specifically include it in its definition of ‘place of safety’ (see guidance paper 2.7). However, the IMRF takes the view that this is implicit. IAMSAR says that a ‘place of safety’ is “a location […] 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.” It does not include ‘freedom’ in its short list of examples – but it does not exclude it either.

5.8 The question about rescue in someone else’s territorial waters relates to whether ‘irregular migrants’ picked up and taken on to a place of safety in a State they were trying to reach have been illegally assisted to migrate by the rescuer. The IMRF takes the view, first, that the question of whether the waters where the rescue takes place are ‘territorial’ or ‘international’ is strictly irrelevant. The international conventions (UNCLOS, SOLAS and the SAR Convention) make no such distinction. Someone in distress at sea should be rescued whatever the status of the sea s/he is in.

5.9 The IMRF also takes the view that the place of safety to which survivors are taken should be selected according to the criteria discussed in guidance paper 2.7, including the principle of non-refoulement. If the State coordinating the rescue tells the rescuer to proceed to a particular place of safety, and it is not contrary to the survivors’ best interests to do so, the rescuer will comply – and this should avoid any concern about abetting legal migration. However, if the commander of the rescuing unit is concerned about any aspect of the place of safety proposed, s/he should discuss this concern with the coordinating rescue coordination centre and, if necessary, with the unit’s flag State authorities, usually via the unit’s parent organisation ashore.

5.10 The reaction of rescued people to being taken to a place of safety in a State they do not want to go to may be among the commander of the rescuing unit’s concerns. Security is a key factor. This too should be discussed as necessary with the relevant authorities. The International Chamber of Shipping’s ‘Large scale rescue operations at sea’ gives very useful guidance in this respect.

5.11 There was also been discussion about what actually constitutes ‘distress’. There have been cases of obviously unseaworthy migrant craft being encountered under way and not making distress signals, usually because they wish to leave a particular State’s territorial waters or not be rescued by a particular unit. Some authorities have argued that rescue is not yet required in such circumstances. Others contend that such craft are so unseaworthy that they are effectively in distress already.

5.12 The Maritime SAR Convention defines the ‘distress phase’ as “a situation wherein there is a reasonable certainty that a person, a vessel or other craft is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance.” The IMRF’s view is that this hinges on the phrase “reasonable certainty”: the Convention does not mention distress signals or being stopped in the water. The judgement is essentially one of seamanship and common sense. You cannot rescue people who refuse to be rescued; but if it is ‘reasonably certain’ that they are in danger and that they will need to be rescued, sooner or later, the SAR authorities should react accordingly, offering rescue and keeping the vessel concerned under observation, with rescue units to hand.

5.13 There is one final point to make here. We noted above that the legal status of people in this sort of situation will almost always be unknown at the point of rescue. Are they refugees, with a legitimate claim to asylum, or are they economic migrants trying to avoid border controls? What is clear is that this assessment must be one made by the proper authorities, after rescue. Commanders of rescuing units cannot and must not make this assessment themselves, and should decline and seek further advice if they are asked to do so.

5.14 Put simply, people in distress at sea are simply people. Their legal status can only be determined once they have been delivered to a place of safety. The IMRF position is that the requirements to rescue incorporated in international law include both delivery to a place of safety and facilitating that delivery. Ships’ masters and others wishing to fulfil their SAR duties should be assured by the local SAR authorities that they will be allowed to disembark people they recover at sea without delay. If the ‘migrant problem’ is likely to be encountered locally, it should be built into the MRO planning.

6 Summary

6 Summary

o In general, MRO planning should be generic, and sufficiently flexible to enable the plan to be implemented whatever the details of the case. There are some circumstances, however, which may require wider variations in the planning.
o MRO planners should assess whether areas within their overall area of responsibility are remote from SAR facilities, and what might be the causes of an MRO in such areas.
o Planners should bear in mind that MRO resources included in the plan may not be available at the time the plan has to be put into effect, for a variety of reasons, and consider alternatives accordingly.
o Emergencies may be caused deliberately, which will increase the involvement in the response of law enforcement and other agencies and may require the MRO plan to be adapted.
o Irregular migration is a special case in the sense that people whose legal status is unclear will have to be managed differently at the final place of safety. Every effort should be made, however, to ensure that the rest of the MRO, including delivery to the final place of safety, is not affected by concerns over legal status, and that the principle of non-refoulement is upheld.

7 Further Reading

7 Further Reading

7.1 For further reading on mass rescue operations planning, and supporting resources, follow this link.

7.2 Regarding operations in remote areas, see the IMO's MSC Circular 1184 'Enhanced contingency planning guidance for passenger ships operating in areas remote from SAR facilities'.

7.3 Regarding irregular migration, see the IMO / UNHCR publication 'Rescue at Sea: a guide to principles and practice as applied to migrants and refugees', and the International Chamber of Shipping's 'Large scale rescue operations at sea'.

2.7 General Guidance on the ‘Place of Safety’

Written by David Jardine-Smith. Posted in Planning

Contents

Contents

This paper discusses:

o   the 'place of safety' in the mass rescue context
o   what constitutes a place of safety, and what provisions need to be planned for
o   survivor safety, shelter and security
o   medical needs
o   welfare needs
o   the provision of information to, and the collection of information from, survivors
o   survivor communications facilities
o   shoreside transport and accommodation

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'. The guidance in this section focuses on various MRO planning issues.

1.2 This guidance paper considers the 'place of safety' from the perspective of the survivor's needs. For discussion of the need for planned coordination of at-sea and shoreside responses, see guidance papers 4.1, 'General guidance on command, control & coordination'; 4.8, 'Maritime / shoreside coordination'; and 4.9, 'Communications'.

2 Rescue

2 Rescue

2.1 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". It is useful to consider this in three sections – 'retrieval', providing for survivors' initial needs, and delivery to a 'place of safety'.

2.2 This paper considers the question of delivering people to places of safety in mass rescue situations. For discussion of the retrieval of the people in distress see guidance paper 2.4. For discussion of supporting survivors in transit see guidance paper 2.6.

3 The 'Place of Safety'

3 The 'Place of Safety'

3.1 A 'place of safety' is defined in the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual 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."

3.2 Getting survivors to places of safety is the aim of rescue, and hence of mass rescue operations. The 'place of safety' is, by definition, the end of the rescue phase. In guidance paper 2.6 we discuss the concept of temporary safety aboard a rescue facility during transfer to the 'final' place of safety. The aim should be to provide as much support to survivors as is practicable during this temporary transfer phase.

3.3 By definition, however, the final place(s) of safety should be such that

o   survivors' safety of life is no longer threatened
o   they are sheltered from the elements
o   they can be given food and drink
o   their medical needs can be met
o   transport can be arranged to their next destination

3.4 The IMO’s list of ‘basic human needs’ is not exhaustive. We can debate what else the list should include, but we can certainly add:

o   sanitary facilities
o   information provision
o   communications facilities
o   personal security and privacy

Please also see guidance paper 2.8 as regards the humanitarian principle of ‘non-refoulement’, which provides that people should not be landed in territories where there is a threat to their lives or freedom on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

3.5 MRO planners should ensure that all these items are assured at their planned 'places of safety'. They are considered in turn below. Additional support may also be required:

o   transport from landing sites to reception centres and/or medical facilities
o   change of, or extra, clothing
o   re-warming
o   decontamination
o   counselling
o   consular support
o   accommodation and onward transport
o   other welfare needs

3.6 Planners and responders should remember that survivors are sources of information too. They will have needs, which we should plan to meet; but they will also have information of value to the various authorities investigating the incident. Careful and considerate collection of this information, at the place of safety or at some future date, should also be specifically planned for.

3.7 Survivors may also have information of potentially vital importance to the ongoing rescue effort. They may know of people trapped, for example, or they may have seen people drifting away. Care of the survivors, who may have been traumatised by their experience, must be balanced against the need to acquire any such information without delay. Ideally this process should have at least started during the transfer to the place of safety, so we discuss it in guidance paper 2.6.

4 Safety, Shelter, Security

4 Safety, Shelter, Security

4.1 A place of safety is, of course, a place where people will be safe. There will be no immediate threats of harm to them: they are protected.

4.2 It is not strictly essential that they feel safe, but, if this can be arranged, survivors will be happier and therefore easier to look after. Reassurance and good information flow are key to achieving this.

4.3 It is essential for the place of safety to be sheltered from the elements. It should be dry, out of the wind and sun, and – in a cold climate – warm enough to prevent the onset of hypothermia (remember that survivors will be sitting or lying; they may be injured, ill, frightened, elderly, very young, etc) and to enable survivors who are already hypothermic to be treated effectively. Conversely, in hot climates, the place of safety should shelter survivors from the heat.

4.4 It should also be secure. Survivors need to be protected from outside interference. They may wish to talk to the news media, for example – but equally they may not. They may also be prone to other threats; opportunistic theft, for example. Access to survivors must therefore be strictly controlled.

4.5 In the early stages this includes keeping them separate from family and friends. They are not likely to want this, and the separation period should be kept as short as possible for obvious humanitarian reasons – but survivors and their needs should be clearly identified before they are allowed to mix with other people. Mixing will tend to lead to confusion, with survivors being missed or leaving the place of safety before they have been recorded.

4.6 As discussed in guidance paper 2.6, survivors may also be at some risk from each other. If practicable, the place of safety should be so arranged that those needing privacy can obtain it. A low-key security presence within reception centres is advisable, to ensure people are not troubled by outsiders or their fellow survivors.

4.7 Places of safety should be identified at the planning stage (see also guidance paper 4.8). It should be noted, however, that in very large MROs or in catastrophic incidents (in which the response agencies are themselves adversely affected – see guidance paper 2.8) the planned facilities may be overwhelmed. It is essential to work with local communities at the planning stage to identify suitable primary and secondary places of safety, however basic the latter may have to be. The first principle is that of shelter. If the ferry terminal or community hall is too small, or, in a catastrophic emergency, is unavailable, what about schools, recreation centres, government and other public buildings, places of worship – even buses etc?

4.8 People can be safe without necessarily feeling so – but they will be much easier to control and help if they feel safe too. Self-control is highly important here. People will be better able to control themselves, and to do what is asked of them, if they can see the point of what is being done with them and that it is for their good. After a disaster they expect to be taken somewhere safe, out of the weather, where they will be looked after. They will put up with some discomfort during the transfer stage if they can see that this is their rescuers' aim. Security and shelter will be their first expectations on arrival at the 'place of safety' – which means that they will be more likely to comply with your plans if you provide these things; and that you can expect trouble if you do not!

5 Medical Needs

5 Medical Needs

5.1 After shelter, the second principle is that of medical triage and care. Ideally, triage should have begun aboard the unit in distress. It should certainly be a primary aim aboard rescue units while survivors are being transferred to the 'final' place of safety. For that reason we discuss triage and first aid in guidance paper 2.6.

5.2 Triage should be repeated at each staging post in the rescue process; and it should become progressively more sophisticated, stage by stage. Aboard the unit in distress, for example, it may be simply a matter of distinguishing between those who can and cannot help themselves. A more thorough review should take place aboard the rescuing unit: this is described in guidance paper 2.6.

5.3 A further review should be conducted at the landing sites, this time by medical professionals, whether or not this expertise has been available earlier in the rescue process. Some people may be re-categorised at this point, either because their condition has worsened or improved or because the earlier and more hasty assessments have been incorrect. In any event, people will now be routed according to their medical needs – to permanent or temporary medical establishments; to survivor reception centres if uninjured or only lightly injured; or, in the case of the confirmed dead, to permanent or temporary mortuary facilities.

5.4 Medical assessment and triage does not end at this point. Survivors should continue to be monitored in the medical establishments and the reception centres and re-categorised as necessary. This is a matter for the medical professionals now overseeing their care.

5.5 There are two broad categories of medical need in these circumstances: the injuries and conditions that people have acquired as a result of the incident itself, and pre-existing requirements for care and/or medication. Among the complicating factors in the first category is the possibility that people will have been exposed to contaminants, including oils. Re-warming and treatment for near-drowning are similar examples of the need for specialised care. Those responsible for planning to receive people at the place of safety should assess the possible risks, and be prepared to provide suitable treatment. See also 'welfare needs' below.

5.6 It is, understandably, usually the case in an MRO that physical symptoms will be the first to be noticed, and their underlying causes treated. But it is also usually the case that people involved in such an incident will be to some extent mentally traumatised by it. They will need care, understanding, reassurance and, when it can be provided, professional counselling.

5.7 Planners should note that it is not only survivors who are likely to need this help. Rescuers too will be operating in unusual and very stressful circumstances. There are also other categories of people, easily overlooked, who may be adversely affected: support staff, for example, and on-lookers swept up in the incident. The passengers on assisting passenger ships are an example of the latter.

5.8 As elsewhere in our study of MROs, it is clear that the medical needs are likely to overwhelm the resources normally available, and that extra resource must therefore be identified. The provision of additional medical resources on land should be as provided for in wider major incident planning. In the case of a maritime MRO, planners should additionally consider the value and practicalities of transferring medical teams offshore, either to the scene of the incident itself, or to rescue facilities on their way to landing sites.

5.9 As discussed in guidance papers 2.4 & 3.3, one way to overcome the 'capability gap' in MROs is to leave those in distress on their parent unit (if, of course, it is safe to do so) and support them there until they can be delivered to a place of safety. Providing medical support on scene is a necessary part of this process, preferably by delivery of relevant experts, trained and equipped for such a response. A less satisfactory alternative is to provide medical expertise remotely, via suitable communications links. See IAMSAR Volume II chapters 1.4 and 6.6, and appendix R; and Volume III 'Medical assistance to vessels'.

5.10 Survivors can help each other. Those whose medical or other caring expertise may have been called upon during earlier stages of the rescue should be able to hand over these responsibilities at the place of safety – they themselves will be in need of care – but the general principles of self-support still apply. Asking people to look after each other helps ease the load on busy response staff to some extent, and, by giving them something useful to do, will be of benefit to the 'carers' as well as their fellow survivors.

6 Food, Drink & Other Welfare Needs

6 Food, Drink & Other Welfare Needs

6.1 Survivors' most pressing concern, likely to precede all others, will be for any missing family members and friends. See guidance paper 2.5, and 'accounting for people' in guidance paper 2.6 and below. But they will have other needs too, which should be addressed as best possible at the final place of safety.

6.2 Simple, nutritious food and warm and cold drinks, especially water, should be freely available at the place of safety. You do not wish to add to people's concerns, so foodstuffs that meet all the major cultural dietary requirements should be provided if at all possible; and bottled water is easier to dispense as well as being more obviously potable. Nutritional advice should be sought at the planning stage. Try to avoid complications. A hot meal is very good, especially if people have been brought in from a cold environment – but it does, obviously, require heating.

6.3 Sufficient provision should also be made for people's sanitary needs. Portable toilets may be required to back up local provision. Basic washing facilities should also be available, so that survivors can clean themselves up. Decontamination, if required, is a specialist function; and showers etc may be needed for supervised re-warming – but these are part of the medical response, and should be planned for separately. In all cases, survivors' basic decency and rights of privacy should be respected – so must be planned for.

6.4 Survivors' clothing may be wet, contaminated or soiled. Clean, dry clothing should be made available at the place of safety: arrangements can be made with local clothing suppliers and retailers on an on-call basis to avoid the need to stockpile. Again, bear differing cultural requirements in mind, and remember that people come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, including babies and children. It is better to have clothing which is too large than otherwise. Secluded areas, separated by gender, should be provided as changing rooms. Arrange, too, for large supplies of blankets to be readily available. Remember that survivors can feel cold even in warm conditions – and blankets are comforting.

6.5 Individual survivors may have a wide variety of special needs. These include prescription medications, left behind in the crisis, and mobility aids such as wheelchairs. Surprisingly high percentages of people, especially the elderly, may be more or less dependent on prescription medicines; and even people who did not require mobility aids before the incident may do so now. These elements are part of the medical and medical support response. An uninjured survivor may still need a doctor to prescribe vital replacement medicines; and the health services are likely to be the best source of mobility aids.

6.6 As always, balances need to be struck between objectively assessed levels of need and needs expressed by survivors. Some people will be demanding, others reluctant to make a fuss: that is human nature. At the place of safety, triage is a matter of sorting out welfare priorities as well as medical ones.

6.7 Specialist social welfare personnel should be used to assess individuals' needs and prioritise them. As well as the needs already discussed, people will have lost belongings and papers and will need help accordingly. They may have come ashore without ID, money, credit cards etc. They are unlikely to be where they expected to be; they may not be in a country they expected to visit; they may not have any local support networks of their own to fall back on; they may have only the clothes they stand up in; they may not speak the local language. Each of these needs will have to be addressed. Foreign nationals may need consular support.

6.8 Where the incident has involved one of the passenger-carrying industries (ferry or cruise ship operators or airlines) or one of the offshore industries, they should be able to assist in the reception centres. They may even take the lead, particularly as regards seeing to their passengers' and staff welfare needs. It has been well said that, while local authorities have a responsibility to respond, the operator concerned will usually have the means, especially the financial means, either to do so direct or in support of the local authorities. The operator has responsibilities too, of course; and it is very much in their interest to assist. They will still need strong support from the local emergency response authorities, however, and this should be mutually pre-planned where practicable.

6.9 In some cases – migrants rescued at sea, for example – there will be additional complications. The State they land in may wish to detain them until their status can be determined; but for our purposes these people are simply the subjects of a rescue operation, and should be treated in the same way as any others during rescue, up to and including at the place of safety.

6.10 Welfare needs are also likely to include the provision of temporary mortuary facilities. These should be out of survivors' sight if at all possible and incapable of being accessed by the general public.

7 Communications

7 Communications

7.1 We should consider survivor communications in three categories: providing information to survivors; acquiring information from survivors; and providing communications facilities for survivors to use for their own purposes – principally contacting their family and friends to assure them of their survival.

7.2 All too often in major incidents survivors complain of a lack of information. What is being done to find missing family members or friends, for example; and what is being done for the survivors themselves? Busy responders may well have other, higher priorities, and, in consequence, tend to treat survivors as objects to be rescued rather than human beings with information needs – and individual responders are unlikely to have the required information anyway. But survivors will be placated if they can be confident that they are being given as much information as possible – and will be easier to manage in consequence.

7.3 It is therefore in everyone's interests to plan for the provision of information to survivors, at all stages of the rescue but particularly in the controlled environment of the place of safety. (See also guidance paper 2.6.) As always, communications should be planned and should be limited to facts. Speculation and vagueness must be avoided: they will not help. Communications officers should be identified, and a reliable flow of information provided for them to relay to the survivors. Ideally these staff should be trained for this potentially difficult role. They should certainly have a basic understanding of the rescue process the survivors find themselves in, so as to be able to answer general questions.

7.4 Essential to successful communication is a common language. If survivors and responders do not share a language communications will fail and problems will mount. Simple visual signage will help – direction signs, for example – and briefings, information collection forms etc can be prepared in a range of languages. The best solution, however, is to provide interpretation services, ideally on-site – although telephone / internet-based interpretation services are also available. Consular services and locally-based language teachers are alternative sources of linguistic support – as are the survivors themselves.

7.5 As noted above, and as discussed in guidance paper 2.6, survivors are sources of information too. This information can, again, be placed into two basic categories: information of value to the ongoing rescue effort, which needs to be collected now, sensitively but positively; and information of value to the investigation of the incident underlying the MRO.

7.6 Accident investigation is a very important task, and the investigating authorities will need to know how to contact all those involved – but information collection for this purpose does not have the same immediacy as obtaining any information survivors may have that will be of assistance to the ongoing rescue effort.

7.7 Communications is, as ever, a two-way process. The survivor communications officers at the places of safety should, in addition to providing information to survivors, be seeking relevant information from them. See guidance paper 2.6 for a discussion of the sort of information that may be available from survivors, and which should, ideally, be carefully sought from them during the transfer phase as well as at the final place of safety. Such survivor evidence should be treated with caution, as it may be incomplete or, in the case of people without maritime experience, misinterpreted. However, relevant information should be passed without delay to the Rescue Coordination Centre. It should never be simply ignored.

7.8 It follows that robust and reliable communications need to be established and maintained between the places of safety ashore and the RCC. These need not be, and perhaps should not be, direct communications links, to avoid overload: they may be via a shoreside coordinating centre – see guidance papers 4.1 & 4.9. It is also important to maintain reliable communications with 'temporary places of safety' if people are likely to be kept there for prolonged periods.

7.9 Finally, it is important to provide communications facilities for survivors to use for their own purposes – principally contacting their family and friends to assure them of their survival. This will provide relief to both sides, and will again make the management of the situation easier. Enabling survivors to talk with their families and friends is another welfare need that should be planned for.

8 Accounting for People

8 Accounting for People

8.1 As regards the ongoing MRO operation, the most immediately important part of the information flow to and from survivors is to do with the difficult task of accounting for everyone involved. In addition to confirming their own identities, survivors can provide information about missing friends and family members. In an MRO such people may well be aboard other rescue units, or may have been delivered to other places of safety. Survivors may also have useful information about other people, unknown to them; still aboard the casualty, for example, or seen to have been drifting away.

8.2 As noted above, communications links need to be established and maintained so that this information can be collated. The actual task of collating information – from the scene, from responding units, and from landing sites and reception centres – is a very demanding one. Responsibility and resources for it should be agreed at the planning stage.

8.3 See guidance paper 2.5 for a fuller discussion of the problem of accounting for people involved in an MRO.

9 Shoreside Transport & Accommodation

9 Shoreside Transport & Accommodation

9.1 Transport will need to be provided at the 'final' place(s) of safety, for example from landing sites to reception centres and/or medical facilities. Even uninjured people should not be expected to walk any distance to reception centres if this can be avoided. Transportation – buses and coaches – should be planned into the response.

9.2 Experience has also shown that it is easier to count people as they are moved away from controlled landing sites in buses etc than in open spaces such as the landing site or reception centre themselves. See guidance paper 2.5.

9.3 Onward transport will also be required, from reception centres, and from medical and temporary mortuary facilities. Where people will go to will vary, usually depending on their intended destination before the incident occurred and on whether they simply wish to go home instead. In some circumstances neither case will apply: people evacuated by sea following a shore-based emergency, for example, were not intending to travel and may now have no home to go back to. Migrants will have been seeking a new home, but will not be permitted to travel freely by immigration authorities. But the point here, from an MRO planning point of view, is that people cannot stay for long periods in reception centres set up in response to the emergency. They must move on.

9.4 Emergency reception centres will be unsuitable, in most cases, for anything other than short-term accommodation. Put simply, planners need to work out where people can sleep. Ideally, hotel accommodation etc can be identified in the vicinity. But what if the place of safety is remote, or hotel accommodation is limited? These factors should be borne in mind when identifying potential places of safety.

9.5 There are two basic solutions. The first is to arrange to move people away from the area after they have been through the reception process, to places where accommodation is available or to their preferred onward destination. This implies the need for transport facilities. The second option is to extend the place of safety's capabilities by bringing in bedding etc, as well as making longer-term plans for catering for other welfare needs as discussed above. This, in turn, implies sourcing the necessary materials and arranging for their rapid transport to the place of safety.

9.6 Where the incident has involved one of the passenger-carrying or offshore industries, it should be the case that the operator concerned will lead on arranging both onward transport and accommodation. They will also be of assistance in the reception centres as discussed above.

9.7 In other circumstances, when there is no obvious industry lead, the local authorities (including consular authorities and/or relevant government departments) will have to make the arrangements themselves.

10 Summary

10 Summary

o   'Places of safety' need to be planned to be effective.
o   This means considering at the planning stage all the things that may need to be provided: local transport; safety, shelter and security; medical support; welfare support, including food, drink, clothing and sanitary facilities; interpretation services and so on.
o   It is best to pre-select places of safety, based on ease of landing survivors and the local facilities available, including supply and re-supply facilities as appropriate and onward transport and accommodation requirements.
o   Where the incident has involved one of the passenger-carrying or offshore industries, they should be able to assist. Their involvement should be pre-planned.
o   Effective communications to and from survivors are necessary, and communications facilities should be made available to survivors whenever possible.
o   The place of safety is the end of the rescue process, but it is not the end of the incident for the survivors or, usually, of their need for assistance. In the same way that the at-sea response should be carefully integrated with the shoreside response, so the arrangements for the place of safety should be integrated with those for the survivors' onward transport and accommodation.

11 Further Reading

11 Further Reading

11.1 For further reading on mass rescue operations planning, and supporting resources, follow this link.

11.2 The IAMSAR Manual contains general guidance on MROs, including arrangements for places of safety, in Volume II chapter 6.15, especially 6.15.67-71, and appendix C. Medical care of survivors is discussed at chapter 6.16; debriefing survivors at 6.17; and the handling of the dead at 6.18.

2.4 General Guidance on ‘Retrieval’ in Mass Rescue Situations

Written by David Jardine-Smith. Posted in Planning

Contents

Contents

This paper discusses:

o   the 'retrieval' part of 'rescue'
o   the wide range of persons in distress who may have to be retrieved
o   sources of guidance on retrieval operations
o   the priorities for retrieval in a mass rescue operation

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'. The guidance in this section focuses on various MRO planning issues.

2 Rescue

2 Rescue

2.1 The International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual defines '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". It is useful to consider this in three parts – 'retrieval'; providing for survivors' initial needs; and delivery to a 'place of safety'.

2.2 This paper considers the question of retrieving people in mass rescue situations. For discussion of survivor support during rescue see guidance paper 2.6. For discussion of places of safety see guidance paper 2.7.

3 'Persons in Distress' - A Wide Range of Challenges

3 'Persons in Distress' – A Wide Range of Challenges

3.1 There are many different situations in which an MRO may be required. When it comes to rescue, however, the cause of the accident or incident is less important than its results. What are the rescue challenges an MRO presents?

3.2 As discussed in guidance papers 1.1 & 2.1, 'persons in distress' can fall into several categories. They may be:

IAMSAR defines distress as "a situation wherein there is reasonable certainty that a vessel or other craft, including an aircraft or a person, is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance".

  still aboard their craft or installation, which is disabled or endangered in some way but not in immediate need of abandonment
  still aboard but needing to be retrieved
  in survival craft of various types (some of which are not designed for easy egress at sea)
  in the water or clinging to flotsam, etc.
  on land, either because they have reached it from the sea, or because this is a land-based emergency from which they need to be rescued by sea; or
  on structures they have reached as temporary refuges.

3.3 Are people able to remain aboard their craft, installation etc actually in distress; in "grave and imminent danger"? We take a reasonably broad view of this here: what is important is that a mass rescue operation is required: a large number of people need help. If that operation can be conducted by 'rescuing' the parent unit too, so much the better – but it is the rescue, by whatever means, of the people at risk that counts, rather than the immediacy of that risk. They are in distress because they cannot help themselves. An MRO is therefore required. (See also guidance paper 3.3.)

3.4 There are further possible complications. Those in need of rescue may be:

  trained or untrained in survival techniques
  experienced or inexperienced in maritime matters
  able or unable to understand instructions
  able or unable to assist in their own rescue – they may be of limited physical ability to begin with; they may be injured; they may be old or very young; or they may be hypothermic, or seasick, or terrified.

3.5 Then there are the weather, sea, visibility and temperature conditions to consider. Does the sea state permit retrieval? Can something be done to ease it – creating a lee or a 'smooth', or towing survivors to a more sheltered position? Is it foggy, or dark? What are the risks of people succumbing to the cold, or to their injuries or other medical conditions? Can we afford to wait until conditions improve?

3.6 There is an additional, and particularly challenging, difficulty in some cases. People requiring rescue may be trapped aboard the casualty unit by flooding, fire etc. To retrieve people in such circumstances will require specialist knowledge and equipment. We discuss this further in guidance paper 3.3.

3.7 To 'retrieve persons in distress' is always likely to be a challenge; and those responding to any distress alert have to be ready to deal with any of the situations outlined above. We can simplify the variations a little, for the purposes of planning:

  Can those 'in distress' remain aboard their vessel, installation or survival craft, where support can be given to them until they can be transferred to a place of safety ; for example by towing a disabled vessel to port?
  For support during rescue see guidance papers 2.6 & 3.3, and for transfer to places of safety see guidance paper 2.7.
  Alternatively, must those in distress be transferred to rescue facilities (SAR units and/or other craft on scene)?
  In either case can they look after themselves, or to what extent must they rely on assistance?

3.8 In a mass rescue operation, these challenges are exacerbated by the scale of the operation required – it is one which is outside normal capabilities. There will be major questions of prioritisation to add to the other problems: who should be rescued first, and how can the remainder be kept alive until it is their turn?

3.9 Each of these issues is considered in more detail below and in further guidance referenced.

4 Remaining Aboard

4 Remaining Aboard

4.1 There is sometimes a tendency to regard 'rescue' as necessarily retrieving people in distress into other facilities – rescue boats or ships, helicopters etc – before transferring them to a place of safety. But this is not always necessary. Until it becomes untenable, the 'ship may be the best lifeboat', as the saying goes – whatever the size of the 'ship' in question.

4.2 In normal SAR operations in which the vessel or other unit in distress is still habitable, or when people have successfully transferred to survival craft, whether to retrieve people into rescue facilities is a matter of judgement by the rescuers and the people in distress themselves – particularly the commander of the unit in distress. Various factors need to be taken into account, including the state of the craft (now, and as the situation develops); how easy it is to tow it with the distressed people in it to a place of safety; what their condition is; how easy it is to support them where they are while the rescue proceeds, and so on.

4.3 MROs are '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'. This obviously complicates the rescue question further. Even if the normal response might be to take everyone off the unit in distress, the 'capability gap' means that, in an MRO, there are insufficient SAR units available to do it. Leaving people aboard, and supporting them there, is one possible solution to the problem.

4.4 For further consideration of how to provide on-board support as a possible alternative to evacuation, see guidance paper 3.3.

5 Retrieval

5 Retrieval

5.1 In some circumstances leaving people aboard their parent vessel, survival craft etc will not be an option. They will have to be transferred to rescue facilities at sea – a process sometimes called 'recovery'; the 'retrieval' part of the IMO's definition of rescue.

5.2 The principal difficulties in recovery operations are sea state, and hence the comparative movement of the recovery object (the vessel in distress, the survival craft, the person in the water, etc) and the rescue unit, and the sizes of the two units. Much comparative movement will make transfer into the rescue unit difficult; and if one unit is much smaller than the other, people will have to climb or be lifted or lowered.

5.3 Recovery of people by units specifically equipped and trained for rescue, and accustomed to carrying it out in a variety of conditions, is normally the best solution. This is what rescue units do, and no more need be said here: each organisation will have its own carefully worked-out procedures. General guidance is contained in IAMSAR: particularly Volume II, chapter 6.

Advice and assistance can also be obtained from the IMRF: contact info@imrf.org.uk

5.4 However, in MROs, by definition, there will be insufficient specialist SAR units available. If people have to be recovered, extra resources will be required. These will usually be ships and other vessels in the area of the incident; and their equipment, training and experience is likely to be limited. General advice may be found in IAMSAR Volume II chapter 6.15 and in Volume III.

Volume II chapter 6.15.23-27 and Volume III section 2 in particular.

5.5 IMO's Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention requires, under regulation V/33, that the masters of ships should provide assistance to people in distress at sea.

SOLAS Chapter V applies to "all ships on all voyages" except government ships or ships navigating solely on the Great Lakes of North America. However, excluded vessels are encouraged to "act in a manner consistent" with this chapter. Regulation V/33 may therefore be said to apply to almost all vessels at sea, of whatever size or type and whatever their trade or other occupation.

From 1 July 2014 ships on international voyages are required, under SOLAS regulation III/17-1, to have plans and procedures for recovery of persons from the water. IMO Resolution MSC.346(91) invites SOLAS Contracting Governments to decide the extent to which this requirement should also apply to ships not on international voyages and other shipping to which SOLAS Chapter III does not apply. This all means that most ships should have at least planned to recover people, and therefore that they should be able to help fill the capability gap.

5.6 The IMO has developed guidance on how to apply regulation III/17-1. It may be found in MSC Circular 1447, 'Guidelines for the development of plans and procedures for recovery of persons from the water'. Note that this Circular and the regulation it supports only apply to recovery from the water, not from survival or other craft, although this distinction may not be particularly significant in practice.

5.7 Broader guidance on recovery techniques, including from survival craft etc, is available from the IMO in MSC Circular 1182, Rev.1 (the text of which is also published in the IMO's Pocket Guide to Recovery Techniques), and in IAMSAR Volume III. MSC Circular 1182 and the Pocket Guide also provide guidance on what to do to assist people in distress at sea when their recovery is not, or not yet, possible.

5.8 IMO's MSC Circular 1185, Rev.1, 'Guide for Cold Water Survival', includes guidance on rescuing people from the water and from survival craft, including their subsequent treatment. The text of this Circular is also published as the IMO's Pocket Guide for Cold Water Survival.

6 Priorities

6 Priorities

6.1 The aim of rescue is, of course, to save life – and this aim applies in mass rescue operations as in any other. In MROs, however, there is the capability gap.

6.2 Ways of filling that gap are discussed elsewhere in this series: see guidance papers 3.1, 3.2 & 3.3. But the problem can also give rise to questions of prioritisation; and determining life-saving priorities can sometimes be extremely difficult. In the worst-case scenario the rescuer might be faced with the question: 'There are too many people here. We cannot save them all. Which do we choose?'

6.3 The fundamental aim of the IMRF's MRO project is to make this question unnecessary. With the right preparation, lateral thinking and – always – luck, we should be able to save everybody. But this is not to say that we will not have to prioritise during the rescue: we almost always will.

6.4 The SAR response will often be dependent on the decisions of the commander of the unit in distress, who will also be assessing the priorities. If there is a chance – but not a certainty – that the unit will survive, what is the balance of risks of evacuation against keeping everyone aboard? And if evacuation, or partial evacuation, is required, who should go first?

This question sometimes gives rise to innovative solutions. At least one cruise company plans to ensure that trained crew members will be the first away, so that they can establish reception facilities, or help establish them, for passengers being brought to safety behind them.

6.5 In other circumstances, SAR responders, led by the SAR Mission Coordinator (SMC) and the On Scene Coordinator (OSC), will have to prioritise similar risks. In a normal case it might be best to evacuate a craft into designated SAR units at sea – but in an MRO there will be insufficient SAR unit capacity. The priority then might be to keep the craft tenable, whether it is the casualty vessel or a survival craft of some sort. (See guidance papers 3.3, 4.3 & 4.4.)

6.6 If an evacuation is or becomes necessary, who should leave first? It might be said that the injured or infirm should take priority. But why? If it takes less time to recover more able-bodied people, it can be argued that they should be the priority, on the greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number principle. There may be other options for the hard-to-handle cases – helicopters, for example, which, while very unlikely to be the first choice to manage the entire rescue on their own, may be better suited to lift the less able survivors. (See guidance paper 4.7.)

6.7 Where a commander of the unit in distress is still able to function and communicate with the OSC and/or the SMC, the priorities should be discussed. Knowing that there are insufficient SAR units available to recover everyone, or that winch-fitted helicopters are en route, may enable the commander to reprioritise. S/he may have no choice, of course: but, as ever, reliable information is key to good decision-making.

6.8 If people can be left where they are – on the parent vessel, in survival craft etc – and brought to safety that way, this should be the preferred option, for it helps solve the mass rescue problem. However, those in authority must keep the situation under close scrutiny and remain ready to commence evacuation and recovery at sea if it becomes necessary.

6.9 When evacuation is, or becomes, necessary, it should ideally be orderly – although this will not always be the case. Rescuers may find themselves faced with having to recover people from the water as well as from survival craft etc. In these circumstances another prioritisation process is required.

6.10 People in the water should always be prioritised over people out of it, even if the latter are not in proper survival craft. Survival times in water are significantly shorter than in air in the same ambient conditions. People without lifejackets or other buoyancy aids should be prioritised over people who have them and are using them more or less correctly, keeping their heads above water. People making no noise and unresponsive when questioned should be prioritised over people shouting for help: they are probably closer to drowning. Detailed discussion of the effect of environmental and other factors on available rescue time may be found in IAMSAR Volume II Chapter 3.8.6.

6.11 People who are very young or old, injured or otherwise disabled, or in mental distress should generally be prioritised; although rescuers may benefit from recovering some apparently capable survivors first, to help with further recoveries and/or to tend their companions as they are brought aboard. Remember that people already picked up will need support while others are still being retrieved. For the same reason, capable people should also be among the last to be picked up, as they will be needed to help the less able prepare for recovery.

6.12 Rescuers should also be aware of the dangers of 'circum-rescue collapse'. Some 20% of those who die as a result of immersion in cold water do so just before, during, or shortly after their retrieval.

6.13 After rescuers are as sure as circumstances permit that everyone has been recovered from the water, they should turn to those survivors who are out of it. The principles discussed above again apply, with people on makeshift rafts etc taking precedence over those in purpose-built survival craft.

6.14 We must also consider the matter of the clearly and the apparently dead. Both should be retrieved if possible, with the apparently dead being the priority. Remember that someone found floating face down in the water is not necessarily dead – but they soon will be if not recovered and treated. In an MRO, initial triage may have to be very rapid and hard-headed. An unresponsive person with their airway above water may be on the point of drowning: their recovery should take precedence over that of somebody who apparently already has drowned. But the latter should also be picked up and, even if no other treatment can be given immediately, placed in the recovery position. They too may survive.

6.15 Some people will be clearly dead when found, usually because of visible injuries sustained. While the living and those who may still be alive must be recovered first, bodies should be picked up too, if practicable. The main reasons for this are that:

the person's family and friends are also victims of the incident, and they will be helped, to some degree, by having their loved one's body returned to them
everyone involved in the incident needs to be accounted for
a body left in the sea is likely to attract the attention of other rescuers subsequently: investigating it will waste their time, and may put them at extra risk
accident investigators and other authorities will prefer to have bodies recovered to help them fulfil their own responsibilities.

6.16 Bodies should be placed on the rescue unit out of sight of survivors if practicable.

6.17 It may be impracticable for bodies to be recovered, usually because attempting to do so would place the rescue unit's crew at unacceptable risk. This is a decision for the rescue unit's commander. If it is so decided, the OSC and SMC must be informed of the fact, including the number of bodies concerned, their location, and the reason why recovery was not attempted or completed.

6.18 IMO's MSC Circular 1185, Rev.1, 'Guide for Cold Water Survival', includes guidance on treating the apparently dead. Advice on 'handling of deceased persons' may be found in IAMSAR Volume II Chapter 6.18 and Volume III.

6.19 The next stage of the rescue operation is considered in guidance paper 2.6. The difficult question of accounting for everyone involved is considered in guidance paper 2.5.

7 Summary

7 Summary

o   'Retrieval' is the first part of 'rescue' as defined in IAMSAR.
o   'Persons in distress' may be
      still aboard their parent unit, and may be able to stay there or may require taking off, now or as the incident develops
      in survival craft
      in the water, or clinging to wreckage or other floating objects
      on land or on a fixed installation.
o   They may or may not be able to assist in their own rescue.
o   Leaving people aboard their parent unit or survival craft may be an alternative to recovering them at sea.
o   Retrieval can be a very difficult operation, which should be prepared and trained for: the guidance material in the IAMSAR Manual and the other IMO publications noted above is recommended.
o   Retrieval possibilities and priorities should be carefully considered and agreed, at the planning stage and at the time of the incident.
o   A suggested retrieval priority list is annexed, as an aid to planning and training.

8 Further Reading

8 Further Reading

8.1 For further reading on mass rescue operations planning, and supporting resources, follow this link.

8.2 For further guidance on recovery, the documents cited in this paper are recommended; especially IAMSAR Volume II chapter 3.8.6 and chapter 6, and Volume III section 2; SOLAS III/17-1 and V/33; MSC Circulars 1447, 1182/Rev.1 and 1185/Rev.1; and IMO's Pocket Guide to Recovery Techniques and Pocket Guide for Cold Water Survival.

8.3 Further discussion of the MRO use of surface units is in guidance paper 4.6, and on using vessels of opportunity in particular in guidance paper 3.1. Guidance on the use of aircraft is in paper 4.7. Guidance on on-board support is in paper 3.3 .

ANNEX

ANNEX

Retrieval of Persons in Distress – Priorities

Mass rescue operations are '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'.

One way to fill this capability gap is to leave people aboard their vessel, survival craft etc and support them there until the vessel is towed to port or other means of retrieving them are arranged. This is recommended if achievable. The risks inherent in this course of action must be analysed in comparison with the alternative, recovery at sea, both at the outset and throughout the rescue operation. Circumstances may change, and the option of evacuation and recovery must be maintained.

If people must be recovered into rescue facilities (including vessels of opportunity) at sea, the following is a suggested priority list.

Note that this list is a suggestion only, designed to assist in planning and training. Local conditions or other circumstances of the case may require it to be altered.
Recovery, in priority order:

1.   People in the water
    a.   without functional buoyancy aids
        i.   people who are conscious but unresponsive
        ii.   people who are unconscious / apparently dead – but keep a close watch on the categories below for deterioration, which may be very rapid
        iii.   people who are responsive but less able (because of injury, age, cold, mental distress, etc.)
        iv.   people who are responsive and able
    b.   with functional buoyancy aids keeping the airway above water
        i.   a few people who are responsive and able, to assist with further recovery and in tending other survivors brought aboard
        ii.   people who are unresponsive
        iii.   people who are responsive but less able
        iv.   the remaining people who are responsive and able

2.   People out of the water, on makeshift rafts, wreckage etc
    i.   a few people who are responsive and able, to assist
    ii.   people who are unresponsive
    iii.   people who are responsive but less able
    iv.   the remaining people who are responsive and able

3.   People in survival craft: priority order as at 2 above

4.   The clearly dead.

2.5 General Guidance on Accounting for People Involved

Written by David Jardine-Smith. Posted in Planning

 

Contents

Contents

This paper discusses:

o   the problems of counting experienced in MROs
o   searches aboard the unit in distress
o   searches in the distress area
o   accounting for response personnel deployed to the casualty
o   what counting is required, when, and by what means
o   the problem of empty survival craft etc

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'. The guidance in this section focuses on various MRO planning issues.

2 The Problems of Counting

 

2 The Problems of Counting

2.1 Mass rescue incident and exercise experience has shown that counting people in such circumstances is a significant problem. Even counting people in relatively controlled situations – aboard a rescue unit, for example – can be difficult. Counting accurately in uncontrolled circumstances is practically impossible, especially if rescuers, relatives, reporters etc are mixed up indiscriminately with survivors.

2.2 Yet it is clearly essential that people should be accurately counted. This is partly to ensure that the next stage in the rescue chain can be alerted and prepared – so that there are sufficient reception and land transport facilities available, for example. But the main reason, in SAR terms, is that we need to ensure that everyone involved in the incident has been accounted for.

2.3 To ensure that we have accounted for everyone, we have to know how many people were at risk in the first place. In some cases this will not be known: in the rescue by sea of disparate people caught up in a land-based emergency, for example. In other cases it will be uncertain, or it may only become clear after a good deal of research has been done; when many small craft are overwhelmed by the weather, for example. Exact numbers can be uncertain even on a modern cruise ship or ferry.

2.4 In such circumstances, even accurate counts aboard rescue units, as people are landed, or in reception centres, will not assure us that everyone at risk has been accounted for, for the simple reason that we do not know, for sure, how many people were originally at risk. That is the first 'problem of counting'.

2.5 The second problem is that all the stakeholders in an MRO want to know numbers, and as soon as possible. How many are at risk? How many have been recovered? How many are going to which landing sites? How many buses and ambulances and hospital beds are needed? How many remain aboard? How many are missing...? These are all very important questions and most can, and must, be answered – in due course. But the second problem of counting is that it can assume too great an importance too early; that is, before everyone has been retrieved from grave and imminent danger. Carefully counting all those picked up will not help those left behind in the water.

2.6 There is also a risk of complacency. If we are told that 500 people were aboard the sinking ferry, for example, and quick head-counts aboard an assortment of rescue units give us a total of 500, can we say that everyone at risk has been accounted for? Of course not. There is reason to think that the initial figure might be inaccurate – and every reason to believe that totals arrived at by hasty head-counts will be. In other words, at least in the early stages of an MRO, we cannot account for everyone at risk by counting alone. It follows that we should not focus on counting to the exclusion of other activity.

3 Accounting for People

3 Accounting for People

3.1 The uncertainties discussed above lead to the conclusion that, to be sure that we have accounted for everyone, we should focus on ensuring that no-one is left behind. Searching therefore becomes a vital part of the MRO, even when the location of the accident is well known.

3.2 In some cases – a passenger ship or a ditched aircraft or an offshore installation that has to be abandoned, for example – SAR service personnel are reliant on the crew of the unit in distress to ensure that no-one remains aboard. It must not be assumed that everyone has gone to assembly stations in an orderly fashion. People go looking for friends and family. They go back to cabins for passports or medicines or treasured possessions. Some panic and may not behave logically. Terrified people can become immobile. They have even been known to hide.

3.3 It follows that on-board procedures should include 'sweeping' for people and sealing off areas that have been checked and confirmed empty. The On Scene Coordinator (OSC) and the SAR Mission Coordinator (SMC) will need to be assured by the commander of the unit in distress that this has been done.

3.4 SAR service responders' roles in accounting for people are then two-fold. They do need to count those who come into their care, and to begin to acquire information from them; but they also need to conduct searches of the area, to ensure that no-one has been overlooked.

4 Searches

4 Searches

4.1 Searches aboard the unit in distress are required as discussed above. These will almost always be conducted by that unit's own staff, at least in the vital early stages. Although trained external assistance may be appropriate in some circumstances, it is unlikely to be available at first.

4.2 SAR units and other responders should also conduct searches of the surrounding area. The search objects will include people who may have fallen into the water or entered it to make their escape, and small craft and survival craft which may have drifted away in the confusion – particularly in bad weather or at night. These searches should be conducted even if the evacuation is orderly – and even if no evacuation has officially begun: staying aboard a unit in distress may not seem the best survival response to some people, and they might decide to 'save themselves'.

4.3 Searches will be in addition to the other on-scene MRO activities. They should be coordinated, and have units specifically assigned to them. It is suggested that this work should be a sub-set of the overall on-scene response, with one SAR unit specifically tasked to organise it, reporting to the OSC. See guidance papers 3.1, 4.1, 4.3 & 4.4.

4.4 Except in cases of multi-vessel emergencies – a fleet of small craft overwhelmed by the weather, for example, when a large area will need to be searched – the searches themselves need not be complex. Units can patrol down-drift (downwind and down-current) of the scene, and between the scene and obvious refuges, watching for people or craft and either recovering them themselves or reporting them to more capable SAR units. See guidance papers 4.6 & 4.7.

4.5 The organisation and conduct of searches at sea are specialised subjects not covered in this guidance material. The reader should refer to the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual, in particular Volume II Chapters 4 & 5 and Volume III.

5 Adding People

5 Adding People

5.1 Accounting for everyone involved in the incident includes those who respond to it, and especially those who deploy into hazardous situations. Personnel placed aboard the unit in distress (see guidance paper 3.3) should be counted on and counted off, with a running total carefully maintained by the OSC and the SMC – see guidance papers 4.3 & 4.4.

6 Counting During and After Rescue

6 Counting During and After Rescue

6.1 As the MRO develops, counting will become increasingly important. When people are recovered at sea, counting should begin aboard individual rescue units. When people remain aboard the unit in distress, accounting for them remains the responsibility of that unit's commander. If the unit is evacuated but it is decided to keep people in their survival craft, the counts will be done by those in charge of each craft.

6.2 Counting should be a part of the initial triage process; sorting people according to their medical needs. In all cases the results must be passed to the OSC and the SMC.

6.3 Names and other such details are not essential at this stage, and should not be collected or transmitted unless this can be done without interfering with higher priority work or communications traffic. What the coordinators need to know, so that they can organise any necessary additional support and pass the information to the next responders in the chain, are:

o the total number of people in the rescue or other unit
o how many of them need medical or other specialist attention
o how many of these are 'walking wounded' and how many are stretcher cases; and
o whether the unit is carrying any confirmed dead and, if so, how many.

6.4 The coordinators also need to be given any information of importance to the continuing MRO on-scene – whether survivors' friends or family members are missing, for example, or whether they saw people trapped or drifting away.

6.5 After people have been landed, counting and triage should be repeated and the extra data required collected. Survivors being landed should be kept away from the general public, the news media, and even family and friends, at least until these processes have been completed. See guidance papers 2.6 & 2.7.

7 Means of Counting

7 Means of Counting

7.1 Counting people is easiest if they can be kept still. That is best arranged by sitting them down and asking them to stay seated until they have been counted and assessed. This can be done in rescue units while heading for landing points; in land transport (buses, etc); and/or in reception centres ashore.

7.2 It is recommended that each person counted and assessed should be marked in some clear way, to ensure that everyone is seen and that people are not counted twice by mistake. If no specialised equipment is available for this purpose, simple marking systems can be improvised. Survivors might object to being marked on their skin or clothing with indelible pens – although this can be effective – but there are simple alternative markers; coloured cable ties, for example.

7.3 While special equipment is not required for counting people, there are many systems available which will assist with this process and with the wider collection of data too, including triage data. See guidance paper 2.6 for further discussion of this aspect of the operation.

8 Empty Survival Craft, Etc.

8 Empty Survival Craft, Etc.

8.1 In cases where there are many small craft in distress and/or many survival craft have been deployed, especially in bad weather, the challenge of accounting for everybody involved is exacerbated by the increasing number of empty craft in the area. A SAR unit may recover everybody from a liferaft, for example, and then move on. But other units finding the raft subsequently will not know it is empty. They will have to try to check it, which entails risk to themselves as well as a waste of time.

In the Estonia disaster, in which large numbers of survival craft were deployed or floated from the ferry, some empty craft were checked many times over.

8.2 Recovering the craft after it has been emptied, to avoid this, will be impossible in some circumstances and time-consuming and/or hazardous in others. Towing it away may also be impracticable, and will hamper the towing unit in further SAR efforts. Sinking the craft is sometimes suggested as an alternative – but this is easier said than done, and if the craft remains afloat after sinking has been attempted it may still be re-checked. Marking it to show that it has been emptied or confirmed empty is also easier to say than do – and, like the other solutions suggested here, has the disadvantage that people in the water, unnoticed by the rescuers, may still be able to board the craft if it is left intact and afloat. If it has been previously marked as empty, they will be overlooked.

8.3 There is no easy solution to this problem. If the area of operations is relatively large and the sea state difficult, the risk of removing potential lifesaving equipment from the scene may be too great. On balance, however, the best answer seems to be to remove craft confirmed as empty from the scene, once it has been agreed unlikely that there are, or are still, people in the water who might need them.

8.4 Removal of empty craft can be a task given to units considered of limited use in other respects. The time and effort saved by not having to re-check empty craft is sufficient compensation for the time and effort removal requires.

9 Summary

9 Summary

o   Experience has shown that counting people in an MRO is a significant problem.
o   There is a need for accurate counting as part of the extended response.
o   Simple methods of counting accurately are suggested here: there are accounting and information collection systems available, discussed in more detail in guidance paper 2.6.
o   Counting heads and comparing the totals so derived against manifests etc is not a sufficient means of accounting for everyone at risk.
o   Accounting for everyone originally involved in the incident should include searches of the unit in distress and the surrounding area.
o   Response personnel placed on board the unit in distress or survival craft etc must also be accounted for.
o   A procedure for dealing with craft confirmed empty should be agreed, taking the prevailing conditions into account.

10 Further Reading

10 Further Reading

10.1 For further reading on mass rescue operations planning, and supporting resources, follow this link.

10.2 The IAMSAR Manual should be consulted for advice on search planning and conduct: see Volume II Chapters 4 & 5 and Volume III. IAMSAR also contains general guidance on accounting for people in MROs. See Volume II Chapter 6.15.21-22 and 6.15.67-71.

2.3 Public Relations

Written by David Jardine-Smith. Posted in Planning

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Contents

Contents

This paper discusses:

o   the need to have an agreed public relations strategy in a mass rescue operation
o   news media relations
o   direct communications with the public, including those in distress
o   arrangements for friends & families
o   arrangements for VIP visits

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'. The guidance in this section focuses on various MRO planning issues.

2 The Need for a Public Relations Strategy

2 The Need for a Public Relations Strategy

2.1 Various aspects of 'public relations' are discussed in this paper: relations with the news media; with the friends and families of those believed to be involved in the incident; with the general public; and in some instances with those who are the subjects of the mass rescue operation itself. There is also the special case of VIPs (Very Important People). A strategy should be planned to deal with each category.

2.2 The news media are an obvious source of pressure. Their response to an MRO will be rapid, intense and unremitting. The leading news media organisations are well-organised, competitive and, due to the international basis of their work and the availability of instantaneous communication systems, will be pressing for information 24 hours a day.

2.3 Friends and families of people involved in the incident – or who might be involved – will also soon be seeking information, either because they have been alerted by the news media or social networks or because they have heard direct from their loved ones, using portable communications devices. In the early stages of a major incident many more people will be worried, and therefore seeking information, than actually need to be. An incident reported as involving "an offshore oil platform" or a "passenger aircraft" or a "cruise ship" or a "ferry" will give rise to concerns among people who have friends or relations on any such unit in the general area. Even if the unit is named early on – which is recommended – this may not help: people will probably not know the name of the ferry their loved ones are using, for example. Internet-based information systems enable worried people to find contact information for organisations likely to be involved in the response, and they will attempt to contact these organisations – quite possibly reaching offices not involved in the response at all.

2.4 There will also be intense pressure for information from senior government figures etc. This is, in part, because they are required to know the details as soon as possible for good strategic support reasons. But it is also because they are publically accountable, and need to make public statements which are as accurate as possible. They have a part to play in the public relations network.

2.5 Similarly, although at a slightly later stage in the event, there will be pressure to host VIP visits, at the scene of the incident or at responding organisations' facilities. People in public positions, including senior officers of organisations involved, feel the need to be publically seen to be doing something.

2.6 Finally – and most importantly – information should be passed to the people in distress, if possible. The Rescue Coordination Centre should keep commanders of distressed ships, aircraft or installations fully informed, and they should inform their personnel. On passenger ships, the passengers should be kept informed by ship's staff. In some mass rescue scenarios, however, the people involved will not have such an intermediary. If possible, ways should be found of establishing communications with them.

2.7 The pressure caused by these public relations issues can be huge. Getting information to those in distress is a priority. The news media have a job to do, and will do it whether assisted or not. Senior and public figures also have jobs to do, and are hard to put off. Worried friends and relatives present different emotional challenges, but will also be determined to acquire information. The pressure all this causes can badly effect the emergency response if not carefully planned for.

2.8 This risk of disruption, in addition to responding organisations' own public accountability responsibilities, makes it imperative to have a public relations strategy which can be quickly implemented at the outset of an MRO. For best results, this strategy should encompass all the responding organisations. If one organisation says one thing to the news media, for example, and another says something else, both will suffer extra pressure as reporters try to get at 'the truth'.

3 The News Media

3 The News Media

3.1 Response to news media interest must be positive, professional, and coordinated with that of other responders.

3.2 In this context it is sometimes said that one should "feed the beast – or it will eat you". It is not a good idea to regard the news media as a 'beast' – they are almost always professional people simply trying to do their job – but the point of the saying is that it is no good refusing to provide information. The reporter must have information, and will find it somewhere – possibly from a less reliable source.

3.3 This does not mean that everyone a reporter contacts must give a statement! It means that there should be an agreed and reliable source of information, known to everyone in the organisation, to whom the news media should be directed. Those directly involved in the response to the incident must not be distracted from their work – but this alone does not prevent the news media and others from contacting them in search of information. They need to know who to refer the reporter to. So do other people in the organisation, even if they themselves have no response role. Just because you are in Accounts does not mean that a reporter will not ask you for a quote! Anyone not involved in the public relations response should quickly and politely refer the reporter to the correct contact point.

3.4 Every organisation should have a public relations office of some sort (even if only a single officer) to whom news media enquiries should be referred. If such an office is established as the sole point in the organisation at which information will be provided – and, crucially, if it gives information quickly and accurately – the great majority of the news media will use it and not trouble the people responding to the emergency itself. The 'beast' will go where it knows it will be fed!

3.5 All responding organisations should coordinate their statements to the news media. This does not mean that all will say the same thing, for different organisations will lead on different aspects of the response. But the basic confirmed facts of the case must be shared among the responders expeditiously – the name of the casualty vessel, for example, the number of people at risk, the units responding, where people will be taken to, and so on. Agreed news releases can be quickly circulated, or centrally coordinated, prior to publication. Later, coordinated news conferences will also be required.

3.6 Which organisations will comment on which parts of the operation should be agreed at the planning stage. For example, the maritime rescue coordination service's public relations office can lead on the at-sea SAR operations, while the agency coordinating the response on land can lead on that aspect. Individual organisations may comment on their own role in the operation, but should pass wider questions to the coordinating offices.

3.7 Details of the people in distress, rescued etc (other than the overall numbers) should only be released by one officially recognised coordinating body, working in close cooperation with the casualty unit's parent organisation – the ferry company, for example, in a ferry accident – and hospitals etc. No other responding organisation should give personal information to the news media.

3.8 The need to coordinate means that responding organisations' public relations offices must be notified of an MRO as soon as possible. In the earliest stages it may be necessary to issue a holding statement in answer to enquiries, to the effect that, yes, an incident has occurred, a response is under way, and the organisation will provide further information, through its public relations office, as soon as possible. The public relations office should then be kept fully up-to-date on developments.

3.9 It should be clear to all responders that speculation in public must be avoided. Information given, whether to the news media or the general public, must be purely factual, and as factually correct as possible at the time. If a question is asked to which the answer is not yet known, simply say so. If it transpires that information given in good faith earlier was incorrect, issue a correction. Never, ever lie or mislead. If some information is considered sensitive or uncertain, simply do not comment on it.

3.10 It is common for reporters to ask questions too soon. "What caused the collision?" is an appropriate question to ask – but not when the rescue operation is still under way. "I am not going to speculate" and "It is far too early to comment on that" are perfectly legitimate answers to such enquiries – and the reporter must be made to understand that no other answer will be given no matter how many times the question is put!

3.11 Information given should also be clear. Avoid jargon, acronyms etc. The reporter is unlikely to be a marine expert; less likely to be a SAR expert; and least likely of all to know all the details of mass rescue operations planning and procedures. 'Simple, clear and factual' are the watch words.

3.12 Public relations officers may not be experts themselves. It is good practice to have designated spokespeople ('talking heads') available to the public relations team: officers who have the necessary knowledge but are not otherwise involved in the operation. A selection of suitable people can be on call for this work, and should be trained for it. They can then become the authoritative face and voice of the organisation, and have a key role to play in reassuring the public that the organisation is responding effectively.

3.13 Reporters will want their own 'angle' on the story; something that distinguishes their report from others. This can be catered for by providing the opportunity for individual interviews with the 'talking heads' – but it should be noted that this approach can be resource-intensive. 'Talking heads' are as prone to fatigue as everyone else!

3.14 All news media require pictures, video or still, and interviews. People actually involved in the incident will place pictures and video clips on social networks or send them direct to media organisations, and may choose to talk to the news media themselves. However, unrestricted access by news media representatives to the incident scene, reception centres etc, should not be permitted, as this would be intrusive and may be hazardous and/or impede rescue operations.

3.15 One solution to the demand for pictures from the scene is for the news media to agree to 'pool' them: one unit is allowed into the area, under the direction of the coordinating authorities, with a number of cameramen aboard, and they share the results with their colleagues on their return. Footage collected by the SAR units themselves may also be suitable; and opportunities should be given to the news media to acquire 'library' images beforehand.

3.16 Public relations offices should seek to establish local representation as soon as possible. The news media will head for the scene of the incident, or as close as they can get to it, or for other focal points such as landing sites and reception centres. A media centre should be established for their use, with power, cellphone coverage, refreshments, etc, and used for briefings and news conferences. (See also guidance paper 4.8.)

3.17 The overall aim is to work with the news media so far as possible. This has considerable benefits for the organisations responding to the incident. It reduces the volume of calls from the public as well as misplaced contacts by the media themselves. It helps the responders to broadcast information: contact telephone numbers for concerned friends and families, for example. And material gathered by the news media – pictures in particular – can be a valuable information source.

4 Mayhem, Mastermind, Manhunt

4 Mayhem, Mastermind, Manhunt

4.1 News media interest tends to follow a pattern as a crisis unfolds. First comes Mayhem – an uncoordinated scramble for information as reporters try to build a general picture of what is going on; where; and who is involved. Next comes the Mastermind phase. This is characterised by a search for background information and expertise. The news media wish to present an informed, objective appraisal of the situation – to sound as if they fully understand what is going on and are in a position to analyse it. Quite quickly after that comes the Manhunt – a search for errors and someone to blame.

4.2 All three phases are difficult to handle, partly because the news media set the pace – and usually that pace is too fast to be really useful. The 'mayhem' would be avoidable if there was not such a race to be first with the news. Being a 'mastermind' should ideally wait until all the facts are known. And the 'manhunt' should be a matter for slow, careful enquiry by experts, not a rush to judgement by reporters within days or even hours of the incident occurring. But such comment is irrelevant: 'mayhem, mastermind and manhunt' will happen, so should be planned for.

4.3 The most important phase to plan for is the first. There will be less 'mayhem' if clear, reliable and coordinated information channels are opened up rapidly; and responders can help with the 'mastermind' phase by providing their own expertise via the same channels. A good prior relationship with the news media will help here.

4.4 It is also worth remembering that serious news media organisations want to get their facts right. Their timescale is too short, but within that timescale they will want to work with the experts if they are allowed to. One famous international news organisation used to have the unofficial motto that "we are not wrong for long". Helping the news media get things right is to everyone's benefit. This means that, if resources allow, response organisations should monitor at least the main news media output, and act quickly to correct any mistakes or misunderstandings.

5 Direct Communications with the Public

5 Direct Communications with the Public

5.1 Websites and other social media enable response organisations to communicate with the general public, worried families and friends, and possibly even with people directly involved in the operation. The latter may also be reached by radio, satellite communications, telephone or loudhailer.

5.2 The most important group to communicate with are those directly involved in the incident. Survivors frequently say that such communications were lacking: they were not kept informed about what was going on even though it was possible for them to be so. MROs often require people to wait for long periods. Like delayed passengers at an airport, they will be much easier to manage if they are kept properly informed of the reasons for the delay and what is being done about it. They may also have important information, of use to the responders. Communication should be two-way if possible. Personnel should be assigned to communicate with those being rescued, if possible, to ensure that they are kept up-to-date, and also to collect any useful information they may have.

5.3 The next most important group are the friends and families. They urgently need clear, accurate and up-to-date information, and the internet will often be the first place they go to look for it. Response organisations can plan to make use of this important facility, either posting information or directing readers to where it may be found. Some organisations maintain 'dark' web pages which can go live in an emergency, getting the 'tone' right as well as giving clear and useful information about the incident. In some situations, arrangements can be made for people involved in the operation to communicate with their friends and families direct: a source of relief to both sides.

5.4 Reception centres, both for survivors and for friends and families, should also be planned with communications and clear and frequently updated information arrangements in mind. Direct communications facilities and suitable spokespeople and liaison officers are again the best options here, but information boards and screens are also very useful. (See also guidance paper 4.9.)

6 Families and Friends

6 Families and Friends

6.1 Worried people are likely to head for landing sites, if within range, or, as noted, will be searching for news of their loved ones by any means available to them. While some will be worrying unnecessarily (because their loved one is not involved in the incident at all), all need careful management. Apart from the obvious humanitarian need to treat such people decently, they may also have information of value to the response organisations.

6.2 A lead organisation should be established at the planning stage to gather information from people contacting the responders and to link them, if possible, with the people they are seeking. Friends and families travelling to landing sites should be accommodated in reception centres. They should not be allowed to mingle with survivors in an uncontrolled way, as this will inevitably lead to confusion. They should be kept fully informed, and reunited in a controlled manner once the necessary checks have been made. The need to respect privacy is one reason for this but, from a SAR perspective, the most important reason is the need to account for everyone who may have been involved in the incident.

7 VIP Visits

7 VIP Visits

7.1 VIPs may well become involved, particularly at reception or response facilities. Their involvement should be pre-planned in general, so as to ensure that their visit does not adversely affect the response operation. Personnel actively engaged in the response should not be distracted: expert escorts not otherwise engaged in the response should be used.

7.2 VIPs may not understand that their involvement might have adverse effects. Most will want to avoid this – and no-one is so important that difficulties of this sort cannot be pointed out, and avoided!

8 Summary

8 Summary

8.1 The aim of this paper has been to highlight some of the public relations issues likely to arise in a mass rescue operation, not to give detailed guidance on how to handle them in particular cases. That will be a matter for local planning. A mass rescue operation is, of course, primarily about rescuing large numbers of people – but it is not only about that. Relations with those involved, with the news media, concerned families and friends and the general public, together with public relations-related issues such as VIP visits, must be carefully planned for too. To do otherwise is to ask for trouble – and in some circumstances that trouble will affect the success of the MRO itself.

8.2 As with all aspects of MRO planning, the public relations elements are resource-intensive, particularly as regards people. Public relations officers preparing and coordinating the release of information, spokespeople, escorts and support staff will all be required. The demands placed on responders by the public relations element need to be balanced with the other demands made of them in an MRO.

8.3 The following are important points to consider:

o   Plan to communicate: consider
    those involved in the incident
    the news media
    friends and families of those involved
    the general public
    VIPs
o   Ensure that everyone in your organisation knows the public relations point of contact
o   Be positive and professional, and coordinate with the other responders' public relations points of contact: agree which organisation will lead on which subjects
o   Make sure that your public messages are simple, clear, factual – and agreed
o   Do not speculate or mislead
o   Have a pool of knowledgeable spokespeople who are not otherwise involved in the operation
o   Establish a public relations presence, including a news media centre, near the incident scene
o   Agree arrangements to acquire and share images.

9 Further Reading

9 Further Reading

9.1 For the IMO's guidance on public relations, see the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual, Volume II chapter 1.10.5-6 and chapter 6.15.48-64, and Volume III, 'Contact with the media'.

9.2 For further reading on mass rescue operations planning, and supporting resources, follow this link.

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