C4 - Command, Control, Coordination & Communications (

4.3 The SAR Mission Coordinator

Posted in C4 - Command, Control, Coordination & Communications (

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Contents

Contents

This paper discusses:

o   the general role of the SAR Mission Coordinator (SMC)
o   the SMC's place in a mass rescue operation (MRO) structure
o   the need for the SMC to be able to focus on coordinating the maritime SAR elements of the operation
o   the similarities and differences in coordinating a mass rescue as opposed to an 'ordinary' SAR operation
o   filling the 'coordination capability gap'
o   a coordinating network
o   the need to plan for and resource various possibilities: search, rescue and/or support
o   the need to account for all involved
o   the coordination of 'remote area operations'

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 The guidance in this section focuses on various aspects of the coordination question. The concept of coordination itself, and the various coordinators who may be involved, are discussed in guidance paper 4.1. Three of the four main coordinating roles identified in the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual – the SAR Coordinator, the On Scene Coordinator and the Aircraft Coordinator – are discussed in guidance papers 4.2 4.4 & 4.5 . Some of the uses to which surface units and aircraft may be put in a mass rescue operation are discussed in guidance papers 4.6 & 4.7 respectively. Guidance paper 4.8 considers the important matter of coordinating the maritime and the shoreside response. And the communications systems and procedures essential to the success of all these aspects of an MRO are discussed in guidance paper 4.9 .

1.3 The fourth coordinating role identified in the IAMSAR Manual – the SAR Mission Coordinator (SMC) – is discussed in this paper.

2 The General Role of the SAR Mission Coordinator

2 The General Role of the SAR Mission Coordinator

2.1 As discussed in guidance paper 4.2 , it is important to distinguish between the 'SAR Coordinator' – the person or agency with 'overall responsibility for establishing and providing SAR services and ensuring that planning for those services is properly coordinated' – and the SAR Mission Coordinator. The SMC is defined in IAMSAR as:

"the official temporarily assigned to coordinate response to an actual or apparent distress situation."

2.2 The SMC organises the SAR response to an accident. It follows from the IMO's definition that the task lasts only as long as the SAR incident does, and that it can be delegated to anyone who is suitably trained and equipped – especially as regards communications and SAR planning capabilities. This person should be associated with a Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC):

"a unit responsible for promoting efficient organization of search and rescue services and for co-ordinating the conduct of search and rescue operations within a search and rescue region."

2.3 An RCC may be designated as a Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC); an Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC); or – as recommended by the IMO – a Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC), combining both aeronautical and maritime response functions. The IAMSAR Manual also designates Rescue Sub Centres (RSC), but these subordinate units are unlikely to be resourced sufficiently to conduct a mass rescue operation. In this guidance, we use the term 'RCC' generically, to mean the centre coordinating the MRO.

2.4 In most 'routine' SAR cases (as opposed to MROs) an officer on watch at the RCC will be assigned the role of SMC. S/he may be the senior person in the RCC at the time, or the role may be delegated by that senior officer to other members of the RCC team. This will depend on various factors, including the number of SAR cases running concurrently. There should therefore be sufficient RCC personnel trained to act as SMCs to enable the successful prosecution of all 'ordinary' SAR cases, 24/7.

2.5 Volume II of the IAMSAR Manual, the 'Mission Co-ordination' volume, is the principal source of international guidance on the SMC role. Volume III, 'Mobile Facilities', also contains useful information. Volume II chapter 1.2.3 summarises the SMC's tasks in general. This text is annexed to this guidance paper.

3 The SAR Mission Coordinator's Place in a Mass Rescue Operation

3 The SAR Mission Coordinator's Place in a Mass Rescue Operation

3.1 The IAMSAR Volume II text at annex outlines the SMC's tasks in what we are calling 'ordinary' operations: SAR responses within the capability of the local SAR services. But MROs are 'extraordinary'.

3.2 In this respect, IAMSAR Volume II says:

Chapter 6.15.28.

“To the extent practicable, MROs should be coordinated by an SMC in an RCC. However, depending on the magnitude, nature and complexity of an incident, the rescue efforts may be better coordinated by an appropriate operations centre higher within the SAR agency or another Government agency. Considerations in this decision might include, among others:

-   extensive rescue support by organizations other than those commonly used for SAR;
-   need for heavy international diplomatic support; and
-   serious problems in addition to potential loss of lives, such as environmental threats, terrorist actions, or national security issues."


­3.3 These issues are discussed in general in guidance paper 4.1 . Coordination of a complex incident such as an MRO will require additional resources, and will (or at least should) be separated into a number of interlinked but specific functions.

diagram

This diagram is simplified, at least as far as the organisation of the shoreside response is concerned, but it shows in general how the coordination workload involved in an MRO should be sub-divided.

3.4 It is not necessary that the SAR mission coordination process should be transferred to a ‘higher operations centre’ – indeed, this would have a damaging effect if that centre is not equipped and staffed for the purpose. It is the overall incident response coordination that may be better handled at a higher level and/or a different location. In order to clarify the IAMSAR guidance quoted above the following additional text has been added in the 2016 edition of the Manual:

“If [coordination by a higher operations centre] is intended, it is essential that it is pre-planned, with full involvement of all parties, including the RCC staff, to avoid confusion at the time of an incident. The plan may, for example, provide for the RCC to maintain coordination of the SAR response while the higher operations centre handles the wider issues.”

3.5 The diagram above includes a number of coordination points ashore. The SMC is based at an RCC, the crucial coordination point linking the maritime and shoreside parts of the operation (see guidance paper 4.8 ). People being brought to safety may be landed at several different points, each of which will require local coordination. So will the reception centre(s) the survivors are then moved to, and the other support functions – medical, welfare, transport etc – that the operation requires. As discussed in guidance paper 4.1 , all these elements of the response should be coordinated by a tactical group, whose work is distinct from the work of the RCC, although necessarily closely linked with it.

3.6 The tactical coordination group ashore should include staff from each of the responding organisations, ideally including liaison officers from the RCC, harbours receiving people being brought ashore and any industry organisation involved – a representative of the shipping company, for example, if the casualty is a passenger ship. This tactical group needs information from the RCC, and will have information to pass back to it, but it focuses on organising the 'place of safety' part of the rescue, in all its aspects.

3.7 Again as discussed in guidance paper 4.1, there should also be a strategic group, overseeing the whole operation and providing support and resources as and where required. It is usually the case that this strategic group works most closely with the shoreside tactical group, as shown in the diagram above. However, the coordinating RCC will also require strategic support, usually from its own parent organisation, whose senior officers understand its specialist needs and can implement the organisation's own complex incident planning.

3.8 It follows from this discussion that the SMC, working at the RCC, is a part of a wider coordination structure in an MRO. S/he should not be expected to coordinate the whole response, as the IAMSAR Manual says. Instead, the SMC should focus – and be enabled to focus – on what s/he knows best: the coordination of the maritime SAR mission, and only that mission.

4 The SAR Mission Coordinator's Role in a Mass Rescue Operation

4 The SAR Mission Coordinator's Role in a Mass Rescue Operation

4.1 If we refer again to the IAMSAR Manual's summary of the SMC's role, annexed, we see that it summarises the SMC's role as gathering information, developing accurate and workable search and rescue action plans, and dispatching and coordinating the resources which will carry out those plans. The fundamental point here is that the SMC's role in an MRO is no different. It will be more intense, and it will require the SMC – or, better, members of his or her team – to communicate with people and organisations they do not usually communicate with. But the role itself is essentially the same as in any other SAR response. The list of actions in the annex is as valid for an SMC working on an MRO as it is for any other case.

4.2 It is important to note the need to keep the SMC focussed on coordinating the maritime SAR response along the same lines as in an 'ordinary' case, and to plan and train with this in mind. The seniority of the SMC is unimportant: it is his or her competence that matters. S/he needs to know the MRO plan and be able to implement it, but should not be expected to take on additional work beyond the SMC function. Conversely, no-one should be appointed as SMC for an MRO who does not usually do SMC work. It is a matter of using the right expert and using them only in their own area of expertise.

4.3 There are inevitable differences of scale in an MRO response. The SMC tasks are the same as in 'ordinary' operations, but are intensified by the situation. They will include:

o   acknowledging that a mass rescue operation is required;
o   initiating alerting procedures and establishing the MRO communications network required (see guidance paper 4.9 );
o   gathering information and ensuring that it is distributed as necessary;
o   initial tasking of SAR facilities, including the additional facilities required for an MRO (see guidance papers 3.1, 3.2 & 3.3 );
o   appointing an On Scene Coordinator (OSC: see guidance paper 4.4 , and below);
o   appointing an Aircraft Coordinator (ACO) and other specialist coordinators as necessary (see guidance papers 4.5 & 4.1 , and below);
o   developing search, rescue and/or support action plans (see below), in conjunction with the OSC and other responders, and ensuring that the plans are communicated to all the responding SAR facilities as necessary; and
o   coordinating the responding SAR facilities' actions, through the OSC and other coordination links as necessary, ensuring that the search, rescue and/or support action plans are implemented, amended as required by circumstances.

4.4 It is vital that the SMC for a mass rescue operation should be fully prepared for the task. This means specific training, including a full understanding of the MRO plan, for all personnel who may be required to take the role on.

5 Filling the Coordination Capability Gap

5 Filling the Coordination Capability Gap

5.1 As discussed in guidance paper 1.4 , a mass rescue operation is, by definition, one in which "the capabilities normally available to the search and rescue authorities are inadequate". Finding the resources necessary to fill this 'capability gap' is discussed in guidance papers 3.1 3.2 & 3.3 , and the SMC should be fully aware of how this issue is to be resolved according to the MRO plans for his/her own SAR Region. But the capability gap may apply to key coordinating personnel such as the SMC and to Rescue Coordination Centres themselves as well as to the other resources normally available for SAR. Part of the MRO planning must be to ensure that both SMC and RCC are 'MRO-capable' too.

5.2 This means that RCCs should be organised so as to enable an MRO to be coordinated effectively wherever and whenever it occurs. This may mean additional equipment – particularly communications equipment – and will always mean additional personnel. As noted in IAMSAR (see annex), 'the SMC should in all cases be supported by RCC watch team members to undertake functions in the coordinating process such as communications, plotting, logging and search planning' – and this includes MROs. Liaison officers will also be needed, as discussed in guidance paper 4.1 , in addition to tactical and strategic support. It may be possible to divert personnel from other tasks to provide these extra resources, or on-call systems may be necessary.

5.3 It is not necessarily the case that every RCC in a region should be so equipped and staffed or supported that it can coordinate an MRO. Always provided that the coordinating RCC can communicate with everyone it needs to and that it has the necessary local information available, it can be remote from the area of SAR action. Selecting particular RCCs to lead on MROs or other complex incidents is, of course, a matter for planning and agreement by all SAR authorities in the region.

5.4 Similarly, personnel who may be required to take on the SMC role in such an incident must be prepared for it. They should be carefully selected and will require specific training. They need to have a full understanding of the MRO plan, and 'ownership' of it (see guidance paper 1.2).

5.5 Other RCC staff, acting in support of the SMC, and including those brought in to assist with the additional workload of an MRO, should also have sufficient knowledge and ownership of the plan. If the RCC staff do not understand or support the plan, no-one will!

5.6 The IAMSAR guidance at annex also notes that, "for complex cases or those of long duration, the assisting team as well as the SMC must be replaced at regular intervals". An MRO is a high-stress and fatiguing affair for everyone concerned, including the SMC and the rest of the RCC staff. Regular reliefs are of great importance. RCC managers should ensure that they occur, and should, at the planning stage, consider whether watches should be shortened and reliefs staggered for the duration of the MRO, to keep people fresh and to ensure continuity of knowledge of the operation among the on-watch staff.

5.7 The same principles of regular relief and rest should apply to all staff deployed as part of the MRO response – including senior officers. Nobody is so important that they are not affected by fatigue!

7 Search, Rescue or Support?

7 Search, Rescue or Support?

7.1 As discussed in guidance papers 1.1 & 2.1, an MRO can take several forms. There will usually be some sort of search for the SMC to plan for; but the 'rescue' may take the form of providing support on-scene rather than – or as well as – 'traditional' retrieval. Initial aid, such as medical aid, will be a factor, and places of safety have to be selected and prepared.

7.2 While it can be argued that there will always be a search element for the SMC to consider (see guidance paper 2.5 , and below), that search may be more or less complex depending on the circumstances. A widespread search for many small targets (a fleet of fishing vessels, for example) may be the major focus of the earlier stages of an MRO; or the search element may be precautionary, for example in an incident in which evacuation is either not happening or is proceeding in an orderly way. In the latter case the main focus will be elsewhere – but the SMC must still not neglect the search requirement.

7.3 The 'rescue' or 'support' question also arises. In some circumstances – a passenger ship evacuating at sea, for example – the need for traditional rescue is clear. People have to be retrieved from survival craft, or perhaps from the water too in an uncontrolled abandonment, and brought to places of safety, being cared for in transit. In cases which occur near to harbours, survival craft may be able to make their own way in, so the 'rescue' takes the form of escort and support; or it may be a mix of retrieval and escort, as in the Costa Concordia case.

7.4 On the other hand, the ship's master may be able to avoid the risks of evacuation if given sufficient on-board support. In such a case the SMC's task is a different one: the necessary support facilities need to be arranged and deployed. Or then again, it may a question of providing on-board support to facilitate evacuation.

7.5 In any case it is the SMC's task to plan the SAR response. The wise SMC will plan for all eventualities, and will keep the planning flexible to allow for changes over time. If on-board support is requested, s/he will coordinate its provision, of course, but s/he will also be planning for evacuation or abandonment if the situation deteriorates. In the latter case both rescue and search plans will be required. See also guidance papers 2.4, 2.6, 2.7 & 3.3 .

8 Accounting for People

8 Accounting for People

8.1 Put simply, the SMC's task is to ensure that as many people as possible are rescued in an MRO, and that all are accounted for. Rescue and/or on-scene support are a matter of identifying and coordinating the response of sufficient numbers of the right facilities for the job. Making as sure as possible that everyone at risk has been accounted for is a matter of searching – actively, knowing that people are missing, or as a precaution – and keeping very careful counts of the people involved.

8.2 Both the search element and the counting are discussed in guidance paper 2.5 . As we say there, at least in the early stages of the response there will be confusion over numbers, and the SMC's best option is to ensure that precautionary searches are done aboard the casualty, so far as possible, and in the surrounding area. There is little to be gained by attempting detailed counts while retrieval operations are still ongoing.

8.3 The counting comes a little later, as people are being brought to places of safety and after they have arrived there. The SMC should ensure that, as rescue facilities leave the scene, a careful count is made of those each unit has aboard and the results reported to the RCC, usually via the OSC, although direct contact may be preferable, particularly if the OSC is still heavily engaged on-scene. The SMC's chief interest in the numbers is as regards search action, which s/he should continue until everyone is accounted for.

8.4 Other organisations will also have a keen interest in the count, for the same and other reasons, and may be able to help with it once people are ashore. If the casualty was a passenger ship or aircraft or an offshore installation, the relevant company will have a leading part to play, providing information about the people believed to have been aboard as well as assisting with the accounting. Medical, police and border control authorities, among others, will also need this information.

8.5 If on-board support is being provided it is also the SMC's responsibility to ensure that the number of response personnel who have been placed aboard the casualty is recorded. These people too are at risk, and need to be properly accounted for.

8.6 A system should be established at the RCC to record numbers reported involved in the incident; those in the process of being rescued; and those brought to a place of safety, together with current locations and other vital information such as medical needs.

8.7 Finally, it should be emphasised again that counting people in these circumstances is more difficult than it might appear. The SMC should ensure that numbers are rigorously checked, and should continue search action until the numbers are confirmed or until there is no longer any likelihood of missing people still being alive.

9 Remove Area Operations

9 Remote Area Operations

9.1 The IMO has agreed that there are ‘areas remote from SAR facilities’: areas where sufficient designated SAR units cannot reach the scene of an accident within survival times. In guidance paper 2.8 we noted that there are many parts of the world’s seas and oceans where this may be the case.

9.2 There are also SAR Regions without functioning RCCs to coordinate SAR action within them, or the local RCC may have lost functionality – in a catastrophic incident, for example. It is also possible that, while there may be an RCC functioning in the Region, it is not capable of coordinating a mass rescue operation. MROs in such areas will be particularly challenging.

9.3 The IAMSAR Manual says that, if a ship’s master or the commander of another unit becomes aware of a distress situation directly and communications “cannot be established with an RCC”, s/he should assume the responsibilities of On Scene Coordinator and “may have to assume SMC duties and actually plan the search and/or rescue”.

Volume II Chapter 1.2.4.

This is further discussed in guidance paper 4.4, where we note that, with long-range communications – satellite communications in particular – it will normally be possible for an OSC to contact an RCC somewhere for advice and assistance.

9.4 The staff at an RCC so contacted will have a particularly difficult task to undertake. As well as assisting the OSC to develop search and rescue plans – and perhaps support plans, if suitable facilities are available on scene or can be contacted nearby – the RCC should do all it can to establish contacts in the State(s) nearest the incident, possibly to arrange additional support on scene, but certainly to agree places of safety, with the necessary shoreside support infrastructure, to which rescue units can be directed (see guidance paper 4.8 ).

9.5 The RCC may need considerable support from its own strategic managers in this case, for assistance may be needed through diplomatic and other international channels. But action should be taken by whichever RCC is contacted, at least until coordination can be handed over to a more appropriate RCC.

10 Summary

10 Summary

o   The SAR Mission Coordinator – 'the official temporarily assigned to coordinate response to an actual or apparent distress situation' – has essentially the same role in a mass rescue operation as in any other SAR case.
o   There will be a wider response structure, with other coordination nodes, of which the coordinating Rescue Coordination Centre is only one. The SMC must focus – and must be enabled to focus – on his/her specific part of the operation: coordinating the maritime SAR work.
o   There are inevitable differences of scale in an MRO response. It is vital that the SMC should be fully prepared for the task, including specific training, and a full understanding of the MRO plan.
o   MRO planning should include planning to fill 'capability gaps' in coordination, as in other aspects of the response. Sufficient SMCs and RCCs should be 'MRO-capable'.
o   It is not necessary that every RCC in a region should be able to coordinate an MRO, so long as there are enough 'MRO-capable' RCCs to provide full coverage.
o   Fatigue is a danger to all involved in an MRO, and must be addressed by all concerned. Regular, staggered reliefs should be arranged for RCC personnel, including SMCs. Managers should consider shortening watches during MROs, due to the intensity of the work.
o   The SMC should appoint, and work closely with, an On Scene Coordinator in a mass rescue operation. Other subsidiary coordinators, including an Aircraft Coordinator, should be appointed as circumstances require.
o   The SMC should plan for all eventualities – search, rescue and support – and should keep the planning flexible to allow for changes over time.
o   The SMC's task in an MRO is to ensure that as many people as possible are rescued, and that all are accounted for. The SMC should ensure that reported numbers are recorded and rigorously checked, and should continue search action until all involved are confirmed as having been accounted for or until there is no longer any likelihood of missing people still being alive.
o   An RCC may be contacted by units responding to an MRO in another SAR Region if they cannot establish communications with an RCC in that Region. An RCC so contacted should assist as best it can. 

11 Further Reading

11 Further Reading

11.1 For further reading on command, control, coordination and communications in mass rescue operations, follow this link.

11.2 Volume II of the IAMSAR Manual is the principle source of guidance on the SMC role. Volume III also contains useful information. Volume II chapter 1.2.3, annexed to this guidance paper, summarises the SMC's tasks; and chapter 6.15 refers to the SMC in the context of mass rescue operations.

ANNEX

ANNEX

IAMSAR Manual Volume II, Chapter 1.2.3

SAR operations are normally carried out under the direction and supervision of an SMC, who is usually the supervisor of the RCC or RSC watch team. In multiple-incident situations this officer could be SMC for all incidents, or, for some of those incidents, the SMC role could be delegated to another suitably qualified member of the watch team. The SMC should in all cases be supported by RCC watch team members to undertake functions in the coordinating process such as communications, plotting, logging and search planning. For complex cases or those of long duration, the assisting team as well as the SMC must be replaced at regular intervals. The SMC must be able to competently gather information about emergencies, transform emergency incident information into accurate and workable plans and dispatch and coordinate the facilities which will carry out the SAR missions.

The SMC is in charge of a SAR operation until a rescue has been effected or until it has become apparent that further efforts would be of no avail, or until responsibility is accepted by another RCC. The SMC should be able to use readily available facilities and to request additional ones during the operation. The SMC plans the search and rescue operations and coordinates the transit of SAR facilities to and from the scene.

The SMC should be well trained in all SAR processes and be thoroughly familiar with the applicable SAR plans. The SMC must competently gather information about distress situations, develop accurate and workable action plans, and dispatch and coordinate the resources which will carry out SAR missions. The plans of operation maintained by the RCC provide information to assist in these efforts. Guidelines for SMC duties include:

-   obtain and evaluate all data on the emergency;
-   ascertain the type of emergency equipment carried by the missing or distressed craft;
-   remain informed of prevailing environmental conditions;
-   if necessary, ascertain movements and location of vessels and alert shipping in likely search areas for rescue, lookout (visual and electronic) and/or radio watch on appropriate frequencies to facilitate communications with SAR facilities;
-   plot the area to be searched and decide on the methods and facilities to be used;
-   develop the search action plan (and rescue action plan as appropriate); that is, allocate search areas, designate the On Scene Coordinator, dispatch SAR facilities and designate on-scene communications frequencies;
-   inform the RCC chief of the search action plan;
-   coordinate the operation with adjacent RCCs when appropriate;
-   arrange briefing and debriefing of SAR personnel;
-   evaluate all reports from any source and modify the search action plan as necessary;
-   arrange for the fuelling of aircraft and, if necessary, rescue vessels and, for prolonged search, make arrangements for the accommodation of SAR personnel;
-   arrange for delivery of supplies to sustain survivors;
-   maintain in chronological order an accurate and up-to-date record with a plot, where necessary, of all proceedings;
-   issue progress reports;
-   recommend to the RCC chief the abandoning or suspending of the search;
-   release SAR facilities when assistance is no longer required;
-   notify accident investigation authorities;
-   notify police and other government authorities where relevant and necessary;
-   if applicable, notify the State of registry of the aircraft or vessel in accordance with established arrangements; and
-   prepare a final report on the results of the [SAR] operation.
    As discussed in this guidance paper, in complex incidents such as mass rescue operations the SMC should be coordinating only the maritime SAR aspects of the operation, and will therefore be reporting on these aspects only.

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4.7 General Guidance on the Use of Aircraft

Written by David Jardine-Smith. Posted in C4 - Command, Control, Coordination & Communications (

Contents

Contents

This paper discusses:

o   types of aircraft that may become involved in an MRO
o   fixed-wing aircraft roles in an MRO
      coordination
      search
      surveillance
o   rotary-wing aircraft roles in an MRO, in addition
      delivery of specialist personnel, equipment or supplies
      the rescue of people who would otherwise hinder the operation
      medical evacuation of urgent cases from other rescue units
o   keeping aircraft on stand-by / in reserve
o   matching aircraft capabilities to the circumstances and tasks required

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 aspects of the coordination question. Guidance paper 4.1 introduces the subject.

1.2 Specific issues relating to the coordination of aircraft involved in an MRO are covered in guidance papers 4.3 (on SAR mission coordination) and 4.5 (aircraft coordination). Issues relating to the retrieval of people in distress are discussed in guidance paper 2.4; accounting for everyone involved in guidance paper 2.5; and the transfer of survivors to places of safety in guidance papers 2.6 & 2.7. Providing on-board support as well as, or instead of, rescue is discussed in guidance paper 3.3. The use of surface units is discussed in guidance paper 4.6, and the efficient communications necessary to overall success are considered in guidance paper 4.9.

1.3 All of these are aspects of, or relate to, the use of aircraft in an MRO, and the reader is referred to the relevant guidance papers listed above – and to the guidance in the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual. Volume II of the Manual provides the main international guidance on the coordination of SAR, including MROs; and Volume III, which is carried by most ships and aircraft trading internationally, is the main reference document for these SAR facilities.

1.4 In this guidance paper we consider some aspects of the use of aircraft in MROs not covered elsewhere.

1.5 A significant amount of additional guidance on multiple aircraft SAR operations has been added to all three volumes of the IAMSAR Manual in its 2016 edition. In particular, procedures and principles are described in a new chapter 7 added to IAMSAR Volume II and a new section 5 added to Volume III. This guidance should be referred to by MRO planners. Significant points drawn from this new text are included in this paper and in guidance paper 4.5.

2 Types of Aircraft that May Become Involved in a MRO

2 Types of Aircraft that May Become Involved in an MRO

2.1 While any type of aircraft might become involved in an MRO, most military, commercial and general aviation aircraft – especially fixed-wing aircraft – are unlikely to have more of a role than, perhaps, initial communications and locating and standing by people in distress until rescue units can arrive, as discussed in general in the IAMSAR Manual. For our purposes here, then, we will focus on aircraft which are designated SAR units or specialist support aircraft such as transport helicopters used by the offshore industries.

IAMSAR defines a 'SAR Unit' or 'SRU' as "a unit composed of trained personnel and provided with equipment suitable for the expeditious conduct of search and rescue operations".

2.2 Not all helicopters are suitable for operations over water; not all are winch-fitted; and in many cases landing on ships to pick people up or to drop them off will be too unsafe to be attempted. On the other hand, winch-fitted maritime SAR helicopters are, of course, a major aid to maritime rescue generally, being able to transit quickly to the scene of distress, to deliver specialist assistance, to retrieve people who may not be accessible by surface rescue units, and to deliver them rapidly to a place of safety. If available, helicopters will certainly have a place in an MRO – but it is worth considering how they can best be used: see below.

2.3 Fixed-wing aircraft cannot conduct rescues (except in highly specialised circumstances unlikely to be relevant here) but also have rapid transit times – more rapid than helicopters in most cases – and the ability to deliver supporting equipment and, sometimes, specialist assistance. SAR aircraft are able to cover search areas rapidly and effectively, and they make good communications platforms. They can reach remoter areas and/or remain on-scene longer than most helicopters; their height can enable them to act as communications relays; and – if they and the relevant ground stations are suitably equipped – they can stream back imagery and other on-scene data, of considerable use to the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) and other remote responders. Finally, as discussed in guidance paper 4.5, if the area of SAR action is not within the coverage of an Air Traffic Services (ATS) unit, a fixed-wing aircraft with a SAR-trained crew is likely to be the best choice as Aircraft Coordinator (ACO).

2.4 SAR aircraft of all types can be very effective search units, combining a 'bird's-eye view' and, ideally, remote sensing equipment with good area coverage. Radar, emergency beacon detection, infra-red cameras etc are life-saving aids – particularly in the event of an uncontrolled evacuation leaving people in the water or when search objects are scattered.

2.5 At the time of writing, Remotely Piloted Aircraft or Unmanned Aircraft Systems are being widely discussed in the maritime SAR context. It is possible to envisage their use in all the ways briefly discussed above. They have the additional benefit of being able to be used, if necessary, in circumstances which would be too hazardous for an aircraft with crew aboard. They are often cheaper to operate than a manned aircraft and can stay airborne longer: crew fatigue is dealt with at the controlling station, not by having to return the aircraft to base for a crew change. They are likely to bring significant benefits to the communications, surveillance and search aspects of maritime SAR, and it is not too far-fetched to envisage equipment delivery and even rescue roles for them in the future.

3 Aircraft Roles in an MRO

3 Aircraft Roles in an MRO

3.1 A mass rescue operation is likely to be very complex and to involve a wide mix of maritime, aeronautical and land SAR facilities. While, as discussed in guidance paper 4.5, there have been cases in which helicopters have played a leading role in the rescue, it will more usually be the case that aircraft play supporting roles. In the case of fixed-wing aircraft these will be in coordination, search and surveillance, as discussed above. Helicopters are probably best thought of as 'specialist' rescuers in MROs.

3.2 A helicopter is an excellent piece of SAR equipment – but there is no denying that it needs space, is noisy, it creates both downwash and distraction, and it cannot rescue very many people at once.

Also known as 'rotor wind' or 'down-draught', this is the downward rush of air generated by the rotors of a hovering helicopter. It can move unsecured items, to the hazard of people in the vicinity – and potentially to the aircraft itself if it sucks loose material into its engines – and has been known to blow liferafts etc aside; even to capsize them.

Its use should therefore be carefully planned in an MRO, where there are many people in distress and other things going on. The noise of a nearby helicopter can very severely disrupt communications, both face-to-face and by radio, and has been known to disorientate people, especially frightened survivors. The downwash can cause injury and/or interfere with other SAR action. And, for flight safety reasons, only one aircraft is usually able to operate at once in a small area such as the winching areas available on all but the biggest ships. (It should be noted, however, that in specific circumstances such as the evacuation of an offshore installation, with a helideck still operable and experienced controllers and aircrew, helicopter evacuation will be preferable.)

3.3 In general, helicopters are better reserved in MROs for what they are best at: rapid transits and 'surgical' delivery and extraction.

3.4 If specialists and/or specialist equipment or supplies are needed to be placed aboard the casualty (see guidance paper 3.3) or aboard rescue units to support their crews (see guidance papers 2.4 & 4.6) a helicopter will often be the best way to do it – able to move material and personnel rapidly to the scene and to winch them aboard if landing-on is not an option.

3.5 Similarly, helicopters are good for the rescue of 'difficult' cases. As discussed in guidance paper 2.4, it is likely to take a significant amount of time and effort to extract an injured or disabled or very elderly person using standard evacuation methods and equipment, and then to transfer them from survival craft into rescue units. If such people are given priority, others will be held up. To be blunt, more – perhaps many more – able-bodied people can be rescued in the same time by standard means than those who are less able.

3.6 A solution to this problem is to use helicopters to remove those who will delay the standard evacuation procedure. It is an added benefit that this will usually also mean that these vulnerable people can be transferred to appropriate care more rapidly because they will already be aboard the helicopter.

3.7 Similarly, helicopters may be used to take urgent medical cases off rescue units as they are identified by triage (see guidance paper 2.6) and on medical advice, transferring them more quickly to specialist medical care and easing the load on the rescue units' crews.

3.8 It follows that aircraft should be deployed wisely in an MRO. The SMC should move them to forward bases in the early stages, to have them ready for use, but should not send all available air assets straight to the scene as a first reaction – and certainly not before an ACO is appointed. There is no point in having aircraft – helicopters in particular – 'on hold' in the area, burning fuel and causing difficulties for other rescue workers if they come close before there is specific work for them to do. Better, if circumstances permit, to move them to forward bases – including offshore installations – where they can shut down and wait for taskings.

3.9 In all cases regarding aircraft deployment, the SMC should seek the advice of aeronautical SAR experts as necessary, especially the ACO. The ACO is also responsible for offering unsought advice to the SMC and/or OSC if SAR aircraft taskings are inappropriate or the aircraft can be better used. See guidance paper 4.5.

4 IAMSAR Guidance

4 IAMSAR Guidance

4.1 As noted above, the IAMSAR Manual, especially Volumes II & III, is the primary source of guidance on SAR aircraft operations. IAMSAR Volume II says , in the context of mass rescue operations, that:

Chapter 6.15.24-25.

“Helicopter capabilities should be used if available, especially for retrieval of weak or immobile survivors. Lifeboat crews should be trained in helicopter hoist operations. Lowering a rescue person from the helicopter to assist survivors may be viable.

“Ship companies should be encouraged to equip large passenger ships and possibly other types of vessels with helicopter landing areas or clearly marked hoist-winch areas to facilitate direct transfers.”

4.2 While landing areas may be limited, marked winching areas, clear of obstructions, should be prepared and joint training opportunities should be encouraged, to the benefit of both ships’ and helicopter crews. IAMSAR Volume III should be consulted as regards all aspects of ship / helicopter operations. See also guidance papers 5.1 & 5.3 as regards training and exercises.

4.3 IAMSAR includes the following comment on the number of SAR aircraft required:

Volume II, chapter 7.1.3.

“In any SAR operation, SMCs should consider the capabilities and the number of aircraft required. Too few aircraft in an operation might prove fatal for persons in distress, while too many can be difficult to organize and increase the risk of collisions. Other factors that might affect the number of aircraft required include the number of casualties, the carrying capacity of participating aircraft, weather conditions on scene, the distance of persons in distress from rescue facilities, the number of evacuation points, the speed at which an evacuation can take place, the speed of participating aircraft, the availability of refuelling facilities, the duration of an operation, aircrew fatigue and other operational factors. Where more aircraft than needed are available some can be held in reserve.”

4.4 On aircraft capabilities and SAR planning IAMSAR says:

Volume II, chapter 7.1.4 & 7.1.6 and Volume III, Section 5.

“SMCs should consider how to match different aircraft capabilities to the circumstances and tasks required. For instance, fixed-wing aircraft might be excellent communications platforms and able to carry out searches and ACO duties, but are not capable of rescue hoist operations. SAR helicopters are flexible in their operations, but usually cannot fly as fast, as far, or as high as fixed-wing aircraft and generally need to refuel more often. Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) might have useful reconnaissance and communications capabilities and be able to remain on scene for long periods of time, but some RPA also have a limited radius of operations. In general, for safety reasons, aircraft flown by aircrew and RPA should be kept well apart. [...]

“SMCs should consider the abilities of the crew and aircraft when planning and during operations, so that no tasks are beyond their abilities.”

If tasks are given that would require aircraft and aircrew to conduct flying activities “beyond their abilities or their approved types of operations [...] the pilot-in-command shall inform the RCC/OSC/ACO immediately.”

4.5 The SMC, working closely with the OSC and ACO,

“should aim to achieve the most effective blend of aircraft and surface unit capabilities for the situations that are anticipated. The operation should aim to achieve continuous or efficient use of aircraft on scene when needed, while minimising the situations in which aircraft are airborne without a mission.” Aircraft held in reserve “can provide additional resources if needed, or relieve other aircraft involved in the operation for reasons related to aircrew fatigue or maintenance requirements.”

IAMSAR Volume III, Section 5.

4.6 Good communication and understanding between SMC, OSC and ACO, and between the ACO and the pilots-in-command of the aircraft responding to the incident, are essential to flight safety and operational success. The coordination of multiple aircraft responding to an MRO is a specialist subject which the text added to IAMSAR deals with in detail, and for which potential ACOs should be specifically trained. See guidance paper 4.5.

4.7 The new IAMSAR text also includes guidance on the reporting necessary to the ACO’s and aircraft commanders’ situational awareness; on refuelling; and on entering and leaving ‘areas of SAR action’.

IAMSAR Volume III, Section 5 defines an ‘area of SAR action’ as “an area of defined dimensions that is established, notified or agreed for the purposes of protecting aircraft during SAR operations and within which SAR operations take place”.

“SAR aircraft intending to enter an area of SAR action should normally first contact the ACO. They should not enter the area until the ACO gives them permission and provides them with sufficient information to safely join the flow of SAR aircraft involved in the operation. [...]

“Aircraft that are not involved in a SAR operation should normally not fly within areas of SAR action. However, if such aircraft need to enter an area of SAR action, they should do so only with the approval of a SMC, ACO or coordinating ATS unit and are subject to the rules of the area or the relevant class of airspace. If a SMC or coordinating ATS unit is giving approval, the ACO should first be consulted.”

5 Summary

5 Summary

o   Winch-fitted maritime SAR helicopters are a major aid to maritime rescue generally and will certainly have a place in a mass rescue operation – but their best use should be carefully considered. They are probably best thought of as 'specialist' rescuers in MROs, providing 'surgical' delivery and extraction services.
o   Fixed-wing SAR aircraft may be able to deliver support; can cover search areas rapidly and effectively, and make good communications and surveillance platforms. A fixed-wing aircraft with a SAR-trained crew is likely to be the best choice as ACO in areas not covered sufficiently by Air Traffic Services.
o   The SMC, working with the OSC and the ACO in particular, should aim to achieve efficient use of aircraft on scene when needed, minimising situations in which aircraft are airborne without a mission. Where more aircraft are available than are needed immediately, some can be held in reserve at forward bases.
o   Good communication and understanding between SMC, OSC and ACO, and between the ACO and the pilots-in-command of the aircraft responding to the incident, are essential to flight safety and operational success. All aircraft intending to enter the area of SAR action should do so only with the agreement and under the control of the ACO.
o   The IAMSAR Manual should be consulted, and other guidance papers in this series considered, as regards different parts of the operation; search, rescue, support, coordination and communications.

6 Further Reading

6 Further Reading

6.1 For further reading on command, control, coordination and communications in mass rescue operations, follow this link.

6.2 The reader is also referred to the other guidance papers mentioned in the 'Overview' above and, in turn, to the further reading they recommend.

6.3 In general, the IAMSAR Manual provides the main international guidance on the use of SAR facilities; Volume II as regards their choice and coordination, and Volume III as regards their operation.

4.5 The Aircraft Coordinator

Written by David Jardine-Smith. Posted in C4 - Command, Control, Coordination & Communications (

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Contents

Contents

This paper discusses:

o   the general role of the Aircraft Coordinator (ACO)
o   the ACO's role in a mass rescue operation
o   the ACO as On Scene Coordinator
o   the SAR Mission Coordinator / On Scene Coordinator / ACO relationship
o   ACO qualification, training and responsibility
o   designating an ACO
o   ACO workload, transfer, reporting and record-keeping
o   aircraft not involved in the SAR operation, including news media aircraft

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 The guidance in this section focuses on various aspects of the coordination question. The concept of coordination itself, and the various coordinators who may be involved, are discussed in guidance paper 4.1. Three of the four main coordinating roles identified in the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual – the SAR Coordinator, the Coordinator and the On Scene Coordinator – are discussed in guidance papers 4.24.3 & 4.4. Some of the uses to which surface units and aircraft may be put in a mass rescue operation are discussed in guidance papers 4.6 & 4.7 respectively. Guidance paper 4.8 considers the important matter of coordinating the maritime and the shoreside response. And the communications systems and procedures essential to the success of all these aspects of an MRO are discussed in guidance paper 4.9.

1.3 The fourth coordinating role identified in the IAMSAR Manual – the Aircraft Coordinator (ACO) – is discussed in this paper.

2 The General Role of the Aircraft Coordinator

2 The General Role of the Aircraft Coordinator

2.1 The IAMSAR Manual defines the Aircraft Coordinator as "a person or team who coordinates the involvement of multiple aircraft SAR operations in support of the SAR Mission Coordinator and the On Scene Coordinator". Volume II chapter 1.2.5 summarises the ACO's tasks in general:

"The purpose of the aircraft coordinator function is to maintain high flight safety and cooperate in the rescue action to make it more effective. The ACO function should be seen as a cooperating, supporting and advisory service. The ACO should normally be designated by the SMC, or if that is not practicable, by the OSC. The ACO function will normally be performed by the facility with the most suitable mix of communication means, radar, GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) combined with trained personnel to effectively coordinate the involvement of multiple aircraft in SAR operations while maintaining flight safety. Generally the ACO is responsible to the SMC; however, the ACO work on scene must be coordinated closely with the OSC [...]. Duties of the ACO can be carried out from a fixed-wing aircraft, helicopter, ship, a fixed structure such as an oil rig, or an appropriate land unit, such as an ATS [Air Traffic Services] unit or RCC [Rescue Coordination Centre]. Depending on needs and qualifications, the ACO may be assigned duties that include the following:

- coordinate the airborne resources in a defined geographical area;
- assist in maintaining flight safety by issuing safety-related information;
- practise flow planning (example: point of entry and point of exit);
- prioritize and allocate tasks;
- coordinate the coverage of search areas;
- forward radio messages (can be the only duty);
- make consolidated situation reports (SITREPs) to the SMC and the OSC, as appropriate; and work closely with the OSC; and
  The SITREP format is included in IAMSAR Manual Volume III. See also guidance paper 4.9.
- it is important that the ACO is aware [...] that the participating airborne units [should], if possible, try to avoid disturbing other participating units with, for example, noise and rotor wind [also known as 'down-draught' or 'downwash']."


­2.2 The principal source of international guidance on the ACO role – because it is carried by most ships and aircraft on international routes and therefore will be available to ships' masters and aircraft commanders who are asked to take on the role – is Volume III, 'Mobile Facilities'. The list of ACO duties contained in Volume III is annexed to this guidance paper.

2.3 A significant amount of additional guidance on multiple aircraft SAR operations has been added to all three volumes of the IAMSAR Manual in its 2016 edition. In particular, procedures and principles are described in a new chapter 7 added to IAMSAR Volume II and a new section 5 added to Volume III. This guidance should be referred to by MRO planners. Significant points drawn from this new text are included in this paper and in guidance paper 4.7.

2.4 An ACO should be appointed when there is more than one aircraft responding to any SAR incident and assigned to operate within an ‘area of SAR action’, which IAMSAR defines as “an area of defined dimensions that is established, notified or agreed for the purposes of protecting aircraft during SAR operations and within which SAR operations take place”.

Volume II, chapter 7.2.2.

2.5 The SMC should be enabled by national and/or regional agreement to establish an ‘area of SAR action’, and Air Traffic Services (ATS) and other aeronautical organisations should be made aware of it so that aircraft not involved in the operation can be kept clear. IAMSAR explains that:

Volume II, chapter 7.2.3-4 & 7.6.1

“The dimensions of the required area of SAR action depend on the circumstances and can be different over land compared to maritime operations. In general, the horizontal and vertical dimensions of an area of SAR action should be large enough to enable safe operations for SAR units, taking into account the need for airborne SAR units to safely manoeuvre throughout their mission profile. SAR plans might involve procedures in which different altitude levels are assigned to different aircraft. This is an important consideration whenever any combination of fixed wing aircraft, helicopters and remotely piloted aircraft are operating in the same area. Factors to be taken into account when considering the dimensions of areas of SAR action include the following:

- the required extent of SAR activities, including searching
- the need for multiple aircraft to manoeuvre safely
- the need to protect SAR aircraft from other types of operations
- the impact that SAR activities might have on other, neighbouring activities.

“If multiple aircraft SAR operations take place within controlled airspace, then either the ATS should control SAR aircraft in accordance with normal ATS procedures or an agreed portion of airspace should be temporarily handed over for coordination by an ACO. The ATS unit involved may also be in a position to carry out some of the duties of an ACO. [...]

“Horizontal spacing of aircraft should be the basic method used by SAR authorities and ACOs. It can be achieved by establishing specific routes to be flown by SAR aircraft to, from and within the area of SAR action. For situations in which keeping aircraft apart horizontally will not ensure sufficient levels of safety, or if a cross-over of aircraft flight paths cannot be avoided, then, when weather permits, vertical spacing should be considered. It may not always be necessary for SAR aircraft to fly at different altitudes, unless they are likely to fly close to each other or their flight paths cross over. If a significant possibility of collision exists, then different altitudes should be assigned for SAR aircraft.

“In general, altitudes for RPAs [Remotely Piloted Aircraft] should be kept apart from altitudes allocated for other SAR aircraft.”

2.6 The ACO coordinates aircraft movements within the area of SAR action, and can advise the SMC and/or OSC on best use of the aircraft available, their limitations, and other issues of importance to the overall coordination of the response, such as the on-scene endurance of the various air assets.

2.7 The ACO will also be involved in flight support issues such as arranging refuelling. Use can be made of strategically located refuelling facilities such as airfields, offshore installations and vessels that can refuel aircraft.

3 The Aircraft Coordinator's Role in a Mass Rescue Operation

3 The Aircraft Coordinator's Role in a Mass Rescue Operation

3.1 The ACO's role does not differ in an MRO: it is still to coordinate the involvement of multiple aircraft – but this is more likely in an MRO, and the work will be a part of a more complex whole.

3.2 One of the means of overcoming the ‘capability gap’ discussed in guidance paper 1.4 is to share resources regionally. This is more likely to be a practical proposition with SAR aircraft than with surface units, because of aircrafts’ higher transit speeds and the expense of providing air assets locally. IAMSAR Volume I contains the following advice:

Chapter 6.7.3-4.

“Differences in the availability of airborne SAR units, [their] capabilities and geography across different SAR Regions cause regional differences in plans for multiple aircraft SAR operations. Significant differences may increase risks to safety during operations in which aircraft, SAR units or staff from different SAR organizations work together. In order to promote safety, effectiveness and best practise, it is important that SAR organizations develop plans for multiple aircraft SAR operations based on common procedures and principles.”

It is the ACO’s primary task to implement these plans.

3.3 IAMSAR Volume II notes that:

Chapter 7.1.8.

“In some situations, such as mass evacuations from offshore drilling platforms, large scale incidents over land areas etc, aircraft belonging to commercial companies or other organisations might be able to respond to incidents as part of existing emergency plans. During SAR operations, it is essential that the activities of these aircraft be coordinated with the overall SAR response in order to reduce the risk of collisions and to make the overall operation safe and effective. SAR authorities and SMCs should therefore make agreements with commercial companies and other organisations describing how SAR operations should be coordinated, when both SAR and other aircraft are involved. SAR authorities and SMCs should also be aware of the SAR requirements and capabilities of relevant companies and organisations in their SRRs [SAR Regions].”

3.4 There is a common theme in all these extracts: the ACO's is primarily a safety role, communicating with and coordinating the actions of all aircraft involved in the response so as to ensure that they are kept safely apart and able to operate efficiently in accordance with the search, rescue and/or support plans developed by the SMC and implemented by the OSC (see guidance papers 4.3 & 4.4). As a corollary of this, the ACO will be able to advise the SMC and OSC on aircraft safety issues and the capabilities and potential uses of the aircraft available, as in turn advised by the aircraft commanders.

3.5 Knowing that their movements are being monitored by an ACO enables individual aircraft commanders to focus on the tasks given to them. If aircraft were to participate in a search, for example, without ACO cover, their crews would be obliged to spend significant amounts of time looking out for other aircraft rather than search objects.

3.6 Similarly, granted that very few aircraft will be able to operate simultaneously over a ship or installation in distress – often only one at a time – an ACO is required to establish and maintain traffic flow into and out of the area of SAR action and into and out of the immediate rescue area.

4 The Aircraft Coordinator as On Scene Coordinator

4 The Aircraft Coordinator as On Scene Coordinator

4.1 The ACO role is clearly distinct from that of the OSC in the 'classic' division of SAR coordination work as envisaged in IAMSAR – an SMC developing plans in conjunction with an OSC who organises their implementation on scene, and an ACO who looks after the aircraft safety element. As discussed below, the ACO need not actually be 'on scene' so long as s/he has sufficient overview to be able to carry out the task. On the other hand, the ACO can operate from the same unit as the OSC, providing that unit has the capability – surveillance and communications equipment and trained specialist staff – to undertake both functions.

4.2 There are some circumstances in which this relationship might be reversed. An aircraft can be appointed OSC if it is the most suitable unit available for the task. If other SAR facilities on scene are best used for immediate search, rescue or support work that will fully occupy them, for example, a fixed-wing aircraft, with a full communications fit, a SAR-trained crew and enough on-scene endurance, can be more efficiently used as OSC.

4.3 'Areas remote from SAR facilities' are discussed in guidance paper 2.8, and some of the implications for coordination in such areas in guidance papers 4.3 & 4.4. In these circumstances a fixed-wing aircraft may be the only designated SAR unit able to reach the scene, and is likely to be the best choice as OSC, if its crew are suitably trained and equipped and if its on-scene endurance is sufficient.

4.4 It may also be that aircraft are the main or, conceivably, the only SAR facilities able to undertake the rescue, in which case the on-scene coordination work becomes largely an ACO function. There have been SAR cases in which evacuation has had to be done mostly by helicopter, for example.

The latter part of the Norman Atlantic ferry rescue in late 2014 was such a case. After the ship's evacuation systems were rendered unusable by fire, trapping passengers and crew on upper decks, they were recovered, over many hours, by a carefully coordinated stream of helicopters.

4.5 How the work is best divided between an OSC and ACO is a matter for the SMC to decide, in discussion with the units concerned.

5 The SMC/OSC/ACO Relationshipicon

5 The SMC/OSC/ACO Relationship

5.1 In the classic tripartite division of SAR coordination activity, the ACO will work closely with an SMC and OSC in a mass rescue operation (see guidance papers 4.3 & 4.4) as well as with all the aircraft assigned to the operation (see guidance paper 4.7).

5.2 Like the OSC, part of the ACO's function is to act as a communications node, receiving plans from the SMC and/or OSC and, after any necessary discussion and agreement, relaying them to the aircraft involved and passing reports back. This requires a reliable and clearly understood communications network: see guidance paper 4.9.

5.3 IAMSAR contains a diagram illustrating the relationship, reproduced below. The diagram shows the SMC acting in support of the casualty, planning the maritime response and linking it to the commensurate response ashore. The OSC and ACO act in the SMC's support in turn, the OSC primarily responsible for implementing the plan as regards surface units, and the ACO as regards aircraft. (Other aspects of the diagram are discussed in guidance paper 4.9.)

shoresidediagram

6 ACO Qualification, Training and Responsibility

6 ACO Qualification, Training and Responsibility

6.1 IAMSAR says that:

Volume II, chapter 7.3.2.

“ACOs fulfil a vital function during SAR operations and their duties can be complex and require specialist knowledge. [...] In order to ensure the best standard of SAR operations and safety, people likely to be designated as ACOs should be specially trained to carry out this duty. Once trained, SAR authorities should ensure that exercises take place to train ACOs and to practice multiple aircraft operations. RCCs should be aware of trained ACOs in their SRRs and establish procedures for tasking them whenever they might be needed for a SAR mission.”

6.2 As regards responsibility for flight safety, IAMSAR says that:

Volume II, chapter 7.3.3 & Volume III, Section 5.

“Information from ACOs to aircraft on scene is advisory, but should nevertheless be followed as closely as practicable. If necessary to ensure flight safety, aircraft pilots-in-command should take whatever measures they assess are needed. If aircraft pilots-in-command deviate from advice passed by an ACO, then they should inform the ACO as soon as possible. The final decision concerning the safety of an aircraft, its crew and passengers rests with the pilots-in-command of the aircraft involved. [...]

“Methods used to safely keep aircraft apart will depend on the on scene conditions. Beginning with good weather conditions and progressing to poor conditions, methods for keeping aircraft apart can be as follows:

- Visual Methods
- Flow Methods
- Coordination Zones
- No Fly Zones.”

6.3 More information on these and other aspects of multiple SAR aircraft coordination, together with checklists, is contained in the new guidance added to the 2016 edition of IAMSAR. Units likely to be designated as ACOs or to take part as airborne SAR units in a multi-aircraft operation should always have these checklists and guidance available. Carriage of Volume III of the IAMSAR Manual by these units is recommended.

7 Designating an ACO

7 Designating an ACO

7.1 Careful consideration should be given to the appointment of an ACO. Guidance paper 4.4 notes that pre-selection is the preferable option for OSCs whenever possible. This is at least as beneficial for ACOs. IAMSAR says that:

Volume II, chapter 7.3.5-7.

“Whenever two or more aircraft are taking part in a SAR operation and are likely to operate close to each other, SAR authorities should consider designating a person, unit or organization as an ACO.

“An ACO is designated by a SMC and should carry out missions under a SMC's direction. SMCs should consider designating an ACO as soon as they recognize that a SAR incident might need a response from two or more aircraft. ACOs should be notified of their mission as early as possible, in order to give them the maximum time to prepare for their tasks.

“There are many factors for SMCs to consider when designating an ACO, however. Some significant considerations are as follows:

- Designating an ACO should be considered when two or more aircraft are involved in a SAR mission.
- An ACO should be equipped with appropriate forms of communication for the SAR mission, such as the appropriate radios for communicating with aircraft, with ATS units, with SAR authorities and with SRUs [SAR units] on the surface.
- An ACO should clearly understand the overall objective of the SAR operation and relevant SMC plans.
- ACOs should be provided with sufficient information to carry out their mission or have access to sufficient information.
- An ACO should know which authority to report to (normally the SMC) and which other units are involved in a mission.
- ACOs should be able to reach the required location in sufficient time for them to prepare for and carry out their duties.
- A person or SAR unit designated as an ACO should have received appropriate training beforehand.
- An ACO should be familiar with the types of aircraft involved and their flying operations.
- An ACO should be familiar with SAR operations involving multiple aircraft.
- ACOs should ideally be familiar with the environment, normal procedures, activities and air traffic systems in the areas of operation.
- The time that ACOs may be available to carry out their missions should be considered. If an ACO is on board an aircraft, then aircraft endurance might limit the amount of time for which that ACO can be available.”

7.2 IAMSAR also notes that:

“ACOs should ideally be as close to the scene of a SAR incident as practicable. However, the choice of location of an ACO is flexible, and they should operate in locations which best help them to carry out their duties, such as on a fixed-wing aircraft, a helicopter, a ship, a fixed structure such as an oil rig, an ATS unit, a coordinating RCC or another appropriate land unit.“

Volume II, chapter 7.3.8.

8 ACO Workload, Transfer, Reporting and Record-Keeping

8 ACO Workload, Transfer, Reporting and Record-Keeping

8.1 The workload of an ACO can be intense. IAMSAR says that:

Volume II, chapter 7.3.10 & 7.3.15-17.

“As much as possible, SMCs should aim to reduce an ACO's workload by coordinating SAR activities taking place within an area of SAR action with relevant ATS units, airfields and other facilities. However, depending on the location and circumstances of an incident, ACOs should also be prepared to carry out these duties. [...]

“During some SAR operations, particularly those lasting for long periods of time, it may be necessary to transfer the tasks from one ACO to another. This might be due to fatigue, factors affecting an ACO's location, such as the requirement for an ACO's aircraft to refuel, or for other reasons.

“Before accepting the task the new ACO should understand the details of the SAR mission and the SMC's plans. The details required include the aim of the operation, the position of the missing object, number of persons in distress, other units involved, locations of participating aircraft, communications and any limitations to the operation. When possible, basic pre-flight information should be provided by a SMC in order to simplify the transfer to the new ACO. [...]

“A new ACO will need enough time to obtain information, study it and then prepare to accept the task from the previous ACO. Every SAR mission may be different, but as a general guide, a handover of information should begin approximately thirty minutes before a new ACO formally takes over.”

8.2 Reports to the OSC and/or SMC as appropriate form an inevitable part of the ACO’s workload, as does record-keeping. These tasks are discussed in guidance paper 4.4 as regards the OSC, and most are the same for the ACO. IAMSAR says that:

Volume II, chapter 7.3.12.

“The ACO should make regular reports of on scene activity to the SMC and aircraft involved in the SAR operation. When possible, these reports should be made when ACOs or aircraft are not busy with other operational tasks. [...] A general guide is for ACOs to make reports every thirty minutes during a SAR operation.”

8.3 In MROs an indicative list of what should be recorded, with all entries timed, is as follows:

o   time of appointment as ACO and time of relief or release from ACO duties, and by whom
o   location when appointed, and own unit's subsequent actions
o   weather conditions, with changes and forecasts received
o   the search, rescue and/or action plans received from the SMC or OSC
o   any discussion of the plans with the SMC and/or OSC, and modifications agreed
o   the identities of SAR facilities assigned to the ACO
o   their times of arrival at, and departure from, the scene
o   the tasks allocated to each
o   communications with the SAR facilities assigned
o   communications with the SMC and/or OSC, including SITREPs
o   any safety concerns, and actions taken to resolve or mitigate them
o   areas searched; the track spacing achieved; and the results
o   rescue action plan results
o   support action plan results
o   numbers of people retrieved, with any other identity detail received
o   SAR facilities with survivors and/or the dead aboard; their numbers and condition
o   destinations and ETAs of SAR facilities departing the scene
o   requests for medical or other specialist assistance.

9 Aircraft not Involved in the SAR Operation, Including News Media and VIP Aircraft

9 Aircraft not Involved in the SAR Operation, Including News Media and VIP Aircraft

9.1 The ACO coordinates aircraft movements within the area of SAR action, as discussed, and aircraft not involved in the operation – and which are not needed for it – should be notified of the area's dimensions and should keep well clear.

9.2 There may be a need to accommodate flights into or near to the area of SAR action by aircraft carrying Government officials, Ministers or other VIPs. The ACO must be given early notice of such flights so that they can be coordinated in such a way as to ensure that SAR aircraft operations are not compromised or impeded.

9.3 News media interest in a mass rescue operation may be intense, and editors will want pictures of the scene (see guidance paper 2.3). This may lead to attempts to fly into the area of SAR action – which may be dangerous. The relevant aviation authorities should ensure that regulations are in place, and are enforced, to prevent uncontrolled entry.

9.4 This is not to say that the news media should be prevented from acquiring the pictures they need. Pictures obtained for SAR purposes may be shared, by agreement; and/or overflights by aircraft chartered by the news media may be allowed, again with the ACO's approval and avoiding any adverse impact on SAR aircraft operations.

10 Summary

10 Summary

o The tasks that may be delegated to an Aircraft Coordinator are described in the IAMSAR Manual, particularly Volume III. The ACO's main duties are to ensure flight safety and, in an MRO, to assist in implementing the response plans under the SAR Mission Coordinator's general direction, working closely with the On Scene Coordinator.
o An ACO should be appointed, normally by the SMC or, if that is not practicable, by the OSC, whenever there is more than one aircraft assigned to operate within an 'area of SAR action'.
o The ACO function should be seen as a cooperating, supporting and advisory service.
o The ACO function will normally be performed by the facility with the most suitable mix of communications, radar, and GNSS equipment and trained personnel.
o It is important that SAR organizations develop plans for multiple aircraft SAR operations based on common principles and procedures.
o In order to ensure the best standard of SAR operations and safety, people likely to be designated as ACOs should be specially trained to carry out this duty.
o Knowing that their movements are being monitored by an ACO enables individual aircraft commanders to focus on their primary tasks.
o The ACO should make regular reports of on scene activity to the SMC, OSC and the aircraft involved in the operation.
o Aircraft not involved in the operation should be kept well clear. Aircraft carrying VIPs and/or news media teams must only be allowed into or near to the area of SAR action in consultation with the ACO, and should not be allowed to impede SAR operations.

11 Further Reading

11 Further Reading

11.1 For further reading on command, control, coordination and communications in mass rescue operations, follow this link

11.2 Volume III of the IAMSAR Manual, ‘Mobile Facilities’, Section 5 ‘Multiple Aircraft SAR Operations’ is the principal source of guidance for the ACO. Volume II, ‘Mission Co-ordination’, also provides guidance on the role, with a summary at chapter 1.2.5 and additional guidance in chapter 7.

ANNEX

ANNEX 

IAMSAR Manual Volume III, 'ACO Duties'

o   Contributing to flight safety:
      maintain a safe flow of aircraft
      ensure use of a common altimeter setting for all aircraft involved
      advise the SMC of on-scene weather implications
      determine a direction for entering and leaving an area of SAR action
      determine all points necessary for maintaining safe flow in an area of SAR action
      filter radio messages to and from SAR aircraft
      ensure frequencies are used in accordance with SMC directives
      coordinate with adjacent air traffic services (ATS) units
o   Prioritising and allocating tasks:
      ensure SAR aircraft are aware of the SMC/OSC overall plan and their own tasks
      monitor and report search area coverage
      with appropriate SMC/OSC, identify emerging tasks and direct SAR aircraft to meet them
o   Coordinating aircraft operations:
      respond to changing factors on scene and supervise effectiveness of operations
      ensure the continuity of aircraft operations in coordination with SMC/OSC
o   Informing SAR aircraft:
      assign tasks to aircraft.
      distribute all relevant flight safety information to aircraft
      provide information about relevant air activity and dangers on scene.
      provide information about search areas (if applicable), evacuation points (if applicable) and refuelling facilities.
      provide operational information about the ongoing SAR mission
      provide relevant weather information
o   Make periodic situation reports (SITREPs) of SAR aircraft operations to the SMC and the OSC, as appropriate
o   Work closely with the OSC:
      assist in the execution of SMC directives
      maintain communications
      advise on how the ACO can assist
o   Coordinate aircraft refuelling

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4.4 The On Scene Coordinator

Written by David Jardine-Smith. Posted in C4 - Command, Control, Coordination & Communications (

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Contents

Contents

This paper discusses:

o   the general role of the On Scene Coordinator (OSC)
o   the OSC's role in a mass rescue operation
      communications with the casualty, the SMC, and SAR facilities on scene
      coordination of SAR facilities on scene
      receiving, modifying and implementing search, rescue and support action plans
      monitoring safety
      reporting and record-keeping
o   appointing an OSC
o   pre-selecting an OSC
o   remote area operations

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 The guidance in this section focuses on various aspects of the coordination question. The concept of coordination itself, and the various coordinators who may be involved, are discussed in guidance paper 4.1. Three of the four main coordinating roles identified in the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual – the SAR Coordinator, the SAR Mission Coordinator, and the Aircraft Coordinator – are discussed in guidance papers 4.24.3 & 4.5. Some of the uses to which surface units and aircraft may be put in a mass rescue operation are discussed in guidance papers 4.6 & 4.7 respectively. Guidance paper 4.8 considers the important matter of coordinating the maritime and the shoreside response. And the communications systems and procedures essential to the success of all these aspects of an MRO are discussed in guidance paper 4.9.

1.3 The fourth coordinating role identified in the IAMSAR Manual – the On Scene Coordinator (OSC) – is discussed in this paper.

2 The General Role of the On Scene Coordinator

2 The General Role of the On Scene Coordinator

2.1 The IAMSAR Manual defines the OSC as 'a person designated to coordinate search and rescue operations within a specified area'. Volume II, the 'Mission Coordination' volume, Chapter 1.2.4 summarises the OSC's tasks in general:

"When two or more SAR units are working together on the same mission, there is sometimes an advantage if one person is assigned to coordinate the activities of all participating units. The SMC [SAR Mission Coordinator] designates this on-scene coordinator (OSC), who may be the person in charge of a search and rescue unit (SRU), ship or aircraft participating in a search, or someone at another nearby facility in a position to handle OSC duties. The person in charge of the first SAR facility to arrive at the scene will normally assume the function of OSC until the SMC directs that the person be relieved. The OSC may have to assume SMC duties and actually plan the search and/or rescue if the OSC becomes aware of a distress situation directly and communications cannot be established with an RCC. The OSC should be the most capable person available, taking into consideration SAR training, communications capabilities, and the length of time that the unit the OSC is aboard can stay in the search area. Frequent changes in the OSC should be avoided. Duties which the SMC may assign to the OSC, depending on needs and qualification, include any of the following:

-   assume operational coordination of all SAR facilities on scene;
-   receive the search and/or rescue action plan from the SMC;
-   modify the action plan based on prevailing environmental conditions and keep the SMC advised of any changes to the plan (discuss proposed modifications with the SMC when practicable);
-   provide relevant information to the other SAR facilities;
-   implement the action plan;
-   monitor the performance of other units participating in the operation; and
-   make consolidated reports (SITREPs) to the SMC."
    The SITREP format is included in IAMSAR Manual Volume III. See also guidance paper 4.9.


2.2 IAMSAR Volume II should be referred to by MRO planners, including its guidance on the use of an OSC. However, the principal source of international guidance on the OSC role – because it is carried by most ships and aircraft on international routes and therefore will be available to ships' masters and aircraft commanders who are asked to take on the role – is Volume III, 'Mobile Facilities'. The list of OSC duties contained in Volume III is annexed to this guidance paper.

2.3 IAMSAR makes reference to the possibility that an OSC may have to self-appoint, and run the SAR operation without assistance if communications cannot be established with an RCC. We will return to this point at the end of this guidance paper. In the meantime we will consider the situation in which an RCC and SMC capable of handling an MRO are in place, and in communication with the OSC.

2.4 In guidance paper 4.3 we describe the OSC as the SMC's eyes, ears and voice on-scene. There is no need to appoint an OSC in 'ordinary' SAR operations if communications between the RCC and those on scene are good and there are only a few SAR facilities involved. But MROs are 'extraordinary'. But it is hard to imagine an MRO scenario in which the careful use of an OSC would not be of very significant benefit. It is therefore recommended that an OSC should always be appointed in a mass rescue operation – and at a very early stage, to allow as much time as possible for preparation.

3 The On Scene Coordinator's Role in a Mass Rescue Operation

3 The On Scene Coordinator's Role in a Mass Rescue Operation

3.1 The IAMSAR guidance on on-scene coordination is comprehensive, and may seem daunting to anyone asked to become the OSC, in any circumstances. But what is an OSC's role in a mass rescue operation? We will consider some of the implications of the role as it is described in IAMSAR, in the MRO context:

o   assuming operational coordination of SAR facilities on scene;
o   receiving, modifying and implementing search and rescue action plans;
o   monitoring safety;
o   reporting to the SMC; and
o   keeping records.

Then, having looked at what the role entails, we will discuss who is best placed to take it on.

3.2 As the OSC's is intended to be mostly a communications role – and as good communications are essential to its success – we will begin with a consideration of the OSC as a key link in the communications network, as outlined in the diagram, from IAMSAR, below.

shoresidediagram

4 Communications with the Casualty, the SMC, and SAR Facilities on Scene

4 Communications with the Casualty, the SMC, and SAR Facilities on Scene

4.1 In the context of mass rescue operations IAMSAR Volume II says:

Chapter 6.15.18.

"The OSC will normally be designated by an SMC. An OSC may be able to handle certain communications on scene and with appropriate remote authorities to help free the pilot or master to retain the integrity of his or her craft. However, these persons are themselves in need of assistance, and anything the OSC can do to help them should be considered, bearing in mind that the OSC's main duty is coordinating SAR facilities and rescue efforts under the SMC's general direction."

4.2 This text emphasises the importance of the concept of helping the commander of the ship, aircraft or other unit in distress, where there is such a person and they are able to communicate. The entire MRO is essentially mounted in that commander's support. The maritime SAR is coordinated by the SMC, based at a Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC). But the RCC will almost always be remote from the scene, and the commander of the unit in distress may well find it easier to talk to a colleague on scene. This link, if it is established, is one of the On Scene Coordinator's most important functions in a mass rescue operation, together with his/her appraisal of the situation, both initially and as it develops, which must be passed to the SMC without delay.

4.3 Guidance paper 4.9 discusses communications questions – including the need to ensure that the commander of the unit in distress is not over-burdened. In an ideal situation s/he would only have to talk to one external responder, and not be distracted from on-board actions in response to the emergency.

4.4 This single link to external assistance is achievable. It may be via the commander's own company, or direct with the RCC; or it can be via the OSC. In practice, unless a very good relationship has been established between the company and the SAR services (probably beforehand), there may be some duplication, at least in the early stages. However, duplication of communications between the unit in distress and the RCC and OSC should be avoided whenever possible. The SMC and OSC should agree who will communicate with the casualty and stick to that agreement, each keeping the other informed.

4.5 Whoever is talking to the casualty, the communication link between the SMC and the OSC is vital. Whatever responsibilities the OSC is taking on (see below), they are delegated from the SMC, and it is essential that both understand what those responsibilities are and that they should be able to discuss them without restraint. This is a team effort.

4.6 Although the workload may be limited in various ways (see below), part of the OSC's job is to handle communications with at least some of the other responders on scene, providing planning and other information to them, and receiving reports back. The OSC's role as described in IAMSAR is not only about communications – but acting as a node in the communications network greatly assists with the sub-division of MRO communications that is fundamental to efficient information flow. See guidance paper 4.9.

5 Coordination of SAR Facilities on Scene

5 Coordination of SAR Facilities on Scene

5.1 IAMSAR calls for the OSC to "assume operational coordination of all SAR facilities on scene". This can be a very large task indeed in a mass rescue operation, involving many responding units of all types – SAR vessels large and small, merchant ships, fishing vessels and other small craft, naval and other Government craft, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, civilian and military. Few units will have the communications capabilities – in terms of personnel as well as equipment – to handle traffic with all these units. Nor will most have the necessary expertise aboard to support an OSC in dealing with matters such as flight safety for the aircraft involved.

The OSC in the Estonia disaster, for example – the master of a ferry – was unable to communicate with most of the helicopters which eventually carried out the majority of the rescues.

5.2 The key point here is that the IAMSAR Manual also says that the duties it lists are those "which the SMC may assign to the OSC, depending on needs and qualification" (our emphasis). An OSC is needed in a mass rescue operation, but to overload the OSC would be counter-productive. Clearly the SMC must ensure that no unnecessary tasks are delegated to the OSC – tasks which can be better done by the RCC, such as search, rescue and/or support action planning, or communicating with other shoreside authorities. And it is also the SMC's responsibility to ensure that the OSC has the capacity to manage those tasks that must be carried out on-scene. This is a matter for the earliest possible discussion with the person selected as OSC. If there are areas of work which are outside his or her expertise and/or too much to manage, these should be delegated elsewhere.

5.3 The best way to do this is to appoint 'sub-coordinators', as discussed in guidance papers 4.1 & 4.3. The most obvious example is the Aircraft Coordinator mentioned in IAMSAR, and discussed in guidance paper 4.5. If the person appointed OSC is master of a merchant ship, for example, s/he may have little or no knowledge of aircraft operations – but the ACO will have those skills and can act in support, dealing with flight safety and other aircraft issues and reporting to the SMC and OSC as appropriate.

5.4 Similarly, other on-scene tasks can be delegated to sub-coordinators not specified in IAMSAR. In guidance paper 4.1 we give the examples of a search coordinator, an on-board coordinator (who boards the casualty to act as a link to the OSC and/or SMC when support resources are being deployed aboard, or when the casualty is not under command or its commander needs assistance), and a small-craft marshal (in cases in which many small craft such as leisure craft are in the area of the accident). The aim is to give sections of the on-scene coordination work to subordinate coordinators to manage, making the overall task a little easier by spreading the load. If, for example, the OSC is looking after extensive rescue operations and the SMC wants to run a search operation at the same time – as a precaution or because people are known to be missing – the commander of a suitable unit can be tasked to coordinate the search, leaving the OSC free to focus on the rescue. The sub-coordinator, like the ACO, may report to the OSC or the SMC as appropriate and as is most efficient. See guidance paper 4.9.

5.5 Implicit in this recommendation is the availability of such sub-coordinators. We discuss the specific task of aircraft coordination in guidance paper 4.5. Depending on the circumstances, the task of on-board coordinator may also require a specialist, although this may be a role taken on by a ship's officer if it is sufficiently safe to transfer one. Separate search coordination and the organising of small craft are only required if there are several units on scene, and these are more straightforward tasks in any event so can be more readily delegated.

5.6 It may be possible to deploy specialists from ashore – including the deployment of additional communicators and/or SAR specialists to the OSC's own unit, to assist. (See also 'pre-selecting an OSC', below.) To do this, however, two things are required: preparation and time. Such personnel need to be trained and equipped for these roles beforehand, which should include training in transfer by helicopter or fast surface craft. And it will take time to transfer them. Such deployment may be of considerable benefit in protracted operations (remembering that fatigue will become an issue for the OSC and his/her own crew) but it should not be the only plan because of the time delay.

In the Estonia case already referred to an Aircraft Coordinator and other specialists were transferred to the OSC's ship – but they did not arrive until after the last rescue had been carried out.

5.7 Some specialist tasks may also be carried out remotely in some circumstances; for example, aircraft coordination by an air traffic service unit with full coverage of the scene. Others, however, can only be carried out on-scene. The SMC must select the best of the options available.

5.8 The important point here is to avoid overloading the OSC. Appointing an OSC – which we consider to be more or less essential in an MRO – is intended to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the response. But overloading the individual appointed is likely to have the opposite effect.

5.9 It is the SMC's responsibility to ensure that such overload does not occur, so far as possible. S/he and the OSC must communicate closely and honestly – and the OSC must accept responsibility for identifying when overload is becoming a real threat. The SMC can help prevent this by a careful analysis of both the situation and the appointed OSC's capabilities, and by appointing sub-coordinators sooner rather than later.

6 Receiving, Modifying and Implementing Search, Rescue and Support Action Plans

6 Receiving, Modifying and Implementing Search, Rescue and Support Action Plans

6.1 IAMSAR says, inter alia, that the OSC should:

o   receive search and/or rescue action plans from the SMC (almost certainly both in an MRO – and see below, too, as regards plans to support);
o   modify the action plans as the situation on-scene dictates and keep the SMC advised of any changes to the plan, discussing proposed modifications with the SMC when practicable;
o   implement the action plan, providing relevant information to the other SAR facilities, receiving their reports in return and keeping the SMC informed of progress;
o   advise the SMC to release facilities no longer required; and
o   request additional assistance from the SMC when necessary (medical evacuation of seriously injured survivors, for example).

6.2 As discussed in guidance papers 3.3 & 4.3, the response planning should also include the concept of on-scene support, either to mitigate the effects of the incident to such an extent that evacuation and therefore 'traditional' SAR are unnecessary, or to 'extend survival times' so that the SAR resources available can rescue more people. We have discussed the idea that, in effect, we might amend the IMO's definition of 'rescue' to read:

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

6.3 It is clearly the SMC's task to plan the various operations – search, rescue and/or support – that will achieve the aim of bringing people in distress to a place of safety. The OSC's primary task is to ensure that these plans, or the parts of them that are delegated to the OSC, are implemented as effectively as possible – which involves discussing them with the SMC as necessary, based upon what the OSC finds on scene, and improving them with the SMC's agreement.

6.4 The relationship between OSC and SMC should be very much a 'two-way street'. The ideal situation is that the SMC (with his/her RCC team) produces search, rescue and support plans, covering the whole of the maritime SAR segment of the MRO, including providing for survivors' initial needs and delivering them to a place of safety, and passes these plans to the OSC. The OSC comments on the plans as necessary, based on his/her experience and the situation on scene, and agrees any necessary modifications with the SMC before the plans are implemented and as the situation develops.

"No battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy," said Helmuth von Moltke. In MROs our 'enemies' are different to the General's; but his remark tends to be true of any plan that is too rigid and prescriptive. What may look very neat on paper can fail in practice – and if people think the plan is failing them, they will tend to abandon it. The key to ensuring that things do not go to pieces in action is for the plan, and those who have to implement it, to be flexible, and able to adapt to events.

SMC and OSC remain in frequent communication throughout, directly linked if possible, perhaps by a satellite phone call – partly to free up radio circuits for other traffic, partly to enable freer discussion (see guidance paper 4.9). Working together in this way will improve mutual understanding, the plan, and the results.

6.5 The SMC and OSC must try to avoid a number of things. The SMC must, as discussed, avoid overloading the OSC; and the OSC must warn the SMC if s/he is in danger of being overloaded. Both must avoid the impracticable: the OSC must advise the SMC if parts of the plans are unworkable or (to be more positive) can be improved; and the SMC must be ready to be flexible – it is worth repeating that this is a cooperative, coordinating relationship, not one of command. And both must actively avoid communications failures: each has to pass information and suggestions to the other in ways that can be received and clearly understood.

6.6 The same principles apply, of course, in the relationship between the OSC (and the ACO and other coordinators) and the units assigned to them.

6.7 Aspects of the planning the OSC may be asked to implement are discussed in other guidance papers in this series. (The IAMSAR Manual, and Volume III in particular, remains the main source of guidance to the OSC.) For further comments on retrieval of persons in distress, see guidance paper 2.4. On accounting for all at risk, including searching, see guidance paper 2.5. On supporting people during their transfer to a place of safety, see guidance paper 2.6, and on what constitutes a place of safety, guidance paper 2.7.

6.8 In implementing the plans, the OSC will also be able to advise the SMC as to which of the units available is particularly suited or unsuited for particular parts of the plan. Some units may be unable to carry out retrieval operations, for example – perhaps because they are too unmanoeuvrable or because it would be too dangerous in the prevailing conditions – while others, more agile and with low-freeboard areas, are better for the task.

6.9 The OSC may be able to advise the SMC to release units if no use can be found for them; but this decision should be carefully considered. Units unsuitable for one task may be suitable for another: searching, for example, or – in the case of large ships – helping to form a lee or acting as temporary places of safety. In an MRO, the only units which should obviously be released are those for which it would be dangerous to remain (usually because of actual or forecast weather and sea conditions) or which are at the end of their on-scene endurance. See guidance papers 3.1, 4.6 & 4.7.

6.10 Difficulties being encountered on scene or during the transfer of survivors to places of safety may not be apparent to the SMC unless the OSC reports them. Many such difficulties the SMC may be able to do little about – but s/he may be able to provide specific assistance if it is requested. Medical advice and assistance are an obvious example: in some cases medical teams can be brought out to assist rescue unit crews, or medical evacuation of urgent cases can be arranged. Less obvious is welfare support to large vessels with small crews and many survivors aboard. The SMC may regard these survivors as temporarily safe, yet the ship's staff are struggling to cope. Once again this is first and foremost a matter of communication – from the unit with the problem to the RCC, via the OSC as appropriate. See guidance paper 4.9.

7 Monitoring Safety

7 Monitoring Safety

7.1 IAMSAR says that the OSC may be asked to monitor the performance of other units participating in the operation; to "ensure operations are conducted safely, paying particular attention to maintaining safe separations among all facilities, both surface and air".

7.2 As discussed, the task of maintaining flight safety should be given to an Aircraft Coordinator – a person or unit with the necessary skills and communications and (ideally) tracking equipment. In a case in which the majority of responding units are aircraft, the ACO may also be the OSC, as discussed in guidance paper 4.5. In such circumstances the coordination of surface units may be outside the ACO's experience, in which case the safety overview task may be delegated to a suitable surface craft.

7.3 However, it is also important to note again that the OSC (like the ACO) is a coordinator. S/he does not normally have command over any unit other than his or her own (see guidance paper 4.1). The safety of each responding unit is, and remains, the responsibility of that unit's own commander. The OSC cannot take over that basic responsibility, and should not be assumed to be doing so.

7.4 That said, the OSC, as the lead coordinator on scene, does have a responsibility to assess the SMC's planning for practicability, which includes the safety of actions proposed under the plan. The OSC can see what the SMC almost always cannot – the on-scene conditions – and may have experience the SMC does not have; ship or aircraft handling characteristics, for example. If the OSC considers part of the plan to be unsafe s/he must raise the issue with the SMC and the commanders of units assigned to carry out that part of the plan. The final decision is for the individual commander, but having the OSC keep an eye on safety overall is beneficial.

7.5 Part of that process is to be wary of over-enthusiasm among individual unit commanders, especially those we have referred to as 'non-professionals' – typically those in charge of leisure craft that happen to be in the area. As discussed in guidance papers 3.14.1 & 4.6, such craft may be very useful in some circumstances if properly managed – or they may present a risk to themselves, to other responders, and to those who they are trying to save. The OSC, on scene, is better placed than the SMC to assess such crafts' capabilities in the prevailing conditions, and must bear the safety considerations in mind before giving them work to do or, if needs be, asking them to keep clear. (As discussed above, the task of assessing and marshalling such craft may be delegated to a 'sub-coordinator'.)

8 Reporting and Record-Keeping

8 Reporting and Record-Keeping

8.1 Both reporting and record-keeping are of considerable importance, and both are sometimes neglected in the heat of the moment. The IAMSAR Manual asks the OSC to make periodic situation reports to the SMC. A standard 'SITREP' format may be found in appendix D of IAMSAR Volume III. This form enables clear and consolidated reporting, saving time and helping to overcome language difficulties (see guidance paper 4.9). As discussed above, an open communications link between SMC and OSC is recommended, but SITREPs are a very useful tool whether or not this link can be established or maintained. They enable quick, clear communication – which is a major aim.

8.2 SITREPs should include but not be limited to:

o   weather and sea conditions
o   the results of search, rescue and/or support action to date
o   any modifications made or suggested to the action plans
o   any future plans or recommendations.

8.3 The OSC should also seek to ascertain, and to pass on to the SMC, the number, condition and, when available, names of survivors, and the identities of SAR facilities with survivors on board; which survivors are in each facility; and the destination and estimated time of arrival of each facility when it leaves the scene to transfer people to a place of safety. The latter information – when and where survivors can be expected, and in what numbers – is of very great importance in the next stage of the operation. It may seem – and may be – less urgent than action continuing at the scene, but the more information that can be provided to shoreside responders in good time, the better. See guidance paper 4.8.

8.4 As discussed in guidance paper 2.5, counting people is a much more difficult task than may at first appear. The OSC should seek to ensure that counts are carried out carefully by units which have retrieved people, explaining to their commanders the necessity of making sure that everyone is accounted for. The identities of survivors will also need to be established. Although this is less immediate – and should not be a matter for the OSC to deal with in an MRO – it is likely that SAR facilities transferring people to places of safety will be asked for this information by or via the RCC, especially if the transfer will take some time. The OSC should ask units with survivors aboard to collect information about the survivors they carry – names, nationalities, etc. Generally speaking, names should not be transmitted over open networks.

8.5 Of more immediate concern to the OSC, because it is more immediately important to lifesaving, is information about people needing urgent medical or other attention, and any information that survivors may have about people still unaccounted for or otherwise of value to the ongoing SAR effort. The OSC should ask rescue units to collect this information too, and should relay any such information to the RCC, so that appropriate assistance can be arranged in the first instance, and so that search and rescue action plans can be better informed in the second. See guidance paper 2.6.

8.6 In cases in which external support is being provided to a casualty, the OSC should also ensure that the RCC is informed when teams are deployed and recovered, and how many there are in each team. See guidance paper 3.3.

8.7 Finally, IAMSAR says that the OSC should maintain a detailed record of the operation, including when SAR facilities arrive at and depart from the scene; areas searched and the track spacing used; sightings and other relevant information.

8.8 As discussed, search coordination in an MRO may be a part of the operation that is delegated to a sub-coordinator. There are also many other aspects that should be recorded, to do with rescue and/or support action as well as searching. While the records will have great value in helping to complete reports to the SMC and later, in investigating the accident and the response, for example, they will also be of immediate value to the OSC, who will need to refer to details of information received, questions, decisions, taskings, results and timings to help him or her coordinate a complex operation. A simple but successful procedure in this respect is for the OSC to appoint a 'secretary', whose sole task it should be to keep a chronological record of all these elements. The secretary can be any staff member not otherwise engaged in the operation, or who can best be spared from it. In small crews this may not be practicable, but it should be attempted if possible. The OSC is very unlikely to be able to keep adequate records without help.

8.9 In MROs an indicative list of what should be recorded, with all entries timed, is as follows:

o   time of appointment as OSC and time of relief or release from OSC duties, and by whom
o   location when appointed, and own unit's subsequent actions
o   weather and sea conditions, with changes and forecasts received
o   the search, rescue and/or action plans received from the RCC
o   any discussion of the plans with the SMC, and modifications agreed
o   the identities of SAR facilities assigned to the OSC
o   their times of arrival at, and departure from, the scene
o   the tasks allocated to each, including any 'sub-coordination' tasks
o   communications with the SAR facilities assigned, including sub-coordinators
o   communications with the SMC / RCC, including SITREPs
o   any safety concerns, and actions taken to resolve or mitigate them
o   areas searched; the track spacing achieved; and the results
o   rescue action plan results
o   support action plan results
o   numbers of people retrieved, with any other identity detail received
o   SAR facilities with survivors and/or the dead aboard; their numbers and condition
o   destinations and ETAs of SAR facilities departing the scene
o   requests for medical or other specialist assistance.

9 Appointing an OSC

9 Appointing an OSC

9.1 As discussed, the role of OSC in a mass rescue operation is both vital and complex. The big question is, who should be appointed to carry it out?

9.2 The simple answer to this question is 'the most suitable person available', as determined by the SMC and the potential OSC – for it is very important that anyone asked to become OSC should tell the SMC if they do not have the capability to take the job on. It is better for the SMC to have to ask someone else (assuming someone else is available) than to take on the role and subsequently be overwhelmed by it.

9.3 Avoiding overloading the OSC is the responsibility of the SMC, and is discussed above and in guidance paper 4.3. The ability to appoint 'sub-coordinators' is especially important here, enabling the workload to be broken up into manageable pieces.

9.4 The IAMSAR Manual says that “the OSC should be the most capable person available, taking into consideration SAR training, communications capabilities, and the length of time that the unit the OSC is aboard can stay in the search area”, noting that “frequent changes in the OSC should be avoided”. The OSC, says IAMSAR, may be the person in charge of a designated SAR unit, or of a ship or aircraft participating, or someone at another nearby facility in a position to handle the necessary duties. The Manual also says that “the person in charge of the first SAR facility to arrive at the scene will normally assume the function of OSC until the SMC directs that the person be relieved”. It is for the SMC to select ‘the most capable person’, with that person’s agreement.

9.5 This is all very well, but the decision often has to be made rapidly, at the outset of what will, by definition, be a very challenging incident. If the OSC is not pre-selected (see below), how is the SMC to really assess training and capability? Yet the decision has to be made.

9.6 The points made in IAMSAR are important. To carry out the OSC function, the individual selected must understand what it entails – which implies at least some SAR knowledge and sufficient maritime experience – and must be able to communicate with the units assigned to him or her; which in turn means that s/he has to have enough people as well as the equipment to handle the communications. It should be remembered, however, that the OSC does not have to have the capability to communicate with every unit on scene, only with those assigned to him or her. A ship's master appointed OSC may not have direct communications with SAR aircraft, for example – but does not need to as long as s/he can communicate with an Aircraft Coordinator. See above, and guidance paper 4.9.

9.7 It is also very important to consider the length of time the OSC can continue in the role, and the focus s/he will be able to bring to it. Handing over the task before it is necessary to do so (which will usually be when the OSC begins to become fatigued) means an unnecessary hiatus in on-scene coordination: time must be spent passing information from the old OSC to the new one. For this reason the SMC should think twice before assigning the role to a designated SAR unit s/he knows well but which does not have much on-scene endurance because of fuel limitations. An additional SAR facility such as a merchant ship may be a better choice: the ship's master will have less SAR experience, but the ship will usually have the necessary on-scene endurance. Continuity is more important than a high level of SAR expertise. SAR plan details can be explained as necessary to someone with basic professional knowledge; and the risks associated with hand-overs (loss of time, misunderstandings, loss of detail) can be avoided.

9.8 Similarly, the person selected as OSC must be able to focus on the job. A designated SAR unit commander may well have the necessary knowledge – but that unit will probably be better used in its primary SAR function, and its commander is very unlikely to be able to do that and act effectively as OSC in a mass rescue operation. Indeed, we may say that only vessels with large crews with relevant training and multiple communications systems can really be expected to provide effective on-scene coordination as well as being heavily involved in SAR and/or support operations. If such a unit is not available it will usually be much better to let SAR-capable units do what they are best at and appoint as OSC someone who can concentrate on that task alone – the master of a less manoeuvrable merchant ship in the vicinity, perhaps, or the person in charge of a nearby installation; or perhaps the commander of a maritime patrol aircraft, provided that the aircraft has sufficient on-scene endurance.

9.9 It is sometimes suggested that the commander of the unit in distress should act as OSC. While it can certainly be argued that this person is, in a sense, in overall control on scene, and that the SMC and other SAR responders are acting in his or her support, the OSC is one of these supporters and has distinct responsibilities. The two functions should not be confused.

9.10 IAMSAR's suggestion that "the person in charge of the first SAR facility to arrive at the scene will normally assume the function of OSC until the SMC directs that the person be relieved" should also be treated with caution in an MRO. This can work if this unit is unable to do much apart from liaising with the casualty and reporting back to the SMC, pending the arrival of more capable SAR facilities – but a SAR-capable unit arriving on scene and finding SAR work to do is likely to become involved in it straightaway; and in most cases, as discussed above, it is unlikely that this unit will be able to function as OSC as well. There are significant benefits to appointing a unit not yet on scene, for this allows the OSC a little time to prepare, receiving information, agreeing plans with the SMC and establishing communications with the units assigned to him or her while still in transit.

9.11 In summary, the selection of an OSC is done with reference to a number of factors, and it is the most efficient combination of these factors which is being sought. They include:

o   understanding of the OSC role
o   ability to focus on the OSC role
o   reliable communications with the units assigned
o   reliable communications with the SMC
o   on-scene endurance

10 Pre-Selecting an OSC

10 Pre-Selecting an OSC

10.1 The problem of how to select an OSC in the confusing conditions at the beginning of an MRO can, of course, be avoided by pre-selection. While the extraordinary nature of MROs – their rarity in particular – will mean that no State can afford to maintain a staff of trained OSCs on permanent stand-by for this purpose alone, there are other options.

10.2 We referred above to SAR units capable of undertaking the OSC function as well as engaging in direct search, rescue and/or support work themselves. Where such units exist, they should have trained OSCs available among their crew. Similarly, we referred to ships which are unlikely to become directly involved in SAR operations because of their size or limited manoeuvrability; to offshore installations; and to aircraft with long endurance capability. Suitable Government vessels and aircraft can also have OSC-trained crew members. In higher-risk areas, such as multi-ferry routes and offshore industrial areas, consideration should be given to training ferry masters, offshore installation managers etc in the OSC role. In the cases mentioned this training need not be particularly extensive. It should comprise a knowledge of the OSC function and of the local MRO plan(s).

10.3 A more complex solution is to develop a cadre of OSC-trained personnel who can be deployed to the scene of an incident when it occurs. The pre-selected OSCs mentioned in the paragraph above can only act in MROs occurring in their own vicinity. But deployable OSCs can be transferred rapidly to the scene of any incident within range, usually by helicopter; including to an on-shore location for incidents happening close to the land. The SAR Coordinator (see guidance paper 4.2) should consider this option.

10.4 The downsides of the 'deployable OSC' idea are that the necessary training will have to include transfer training; personal safety and communications equipment will be required; a call-out rota must be established; and time elapses while the OSC is being deployed. On the up-side, deployable OSCs can be used to support or relieve an OSC appointed ad hoc. We have discussed the importance of on-scene endurance in selecting an OSC: this applies to the person as well as his or her craft. A large merchant ship, for example, may be able to stay on-scene practically indefinitely; but will probably have a small crew. The limiting factor then becomes fatigue, not fuel endurance. Deployable OSCs can relieve hard-pressed ships' masters in the OSC role, before fatigue sets in.

10.5 As noted, deployable OSCs will not be permanently available on stand-by but will be able to be deployed from a roster at short notice. Suitable candidates may include SAR service personnel, Government officers in maritime posts, marine pilots etc.

11 Remote Area Operations

11 Remote Area Operations

11.1 Finally we must return to a major potential problem alluded to in IAMSAR. Someone on or near the scene of the accident "may have to assume SMC duties" if "communications cannot be established with an RCC". IAMSAR mentions planning the search and/or rescue action in this respect, although, as discussed in guidance papers 4.3 & 4.6, the SMC's duties extend much further. Thus far in this paper we have assumed that there will be an 'MRO-capable' SMC available to organise the maritime SAR response, and that the OSC will be acting with that SMC's support. Now we must briefly consider what should be done if that support is missing.

11.2 In guidance paper 2.8 we note that the IMO have identified 'areas remote from SAR facilities' as ones where sufficient designated SAR units cannot reach the scene of an accident within survival times, and that there are many parts of the world's seas and oceans where this may be the case. There are also SAR Regions without functioning RCCs to coordinate SAR action within them, or the local RCC may have lost functionality; in a catastrophic incident, for example. It is also possible that, while there may be a functioning RCC in the Region, it is not capable of coordinating a mass rescue operation. MROs in such areas will be particularly challenging. But they must still be carried on, and will require an OSC to organise them on scene.

11.3 However, unless there has been an exceptional communications outage, ships and other units with modern long-range – particularly satellite – communications capabilities should not be in a position where "communications cannot be established with an RCC". They should be able to contact an RCC somewhere, direct or via their own parent organisations, even if that RCC is itself very remote from the scene of the action. That RCC's staff will have a particularly difficult task to undertake, establishing contacts in the State(s) nearest the incident so as to ensure that places of safety can be agreed and the necessary shoreside infrastructure established (see guidance paper 4.8), but they will be able to provide support and guidance to the OSC as described here and in guidance paper 4.3.

11.4 In the truly exceptional circumstance that no contact with an RCC can be made, the OSC will find guidance in IAMSAR Volume III covering all aspects of a maritime SAR operation and, by extension, an MRO. This guidance, combined with common sense and good seamanship, will help. Nevertheless, it is necessary for the OSC to contact an RCC or other shoreside authority – a port authority, for example – at some point, to ascertain the locations of places of safety and to make arrangements for landing those recovered in the MRO.

12 Summary

12 Summary

o   The tasks that may be delegated to an On Scene Coordinator are described in the IAMSAR Manual, particularly Volume III. In an MRO the OSC's main duty is coordinating SAR facilities and search, rescue and/or support efforts under the SAR Mission Coordinator's general direction.
o   An OSC should be appointed in any MRO.
o   Communications with the commander of the unit in distress may be one of the OSC's most important functions in an MRO, together with appraisal of the situation, initially and as it develops.
o   The OSC acts as a node in the communications network between the SMC and responders on scene. This greatly assists with the sub-division of MRO communications that is fundamental to efficient information flow.
o   The OSC coordinates the search, rescue and/or support actions of the SAR facilities assigned to him or her, implementing plans drawn up by, and discussed with, the SMC. The use of an Aircraft Coordinator and other 'sub-coordinators' can facilitate on-scene coordination overall.
o   Good communication and information flow between OSC and SMC are particularly important. The OSC acts as "the SMC's eyes, ears and voice on-scene". Communication between the two should be a "two-way street".
o   Having the OSC keep an eye on overall safety on scene is beneficial, although responsibility for each unit's safety remains with its commander throughout.
o   The OSC needs to keep records of the operation: assigning an 'OSC's secretary' to achieve this is recommended.
o   "The OSC should be the most capable person available." Determining who that is is a matter for careful assessment by the SMC and by potential OSCs. The OSC must understand what the role is, and be able to concentrate on it; must have good communications capability; and should have good on-scene endurance.
o   Consideration should be given to identifying people who may be in a position to act as OSC by virtue of their normal work, and providing them with training for the role. SAR Coordinators should also consider developing a cadre of 'deployable' OSCs.
o   In some circumstances there may not be a functioning, or MRO-capable, RCC in the Region in which an MRO is needed. The unit whose commander is taking on the OSC role should be able to contact a remote RCC for advice and assistance. In the worst case scenario, in which even this communication is impossible, the OSC must do his or her best, guided by IAMSAR Volume III and seeking whatever help can be found from shoreside authorities, particularly as regards landing people rescued.

13 Further Reading

13 Further Reading

13.1 For further reading on command, control, coordination and communications in mass rescue operations, follow this link.

13.2 Section 3 of IAMSAR Volume III is the principal source of guidance for the OSC. Volume II, also provides guidance on the OSC role, with a summary at chapter 1.2.4. Chapter 6.15 refers to the OSC in the context of mass rescue operations.

13.3 The IMO also publish a Model Course on the On Scene Coordinator role.

ANNEX

ANNEX


IAMSAR Manual Volume III, Section 3 'OSC duties'

o   Coordinate operations of all SAR facilities on-scene. An ACO may be designated to coordinate aircraft operations.
  See guidance paper 4.5.
o   Carry out the search action plan or rescue action plan received from the SMC or plan the search or rescue operation, if no plan is otherwise available.
o   Modify the plan as the situation on-scene dictates, keeping the SMC advised (discuss proposed modifications with the SMC when practicable).
o   Coordinate on-scene communications.
o   Provide relevant information to the other SAR facilities.
o   Monitor the performance of other participating facilities.
o   Ensure operations are conducted safely, paying particular attention to maintaining safe separations among all facilities, both surface and air.
o   Make periodic situation reports (SITREPs) to the SMC. The standard SITREP format may be found in appendix D [of IAMSAR Volume III]. SITREPs should include but not be limited to:
      weather and sea conditions
      the results of search and/or rescue action to date
      any modifications made or suggested to the action plan
      any future plans or recommendations.
o   Maintain a detailed record of the operation:
      on-scene arrival and departure times of SAR facilities, other vessels and aircraft engaged in the operation
      areas searched
      track spacing used
      sightings and leads reported
      actions taken
      results obtained.
o   Advise the SMC to release facilities no longer required.
o   Report the number and names of survivors to the SMC.
o   Provide the SMC with the names and designations of facilities with survivors on board.
o   Report which survivors are in each facility.
o   Request additional SMC assistance when necessary (for example, medical evacuation of seriously injured survivors).

Download PDF Version

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4.9 Communications – Priorities, Systems, Structures

Posted in C4 - Command, Control, Coordination & Communications (

Contents

Contents

This paper discusses:

o   the meaning of 'communication', and the communications problem in an MRO
o   the need for good communications before, during and after the MRO
o   SAR cooperation plans
o   communications planning
      alerting
      interagency communications
      who is involved, what are their information needs, and what are the priorities?
      best use of communications facilities
      long-range communications
      communication of geographic information
o   an MRO communications plan structure
o   communications during an MRO: implementing the plan, and its limitations
      communications discipline
      the SAR SITREP format
      survivor communications
      public communications
o   communications after the MRO

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 The guidance in the rest of this section focuses on various aspects of the coordination question. This paper discusses the communications vital to successful coordination – and to a successful mass rescue operation overall. It therefore relates to every other paper in this guidance series.

2 Communication, and the Communication Problem

2 Communication, and the Communication Problem

2.1 The word 'communication' may be defined in several ways. For our purposes we mean by it the successful transfer of information – instructions, reports, questions and suggestions – without delay, misunderstanding, repetition or omission, so that all who need that information acquire it rapidly and understand it fully.

2.2 There is a great deal of information in an MRO, available or to be acquired, and it is of vital importance that it should flow efficiently and quickly.

2.3 The right people need to be alerted, as soon as possible, to the need for an MRO; they need to be able to understand their part in it; and they need to be given both the information they require to play that part and the means to ask questions and make suggestions and reports. They need to understand the priorities; they need to have access to communications systems; and they need to understand how the planned communications structure works.

2.4 'Communication' underpins the whole response – at the planning stage, during the incident itself, and afterwards, when lessons can be learned. Without effective communication there is no effective planning, coordination, command or control. And, without effective communication, we will not be able to improve our response (individually, organisationally, nationally, regionally or globally) so that more lives are saved next time – for there will always be a 'next time'. The need for good communication is obvious.

2.5 Yet if there is one thing that is always mentioned in any report on a mass rescue operation, or any other complex incident or complex incident exercise, it is that there were failures of communication. Somewhere, at some time during the event, there were misunderstandings or delays because information was not communicated or was not communicated well enough, there being too little information, or too much to take in, or because information was misdirected, contradicted or repeated unnecessarily. The need for good communication is obvious, and yet we keep making mistakes.

2.6 Granted the circumstances this is understandable. A highly complex operation, bringing together people and organisations which do not work together regularly with those who do, will inevitably involve some communication difficulties. The aim of the SAR Coordinator who oversees the planning (see guidance paper 4.2) and the SAR Mission Coordinator who oversees its implementation (the SMC – see guidance paper 4.3) must be to understand where communication problems may occur and to strive to minimise them.

3 Communications Before the MRO: The Planning Stage

3 Communications Before the MRO: The Planning Stage

3.1 It is a consistent theme of the guidance in this series of papers that mass rescue operations – indeed, any complex emergency response – should be planned for generically and that those who may have to implement the plan should understand their part in it: see guidance papers 1.1, 1.2 and, particularly, 2.1. Planning, training, testing and 'ownership' of the plan all depend upon successful communication, and successful communications during an incident depend to a great extent on successful communications at the planning stage.

3.2 This is true even for those who could not be involved directly at the planning stage – ships which just happen to be in the area when the emergency occurs, for example. Simply being told that there is a plan is a start, coupled with the underlying knowledge to be expected of the professional seafarer and the guidance available to him or her in Volume III of the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual. MRO planners should allow for the involvement of such units as they develop the plan and should agree a means of swiftly communicating the necessary details to them – where to go, who to talk to, what to prepare for, etc.

3.3 Communications are always easier if you know the person you are talking to. It has been well said that we should not be 'exchanging business cards' during the emergency. Most people who may have to conduct an MRO together can be introduced beforehand, to plan together and acquire mutual understanding of roles, responsibilities, capabilities and limitations.

3.4 Good communication is based on clarity and trust. An honest appraisal of actual capability is very important at the planning stage, and planners should seek to ensure that any misunderstandings based on unfamiliarity are properly addressed.

4 Search and Rescue Cooperation Plans

4 Search and Rescue Cooperation Plans

4.1 The 'exchange of business cards' idea underlies the SAR cooperation plans established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) following the Estonia disaster in 1994. In view of reports that passenger ships involved in the response to the sinking had little knowledge of the SAR services available to them, and the SAR authorities had little knowledge of the ships' capabilities, a new Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulation was adopted; regulation V/7-3:

"Passenger ships [on international voyages] shall have on board a plan for cooperation with appropriate search and rescue services in the event of an emergency. The plan shall be developed in cooperation between the ship, the company, as defined in regulation IX/1 [that is, the ship's operating company ashore], and the search and rescue services. The plan shall include provisions for periodic exercises to be undertaken to test its effectiveness. The plan shall be developed based on the guidelines developed by the Organization [the IMO]."

4.2 The IMO guidelines referred to in the regulation are currently contained in MSC Circular 1079, 'Guidelines for preparing plans for cooperation between search and rescue services and passenger ships'.

Although the regulation is restricted to ships engaged in international voyages, its provisions are applied by some States to all passenger ships. This is recommended.

4.3 The SAR cooperation planning process recognises three very important facts about any incident involving a passenger ship.

4.4 First, the International Safety Management (ISM) Code requires shipping companies to plan to support their staff aboard a ship faced with an emergency. Reputable passenger shipping companies in particular have developed their response planning to a high degree. Their shoreside staff have a major part to play in the response to any emergency, particularly as regards the 'recovery' phase, meaning the return to normality after the incident, which in this case will include looking after passengers and crew after they have been brought to 'places of safety' (see guidance paper 2.7). Companies managing ships responding to someone else's emergency will also have a role to play.

4.5 Second, the master of the ship in distress will inevitably be extremely busy. S/he will be leading the on-board response to the emergency, and will usually be expected to talk to the company team ashore too, explaining the situation and arranging back-up. And s/he may be expected to talk to the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) leading the SAR response. The potential for overload is obvious.

4.6 Third, the company team ashore and the RCC must have information nevertheless to enable them to respond appropriately. But, while some of that information must come from the ship (incident-specific information such as damage reports), not all of it need do so. Some can be exchanged beforehand.

4.7 This is what the SAR cooperation plan is for. It provides contact information which enables the RCC to exchange information with the company team ashore so that, ideally, the casualty's master is not asked the same questions twice.

There have been cases of the company and the RCC communicating with each other via the ship in distress, which is ridiculous. Direct contact must be established – and the SAR cooperation plan helps with this.

It also provides some basic information about the ship herself, necessary to the RCC's planning. This too saves time having to ask questions, and (if kept up-to-date) will be more reliable than information passed in a hurry at the time of the accident. The IAMSAR Manual, Volume II chapter 6.15.19-20, says:

"Unnecessary communications with the master of a ship or pilot in command of an aircraft in distress must be minimized, and this should be taken into account in advance planning.

"Exchanges of information during joint planning by use of SAR Plans of Cooperation for passenger ships and other means will reduce the need to ask the pilot or master for this information one or more times during a crisis. Persons or organizations that want this information should be directed to a source ashore or on the ground that is prepared to handle many potential requests."

This source will usually be the RCC, or the company emergency response team or their local agents as appropriate.

4.8 For ferries and other ships working in a fixed area the SAR cooperation plan also provides information on the RCC and the SAR services available locally. For ships that operate over a wide area, as many cruise ships do, and for which the distribution of information to all the SAR services they may come into contact with is impractical, a SAR Cooperation Plans Index has been established, enabling the relevant Plan to be found by the RCC responding to an emergency.

4.9 The Plans are also useful, in the same ways, when a passenger ship is responding to someone else's emergency, as an additional SAR facility. The Plan provides information important to the RCC, saves time asking questions, and enables the RCC and the company ashore to mutually support the master.

4.10 It should be noted that the SAR cooperation plans are not emergency plans in themselves. They are primarily communications tools, facilitating the linking of emergency plans. MSC Circular 1079 should be referred to for further detail.

4.11 The regulation also requires "periodic exercises", to test the plan. Again, refer to MSC Circular 1079, and to guidance paper 5.3.

4.12 SOLAS regulation V/7-3 only applies to certain passenger ships, but the principle is recommended for other units that may become involved in MROs – domestic passenger ships, for example, and offshore installations. A prior exchange of information of this type will be very beneficial in any emergency.

5 Communications Planning

5 Communications Planning

5.1 Good communications are crucial to the effective coordination of an MRO: see guidance paper 4.1 and other guidance in this section. As the IAMSAR Manual notes, at chapter 6.15.6 of Volume II:

As amended for the 2016 edition of the Manual.

"All involved in the overall multi-agency, multi-jurisdiction, multi-mission and possibly international response to major incidents must clearly understand who is in charge, the respective roles of all involved, and how to interact with each other. SAR authorities may be responsible for all or part of the MRO functions, and must be able to coordinate their efforts seamlessly with other responders under the overall direction of another authority within or outside their agency. It is therefore essential for as many potential MRO responders as practicable to plan and train together."

5.2 The communications necessary to achieve this extraordinary level of coordination will be built on the existing systems and procedures used for 'ordinary' emergency response: a new, unfamiliar system would be counter-productive. Existing plans need to be enhanced, however, to ensure that they will be effective in this highly complex situation. Communications planning should therefore be a specific part of the overall MRO or complex incident planning process. As noted above, communications frequently fail to some extent in these circumstances: we can at least plan to make this less likely.

5.3 IAMSAR Volume II goes on to say, at chapter 6.15.33-37, that:

"Communication plans must provide for a heavy volume of communication use as a major incident will normally involve many responding organizations that need to communicate effectively with each other from the beginning.

"As necessary, advance arrangements should be made to link means of interagency communications that are not inherently interoperable.

"Interagency communications must be based on terminology understood by all involved.

"Efficient MRO responses depend upon efficient communication and efficient communication requires planning, understanding of the plan by those who will have to put it into effect and its rapid implementation at the time of the incident. The following are some of the factors MRO communications planners are recommended to consider:

-   Who is likely to be involved in the response to a MRO, including supporting organizations and others with legitimate interest (eg, officials, family members of victims, the news media, etc)?
-   What are their information needs likely to be?
-   Where do they fit in the overall command, control and co-ordination (and, therefore, communications) structure?
-   What are the information priorities?
-   What communications facilities do the responders have?
-   Are there enough people to operate the communications systems, over a potentially long period? The planning should include provision for relief personnel.
-   How should these facilities best be used to avoid overload? How should a large amount of data (such as search plans or passenger lists) be communicated?
-   Do people know what to say and who to talk to? Do they understand their unit's place in the communications network, other units' roles, and the overall information priorities? Are they aware of the importance of clear procedures and communications discipline?
-   ­Are there likely to be language difficulties, including potential misunderstanding of technical language?
-   ­Who will control and keep order on the various parts of the communications network and do they understand this particularly important role?
-   To what extent are different responders' communications systems and procedures interoperable? Can communications hubs be established or liaison officers exchanged to help explain priorities, procedures and technical language?
-   How long might the incident last? Distress frequencies may be used for the initial response but the plan should ensure that these frequencies are cleared as soon as practicable."


­5.4 We examine these points further below.

6 Alerting

6 Alerting

6.1 The first and most important communication in an MRO is to raise the alarm; to recognise the operation for what it is – one requiring an extraordinary response – and to notify all who may have to respond.

6.2 When the MRO is generated by an accident to a ship, offshore installation or airliner, an alert should be quickly received from that unit or from its parent authority. Ideally, it will include an honest appraisal of the situation that will enable responders to react appropriately.

The ‘Vessel Triage’ system developed by the Finnish Border Guard and their partners is an aid to this process. It is intended that a description of the system will be added to the IAMSAR Manual in due course. In the meantime details may be found at www.raja.fi/vesseltriage.

Unfortunately, experience shows that this is not always the case, and the SMC will have to assess the extent of the emergency on the basis of whatever information is available. There will be other circumstances in which the SMC must make the same judgement as to whether an MRO is required – when many vessels are overwhelmed simultaneously, for example.

6.3 Early information must be assessed by the SMC, and nominated personnel – at the RCC or immediately contactable by it – must be empowered to declare that an MRO is required. For a maritime MRO anyone receiving the first alert must ensure that it is passed to the relevant RCC without delay. The declaration of a major incident requiring extraordinary responses, such as an MRO, should not be taken lightly, and suitable training should be provided to personnel who may have to make the call. However, in cases of doubt, it is better to alert people to the possible need for an MRO while further information is sought, so that they can begin their own preparations, than to wait until the situation is certain. It is better to alert then stand down than to alert too late.

6.4 The further dissemination of the alert is usually best done by 'cascading' information in various pre-planned streams. In the early stages at least, the RCC will be the primary focal point for incident information – but the RCC must not be expected to alert everyone with an interest. Instead, the RCC alerts the first points of contact in each planned stream – a senior officer, perhaps, to pass on information to Government; a counter-pollution officer; a press officer, and so on. The RCC passes information to these officers; they pass it on according to need.

6.5 The aim is to quickly 'wake up' every organisation which might have a part to play in the MRO, and to initiate the communications links that will subsequently be required. Efficient alerting is fundamental to efficient response. Time lost at this stage can never be regained, and overlooking key responders can have dire consequences. Planning the alerting process is a vital part of the MRO plan overall.

6.6 Part of the process will be alerting the resources needed to fill the 'capability gap' (see guidance paper 1.4). To some extent this may be an unusual procedure – but it must not be delayed on that account.

6.7 Additional SAR facilities such as shipping in or approaching the area (see guidance paper 3.1) should be alerted as soon as practicable, usually by various forms of broadcast action – although some units (a ferry, for example, or an offshore installation) may have been specifically included in the MRO plan and can be contacted direct. Early alerting allows these additional facilities, less prepared for SAR work, more time to get ready.

6.8 Regional and specialist resources identified as other means of helping fill the capability gap (see guidance papers 3.2 & 3.3) should also be alerted as appropriate and as soon as possible.

6.9 MRO planners should note that the alerting process itself can impede response. If staff at the RCC, for example, who should be planning and coordinating the MRO, are instead engaged in working down a long checklist of people who must be alerted, delays will be introduced and onward coordination will become harder. The 'cascade' system works here too. The RCC should alert SAR units and additional facilities as in ordinary SAR operations, but the further alerting required in an MRO should be initiated by an on-call officer. Which functions fall to the RCC and which to the first links in the cascade should be assessed at the planning stage.

7 Interagency Communications

7 Interagency Communications

7.1 In an MRO there will be many responding organisations that will need to communicate with each other from the beginning of the incident – or as soon as they are alerted to it, at least. We may assume that each organisation has developed effective internal communications systems and procedures and that, except in catastrophic incidents which adversely affect the responders themselves, these systems will be operating. But they may not be interoperable with other organisations' systems.

7.2 The questions MRO planners need to ask include:

o   Do the organisations that need to work together in an MRO know each other's telephone numbers – not the numbers of switchboards whose staff may be under instruction to block calls during a crisis, but the numbers of the right people to take specific calls?
o   Do they have compatible communications systems? Can they share radio frequencies?
o   Do they have enough people as well as equipment to handle the MRO communications load?
o   Do they talk the same language – not just at the obvious level of English, Spanish or Chinese, but also as regards technical language (or 'jargon') and acronyms?
  A classic case of different use of 'language' among English-speakers in maritime emergencies is the use of the word 'casualty'. Maritime SAR people use the word interchangeably to mean the vessel in distress or people in need of assistance, whether injured or otherwise, relying on context to make their meaning clear to each other. But medical responders ashore use the word to mean an injured person. A simple message that '20 casualties will be landed at the jetty' can thus be misunderstood. It may not be possible to standardise the meaning of the word across organisational cultures but, if its dual meaning is known, responders can ensure that the message is passed clearly: '20 casualties will be landed: 5 stretcher cases, 5 walking wounded, 10 uninjured...'
o   Do they share the same underlying aims and priorities?

7.3 It is not essential to provide communications systems that all potential responders can use in common, especially if this facility will only be used rarely. There are benefits to doing so; but planners should also consider how a common system is likely to be used in practice. Everyone using one radio frequency, for example, may sound good in principle – but if everyone attempts to do so at once the system will fail. A common system, if provided, is usually best reserved for overall control or coordination and used only by nominated lead personnel to work specifically at the interagency level. Organisations' own in-house communications should be kept on the separate systems that staff are already used to.

7.4 An alternative to sharing a single system is to exchange communications or liaison officers, as discussed in guidance paper 4.1. Having someone from each major response organisation physically present in the lead coordination centres and at the tactical and strategic coordinating groups, has considerable benefit. These officers need not be decision-makers themselves so long as they have ready contact with the decision-makers in their own organisations. They can then pass information and requests quickly, and in language that their own organisation understands. They will also be able to provide information about their own organisation's needs, capabilities and limitations.

7.5 It is not necessary to exchange liaison officers with every responding organisation. Usually an officer from each group of responders will suffice: an officer from the RCC should be able to represent all the organisations providing designated maritime SAR units, for example, and a single officer should be able to represent all the medical organisations responding.

7.6 Each liaison officer needs a desk and a dedicated telephone at the centre they are deployed to, giving them space to work and basic communications capability if the systems they bring with them fail. A means of keeping them up to date with what is going on should also be provided: regular briefings should be a part of this, and may be sufficient.

7.7 More widely, it should be remembered that communications systems need people as well as equipment to be effective. The best equipment is useless without someone available and able to operate it, and a communication is only complete when it has been received as well as transmitted. This principle should be remembered at every stage of the MRO communications planning process. It can be too easy to think of communications only in terms of equipment. Whether extra equipment is needed for an MRO or not, there will be much more to communicate. More communicators may be required.

7.8 Technical language difficulties can be overcome by agreeing to avoid acronyms and jargon. More general language difficulties may require the involvement of interpreters: services are provided worldwide and can be hired in at need. The problem of technical language should still be borne in mind in these circumstances. A general linguist may mistranslate it, so 'plain language' should still be used.

7.9 Confusion can also occur when people with differing aims are communicating. Both sets of aims may be legitimate, but the two parties need to understand that this is so. SAR people may have little time for, say, pollution prevention questions while an MRO is in progress, but the pollution control officer still needs information to allow action to be taken, even if protecting the environment is agreed to take second place to lifesaving. The planners should ensure that the necessary information can be acquired, usually by a cascade system (see above), without impeding higher priority tasks.

8 Who is Involved, What Are their Information Needs, and What Are the Priorities?

8 Who is Involved, What Are their Information Needs, and What Are the Priorities?

8.1 As discussed in guidance papers 1.1 & 2.1, MRO planners should identify all those who will potentially be involved in an MRO. Organisations with a rescue response role should be invited to identify their own information needs – what they will need to know at the outset and as the response develops.

8.2 Officials with an interest in the MRO but no rescue response role should be asked to do the same. These will include Government officials, counter-pollution and salvage authorities, accident investigators, port state control officers, and so on.

In some cases salvage companies will be able to provide rescue assistance, by supporting the casualty vessel or installation so that it does not need to be evacuated at sea, for example. Here we are considering the information needs of salvors operating in their normal capacity.

8.3 MRO planners should also consider the likely information needs of others with a legitimate interest in the event – the families and friends of people involved, the news media, and the general public, at least as regards people in the area of the emergency or who may otherwise be directly affected by it. See guidance paper 2.3.

8.4 MRO planners should then seek agreement on priorities. It is, for example, generally accepted that lifesaving takes precedence over pollution control; and protecting the environment takes precedence over salving property – but organisations with roles to play in the latter responses will need early information too, even if, in the event of a clash of priorities, they give way to SAR. Similarly, accident investigators and Government ministers need early notification, and the news media and others will be demanding information. For various reasons it must be provided. But what are the priorities? Everyone may think they have an immediate need, but not everyone can be told everything at once.

8.5 It is important here to plan a communications structure that will split up the information loads into manageable sections, usually by 'cascading' information as discussed above in the context of first alerting. The same procedure should be adopted for subsequent information dissemination.

8.6 The communications structure should follow the command, control and coordination structure, and will tend to do so naturally if that structure is clearly delineated and understood. See guidance paper 4.1. People should be discouraged from 'short-circuiting' the agreed structure, which will tend to cause confusion. On the other hand everyone concerned should be encouraged to ensure that the structure works smoothly and efficiently, without information being held up. This will tend to reduce the desire, or need, to short-circuit the plan.

8.7 The RCC should be left as free as possible to support the SMC in alerting the resources necessary to the response and then keeping them informed as efficiently as possible. This includes the shoreside responders responsible for establishing the place(s) of safety to which survivors will be brought. Few parts of the MRO can spring directly into action: preparation time is necessary. Similarly, everyone needs the latest information relevant to them as soon as possible. The cascade system works well in both cases. Information can be passed more quickly by dividing it into streams, and can be tailored to the recipient's needs by the primary contact.

8.8 The cascade system also helps deal with the issue of priorities, because the various recipients get the information they need more rapidly. However, within each stream of information there should be key officers who will determine the priority of information flow based upon the priority of actions required – the SMC, On Scene Coordinator (OSC) and Aircraft Coordinator (ACO) so far as the maritime side of the operation goes, and the various coordinators of the shoreside operation. Determining the priorities overall is a function of the strategic coordinating group.

8.9 The authority of these officers must be built into the communications plan. They may not command the units they are coordinating, but they should have clear control of the relevant communications. The RCC, acting on behalf of the SMC, should control communications relating to the at-sea elements of the MRO. This means maintaining radio discipline (see below) and ensuring that the different parts of the communications network stay connected and do not overload. This authority is delegated to the OSC and ACO, and to any sub-coordinators nominated, for their particular parts of the operation.

8.10 It should be noted here that seniority does not automatically give priority in communication. The commander of a small rescue unit with vital information about people at risk takes priority, for the moment, over a senior officer asking what the president should tell the nation... These priorities, and the communications control authority vested in the leading coordinators, should be acknowledged in the plan, and by all involved.

9 Best Use of Communications Facilities

9 Best Use of Communications Facilities

9.1 The communications facilities available to the responders should include:

o   face-to-face communications, within teams and by the use of communications or liaison officers (see above and guidance paper 4.1)
o   video links
o   voice communications, using radio, telephone or satellite systems
o   written communications, usually transmitted by email, fax, or satellite services
o   internet-based crisis management systems.

9.2 Face-to-face communication is much more effective than other means – including video links, as anyone who has 'teleconferenced' will probably agree. Where physical co-location can be arranged, it will be of great benefit to communication – but it cannot be arranged for everyone in an MRO.

9.3 Video links are a useful 'second-best', especially for coordination conferences. Whoever is chairing the conference, however, must be particularly aware of participants not physically present and actively seek to ensure that they can hear, understand and contribute to the discussion.

9.4 Video links showing what is happening on-scene are also of great value to the SMC and others not present. 'A picture is worth a thousand words', they say – and saving some of those thousand words will make other communications more efficient. But the remote viewer should exercise some caution: a video link is still not the same as being on-scene, assessing the situation first-hand.

9.5 Voice communications remain the core facility – but there are problems of misunderstanding here too, as well as the risks of inappropriate prioritisation and overload. Radio discipline, clarity and overall control, as discussed above and below, will help address these issues; and the principle means of dealing with the intense traffic load in an MRO is, as discussed, to divide it appropriately.

9.6 An additional means of dealing with overload is to use written communication, sending and receiving it by various electronic means. Complex messages containing large amounts of information, such as search plans, passenger manifests and detailed situation reports, should always be sent this way if practicable. This avoids blocking up voice communications channels better used for other purposes, and it also helps avoid clerical errors in transcribing the information. Clerical errors can lead to much unnecessary work, and an unnecessary additional communications load accordingly.

9.7 Internet-based crisis management systems are an effective means of spreading information rapidly, as stand-alone communications links or in combination with other links, such as the use of communications or liaison officers (see above). These information systems are able to share the information with multiple agencies simultaneously. Enabling all responders – or at least all with internet access – to have the same information at the same time is a major benefit to information dissemination and understanding.

9.8 When using written means of communication, however, the sender must remember the fundamental principle of good communication: for it to work, there must be a receiver too. An email or other written message has not been communicated until it has been read and understood. It is no use while it sits unread on an unattended machine. The best way to ensure this does not happen is to back the message up with a telephone, radio or satellite call, making sure that the intended recipient is aware of the message and that s/he knows who to contact if uncertain of any of its meaning.

9.9 In summary, there will be 'bottlenecks' in communications. There will be much information to pass and a limited capacity to pass it. MRO responders should make the best use they can of all the facilities available: communicating face-to-face where possible; using voice communications in a disciplined way; and using monitored written communication systems to transfer large blocks of information.

10 Long-Range Communications

10 Long-Range Communications

10.1 Communications systems used for short-range SAR operations, relying on direct 'line of sight' between a transmitter and receiver, may not be suitable for long range communications between units on scene and the RCC. The following alternatives should be considered:

o   HF and MF radio systems
o   satellite communications systems
o   position tracking systems, including those that enable two-way communications
o   the use of high-flying aircraft to relay VHF radio communications between the RCC and units on-scene
o   relay of information to and from SAR aircraft through Air Traffic Service units
o   relay of information by ships at sea able to communicate with SAR aircraft on marine band VHF frequencies, whilst a shore based RCC uses satellite, MF or HF communications to communicate with the relaying ship(s)
o   relay of information by surface units positioned between the scene and the RCC.

11 Communication of Geographic Information

11 Communication of Geographic Information

11.1 Volume II chapter 5.21.4 of the IAMSAR Manual notes that:

"SAR agencies must be able to understand how geographic information is communicated among the SMC, OSC, ACO and various SAR facilities. This becomes an even greater challenge when SAR facilities transition between maritime and land-based SAR operations or in large-scale disaster operations that involve many different SAR facilities that may have different ways to communicate position information."

11.2 MRO planners should consider how the SMC should use position information from external sources – who may provide it in different formats – and communicate it accurately and efficiently to the various aeronautical, marine or land-based SAR facilities in forms that they can use.

12 An MRO Communications Plan Structure

12 An MRO Communications Plan Structure

12.1 IAMSAR Volume II appendix C outlines an MRO communications plan structure, based on the diagram below. The fundamental principle illustrated in the diagram is again that of breaking up the communications workload into coordinated groups, to ease the pressure. IAMSAR Volume II appendix C says:

"Efficient communications in major maritime response incidents are best arranged by dividing communications between several different frequencies. The number of frequencies used may vary, depending on the circumstances, but is unlikely to exceed five. The diagram shows a major incident with numerous surface and air units responding and several different activities taking place on scene and, in support, ashore. The communications plan set up to deal with this incident is relatively simple so that all those responding may readily understand it. It needs to be established from the outset.

shoresidediagram

"The primary coordinating frequency – initially VHF FM channel 16 but a common working frequency may be assigned to ensure channel 16 is available for other distress alerts – is used by the casualty, the OSC, the ACO and, if possible, the SMC. If the incident is out of the SMC's VHF range, the SMC will communicate primarily with the OSC by satellite or MF or HF radio communications. Other units on scene should monitor the primary coordinating frequency if possible, to be kept up to date by SITREPs etc [see below], but will not usually transmit on it.

"Surface SAR units and other surface units such as ships responding to the distress alert will use a second frequency – usually VHF FM channel 6 – controlled by the OSC.

"Aircraft may also use this second frequency under the OSC's control, if suitably equipped. An ACO should be designated if responding aircraft are not equipped with marine VHF or in cases where it would be more efficient to control them separately (such as multiple aircraft on scene). The aircraft will then use a third frequency ­ usually VHF AM 123.1MHz ­ controlled by the ACO.

Additional guidance on multiple aircraft coordination and communications has been added to the 2016 edition of IAMSAR.

"If other activities are taking place on scene, additional frequencies may be used for the necessary communications. If a helicopter, for example, needs to winch to or from a ship, these two units should switch to a mutually compatible frequency not already in use, returning to the main working frequencies after the winching operation is complete. Another example would be a search being conducted as part of the overall SAR operation. In this case, the units assigned to the search will switch to a mutually compatible frequency controlled by a search coordinator. This coordinating unit reports to OSC or RCC, as appropriate.

"In a major incident, such as an MRO, there will need to be significant exchange of information with authorities ashore: the operators of a ship or aircraft casualty, harbour and other receiving authorities, shoreside emergency services providing support, authorities and agencies concerned with counter-pollution and salvage operations, and so on. These many organizations should communicate via the RCC, not directly with units on scene. This enables the SMC to maintain a clear overall picture of the response. Efficient procedures for this aspect of the communications plan can and should be pre-planned. The exchange of liaison officers is recommended."

12.2 It is important that all units responding should know who to call, and they should be told when first alerted whether this should be the RCC or, for units on or approaching the scene, the OSC or ACO. It is also important to clearly identify these latter units. They should adopt 'On Scene Coordinator' or 'Air Coordinator' as appropriate as their callsign.

12.3 The OSC and ACO are key links in the maritime communications network because they are key links in the coordination network. Their relationship with the SMC, and with each other, including the sort of information they will need to exchange, is discussed in guidance papers 4.3, 4.4 & 4.5.

12.4 The IAMSAR Manual does not designate other coordination links specifically but, as discussed in guidance paper 4.1, the principle of dividing the workload to make it easier can be taken further as appropriate in the circumstances, to include 'sub-coordinators' such as a search coordinator, an on-board coordinator, a land SAR coordinator, and so on. In planning the potential coordination network, MRO planners should ensure that these sub-coordinators also have clearly descriptive callsigns.

12.5 Care should be taken to ensure that all aircraft and surface units involved in an operation are capable of complying with the communications procedures planned. The communications plan illustrated above requires only that surface units should be able to communicate with the OSC (and/or a separate search coordinator), and aircraft with the ACO.

12.6 An exception to this will be when direct communications are required between a surface unit and an aircraft, such as when a helicopter is to land on or winch to an offshore installation or a ship on scene. In such cases the OSC and ACO will nominate a separate working frequency for the two units to use during this specific operation (if they have compatible radio systems), to avoid interference with other on-scene traffic.

12.7 Ideally the SMC, OSC, ACO and casualty (the units inside the red primary coordination circle above) should all be able to communicate with each other. However, the casualty's commander will be under great pressure, including the pressure of internal communications, and, as discussed in guidance paper 4.4, it may be preferable to restrict external communications with the casualty to either the OSC or the RCC, with that unit taking responsibility for ensuring that the other key players are kept up to date. There is also likely to be a separate search coordinator on the primary coordinating frequency and, if the emergency has happened on or near the shoreline, a land SAR coordinator too. Both may be asked to communicate only with the OSC or SMC, to ease the load on the commander of the casualty. So may an ACO if there is relatively little aircraft activity.

12.8 It is not necessarily the case that the casualty commander, SMC, OSC and ACO should conduct these communications personally. The actual communicating can be done by suitably trained officers – but it remains essential that these communicators should be able to report directly and, so far as possible, immediately to the relevant person.

12.9 There are benefits to conducting communications on an open radio net – others can keep up to date with what is going on, for example, by monitoring the traffic. But there are also benefits to using a private circuit – a satellite call, for example. People may feel that they can speak more freely and thus establish a better working relationship. The SMC / OSC / casualty links fall into this category. Specialist teams deployed aboard may also wish to open direct links. Care should be taken, however, to ensure that key information is properly shared among all those who may need it. Individuals who receive privately information which should be shared are responsible for ensuring that this is done.

12.10 Although the detail discussed above relates to communication during the MRO itself, the principles of an efficient communications plan need to be established at the planning stage. The details will differ, depending on the requirements of the particular incident, but the principles should not.

13 Communications During the MRO: Implementing the Plan, and its Limitations

13 Communications During the MRO: Implementing the Plan, and its Limitations

13.1 Communications during the operation itself should, of course, be based on the communications plan agreed by as many responders as possible before the event, at the planning stage. Those responders who could not be part of the planning – the masters of ships that simply happen to be in the area, for example – should be borne in mind by the planners and should be introduced to the appropriate part of the plan as efficiently as possible (see guidance paper 2.1).

13.2 This is actually a relatively simple process because, however complex the plan overall, most individuals involved do not need to understand the whole of it, only where they 'fit'. A passing ship responding to the RCC's Mayday Relay, for example, can simply be told to call the On Scene Coordinator on VHF Channel 6 and to await further instructions.

13.3 We noted at the beginning of this paper, however, that, despite careful planning, there will inevitably still be difficulties in MRO communications. These will stem from the amount of information that needs to be communicated and the time it takes to become available; the rarity of this sort of event and unfamiliarity between at least some responders; and the changing nature of the event as time goes by. Not all of these difficulties can be 'planned out', and no plan can cover every eventuality in detail.

13.4 Everyone involved in the response can help it succeed by understanding these limitations and by accepting the need for a greater level of communications discipline than is normally required.

13.5 First, no-one should expect perfect information. Everyone should, of course, strive to provide it; but it is simply unrealistic to expect all information received to be complete or completely correct. At least in the early stages of the response information is likely to be partial, based on hurried assessments, and prone to error accordingly. In most incidents requiring an MRO, no-one, including those aboard the casualty, is likely to have a clear picture of what has happened or what might happen next. Responders should understand this, and should plan as broad a response as possible, ready to deal with all identifiable possibilities until the situation becomes clearer and the plan can become more focussed.

13.6 Following on from this, no-one should expect the situation, or the detailed plan put together to address it, to remain the same. Things will change. Some things will get better, some will get worse. Information will be incomplete; it may be wrong; it will change as time passes.

For example: the master of a ship with a major fire may initially believe that it is best to begin to evacuate the ship. The SMC will prepare accordingly, but may also be able to offer the master firefighting support. This is accepted, and the evacuation is postponed when it begins to seem that the fire can be contained. The master asks for medical support on board in addition, to keep ship's staff deal with people affected by the fire. In the meantime the crew are still trying to account for everyone known to be aboard. Then fire breaks out elsewhere, and the decision is made to evacuate after all. Some injured people are taken off by the helicopters which delivered the fire and medical teams; others by other SAR facilities which have been standing by; most are leaving using the ship's own evacuation systems. Responders ashore are setting up reception facilities. Who is going to be taken where? How many injured are there? Is everyone accounted for? With the best will in the world, the master does not know – but is trying to find out. Meanwhile crew members are struggling to accurately count people aboard the survival craft (which may not be their primary concern in any event), and a fishing vessel picks up people from a liferaft and heads for a nearby port without telling anyone...

All responders should be aware of this and be prepared to adapt, and the communications plan should be flexible enough to deal with these changes and to keep everyone abreast of the current situation, insofar as it can be determined.

14 Communications Discipline

14 Communications Discipline

14.1 There will be a natural tendency among responders to want to know everything, and to want to know it immediately. There will be a lot of questions – and, as discussed above, the answers may be unsatisfactory for some time. There will also be a natural tendency for anyone possessing information to want to pass it on as soon as possible: this is an emergency, after all! Both tendencies should be resisted. There is a need for communications discipline. 'Less can be more', as the saying goes.

A useful comparison might be made with 'smart' highways. In heavy traffic conditions the speed limit on smart highways is reduced. Perhaps counter-intuitively, everyone gets to where they want to go more quickly because traffic flow is improved. But the system does depend on its users following the rules.

14.2 Not everyone needs to know everything. Most responders only really need to have information that will help them conduct their particular part of the operation. That said, a broad overview helps everyone see how they fit in, and should give them a sense of the overall priorities. This overview can be provided by providing general situation reports, or SITREPs: see below.

14.3 As regards their own part of the operation, responders need to consider priorities overall and the means of communication available to them before they attempt to ask questions or provide information. They should keep to the communications plan whenever they can, only departing from it in the most urgent circumstances and after it has apparently failed. And they should be disciplined in their use of communications facilities so that they can send or receive information as clearly and efficiently as possible. By doing these things they can facilitate communications overall, for they will be less likely to block channels someone with higher-priority information wants to use, and they will be more likely to communicate successfully.

14.4 If possible, any responder wishing to communicate should consider the following before pushing the appropriate button:

o   Do I need to communicate at all? Is the information I want already available to me, or has the information I have already been passed to the appropriate recipients?
o   Is this the most appropriate communications facility for what I have to say? If I have a large amount of information to send, for example, can I send it in written form?
o   Is my message of higher priority than other traffic on this part of the network? If not, can it wait? If it cannot wait, can I use another system?
o   Who do I need to communicate with? Is the person I am about to talk to the person with the information I need or to whom I should pass the information I have? If not directly, should I still communicate with this person because the communications plan says that I should, accepting the delay caused by a relay in order to help preserve order overall?
o   How can I communicate my question or information efficiently, saving time and avoiding confusion? Is the person I will be communicating with sufficiently fluent in my language? Will s/he understand the technical language I want to use? Can I plan what I am going to say so that it will be fully understood without the need for further explanation?

14.5 This may seem a lot to ask in the middle of an MRO! But it isn't really. It only requires a few moments' thought before pressing that button. Even if all the questions above cannot be readily answered, that pause should enable the sender to collect his or her thoughts so that the transmission will be clear and free from hesitation and repetition – all of which will save time and facilitate information flow.

14.6 As to the specific question of language, people who do not share a common language at all can still communicate if both have access to the International Code of Signals ('Interco'), or by routeing their communications via a third party able to provide an interpretation service, or by using a translation app. Such apps are increasingly prevalent and increasingly reliable – if not yet entirely so. Technical language should be avoided: plain words and simple phrases are more likely to be translated correctly, whether using an app or an interpreter. Where some language is shared, another IMO publication, Standard Marine Communication Phrases, is also helpful.

14.7 Technical language should always be used with caution. It can be wonderfully precise if all parties to the conversation understand it, but very confusing if they do not. Responders should be ready to use plain language instead; and should be particularly cautious about using acronyms – especially ones so familiar that they tend to be used without the speaker noticing them.

The 'SMC' is an acronym commonly understood in the SAR world – but people in the shipping industry may be more familiar with it as the 'Safety Management Certificate' than as the 'SAR Mission Coordinator'.

Acronyms are usually best spelt out if there is any doubt about their being understood.

14.8 Finally, responsibility for communications discipline does not rest only with the sender. All units responding to an MRO should also be ready to receive information, on the radio channels allocated to them or the telephone numbers they have identified for the purpose. This means monitoring the radio and having someone standing by the telephone, as well as frequently checking equipment that may be used to send written information.

15 The International SAR Situation Report Format

15 The International SAR Situation Report Format

15.1 An internationally agreed means of transferring information about any SAR incident, including an MRO, is the SAR situation report or 'SAR SITREP'. This procedure is explained in the IAMSAR Manual. An extract from Volume II is annexed to this guidance paper, and the format may also be found in Volume III, appendix D.

15.2 The chief value of a standard format is that superfluous material can be omitted, saving time. Thus those using the SAR SITREP do not need to say or write 'Identity of Casualty': the paragraph heading 'A' suffices.

In practice the SITREP format is very logically laid out and can be understood to a great extent even by someone who does not have the IAMSAR 'key' to hand.

There is also no need to repeat information already sent, with the exception of the first paragraph, which acts as a continuing identifier. Referring to the format at annex, it can be seen that updating SITREPs need contain no more than paragraphs 'A' and 'N'. Other paragraphs are completed only if the information previously sent under those headings has changed.

15.3 Those units on-scene able to monitor the main coordination channels as well as their working channel – having the necessary equipment and people available to do so – can be kept up to date by broadcast SITREPs; and/or the reports can be passed on by the OSC and ACO on the working frequencies. SITREPs in text form can also be passed by other means, including to shoreside responders.

16 Survivor Communications

16 Survivor Communications

16.1 Because they may have information of importance to the ongoing SAR operation, the (sometimes overlooked) question of communications with survivors is discussed in guidance papers 2.6 & 2.7. There we note that 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. This last will usually only be possible at places of safety, but should be planned for there.

16.2 Survivors should be given as much information as is appropriate and can be managed at all stages of the emergency and the response. This includes information given to them on board the casualty. Without information they can trust, they will often take matters into their own hands – which will usually worsen the situation.

16.3 'Panic' is an over-used word. People use it inappropriately in describing reactions in emergencies, often meaning only that they or others were running or shouting. But both are reasonable responses if you do not know what the correct response is. People will naturally try to save themselves and their loved ones: if not aware of or convinced by alternatives, they will turn to flight – also difficult to control, but not 'panic'. 'Panic' is better used to describe unreasonable behaviour, to which people may resort if they cannot see a means of escape. It involves loss of personal control and may make the individual unable to comprehend instructions and dangers. Both uncontrolled flight and incipient panic can be avoided by good communication of a reasonable emergency plan.

Why, for example, did more people not jump into the sea to escape Costa Concordia as she listed, staying instead in spaces on the down-slope side of the ship where becoming trapped if she rolled onto her side would be a fairly clear danger? We can argue that this was because they understood the lifeboat concept and trusted the ship's staff who could be seen to be implementing it. There was a plan that made sense, and which was well-communicated, at least by the junior staff who took control.

16.4 While information provision and crowd management will be matters for the casualty's crew during an evacuation, they become important to rescue unit crews as people are picked up and transferred to places of safety. If it is best for people to remain aboard a supported casualty unit, or in survival craft, the careful provision of information becomes even more important. Most people will want to leave the scene of the emergency and will need convincing that it is better for them to stay where they are. As noted in guidance paper 2.6, they will be easier to manage if they are kept well-informed.

16.5 This principle continues to apply in reception centres at the place(s) of safety. People will want to know where missing friends and family are, how their various other needs will be attended to, and why they cannot just be allowed to go home. Providing clear and frequently updated information should be a planned aim, as noted in guidance papers 2.3 & 2.7. Suitable spokespeople and liaison officers should be appointed: information boards and screens are also useful. When possible, survivors should be given access to communications systems so that they can reassure family and friends.

16.6 Again as discussed in guidance papers 2.6 & 2.7, survivors can provide information as well as require it. They may have information of value to the ongoing rescue effort, which needs to be collected, and/or information of value to the investigation of the incident underlying the MRO. Arrangements need to be put in place to acquire this information.

16.7 As discussed above, a common language or other means of making oneself understood is essential to all communication. Responders should be particularly careful not to use technical language in talking with survivors, and should be sensitive to their likely mental condition. They will be upset, perhaps disorientated, perhaps still frightened: these factors need to be taken into account at a purely human level – but also for a better chance of communications success.

16.8 Where there are more basic language difficulties, interpretation services can be used, even if the interpreter is remote from the two people needing to talk, and translation apps will be useful – or there may be other survivors who can help. It should also be remembered that humans have a remarkable facility for making themselves understood by sign language, if the effort is made.

16.9 In summary, survivors are not just 'objects' to be retrieved and brought ashore. They are human beings with an urgent need for information and, probably, with important information to give. Responders should plan how best to communicate with them.

17 Public Communications

17 Public Communications

17.1 Public communications will also be part of the communications load and must therefore be part of the plan too. Unlike communications with survivors, the news media will ensure that this aspect is not overlooked at the time of the emergency, at least as far as their own needs are concerned. On the other hand those with direct responsibility for managing the MRO should not have to do any more than provide information, via the cascade system preferably, to public relations officers who will take on responsibility for working with the news media direct.

17.2 It must be remembered however, and planned for, that 'public communications' is not only about the news media. A very important group, not at risk themselves but who should still be of direct concern to responding authorities, are the families and friends of those who are, or are believed to be, at risk. As well as keeping these people informed, SAR responders will need information from them about those at risk, including any contact they may have had with them by cellphone, for example, or on social networks. Family and friends' reception centres should be included in this active, and two-way, communications process, in the same way as described for survivor reception centres above.

17.3 It will usually also be the case that the responding authorities will be putting out information direct to the public, by broadcasts, websites and other electronic means, notices in key areas, and so on. Responders should also be ready to receive and assess information provided by the general public.

17.4 These aspects are considered in further detail in guidance paper 2.3.

18 Communications After the MRO

18 Communications After the MRO

18.1 There will continue to be a very large communications load after the mass rescue operation is over at sea – that is, after all who can be have been delivered to places of safety, and after searches on-scene have been concluded. The ongoing support of survivors will require much exchange of information, as will other recovery work such as counter-pollution and salvage operations. There will also be accident investigation and possible criminal or other investigation work going on, and MRO responders will be asked to contribute to this.

18.2 As regards the MRO itself, it is very important that it too should be considered in retrospect by those who participated in it, led by, or with the participation of, the SAR Coordinator (see guidance paper 4.2), primarily so that any lessons that can be learned from it are identified and disseminated as appropriate. See guidance papers 5.4 & 5.5 in this respect.

18.3 Good, clear, honest and inclusive communication remains as important in accident and response investigation and analysis, after the MRO, as it was in the planning and action stages.

19 Summary

19 Summary

o   Good communication means the successful transfer of information, without delay, misunderstanding, repetition or omission, so that all who need that information can acquire it rapidly and understand it fully. Good communication depends on clarity and trust.
o   There is a great deal of information to handle in an MRO, and it is of vital importance that it should flow efficiently and quickly. There will be communications failures in any complex incident, but all involved should strive to minimise them.
o   Successful communications during an incident depend to a great extent on successful communications at the planning stage. The SAR Coordinator should ensure that all organisations which might become involved in an MRO are represented at the planning stage, and that the planning includes communications planning. The plan should be built on existing systems and procedures.
o   Pre-exchange of up-to-date information is part of the communications process, saving time when an incident occurs. The SAR cooperation plan between passenger ships and SAR services is an example of this, and can be extended to the handling of information from other organisations.
o   All involved in the overall multi-agency, multi-jurisdiction, multi-mission and possibly international response to major incidents must clearly understand who is in charge, the respective roles of all involved, and how to interact with each other.
o   Communications must be based on language and terminology understood by all involved. Technical language should be used with caution. Interpretation services and aids can be used.
o   The SAR Mission Coordinator has overall responsibility for implementing the maritime part of the communications plan during the MRO itself.
o   The first and most important actions in MRO communication are to recognise the operation for what it is and to notify all who may have to respond to it. In case of doubt, it is better to alert then stand down if not required than to alert too late. Part of the process will be alerting the resources needed to fill the 'capability gap'.
o   Dissemination of the alert and of subsequent information is best done by 'cascading' it in various pre-planned streams.
o   A communications system covering the whole MRO is unnecessary if liaison officers can be exchanged between the major coordination centres.
o   Communications systems need people as well as equipment. The best equipment is useless without someone available and able to operate it, and a communication is only complete when it has been received as well as transmitted.
o   The information needs of all who may be involved in an MRO response, and of others who have a legitimate interest, should be identified and priorities agreed at the planning stage.
o   The communications structure should follow the command, control and coordination structure, and will tend to do so naturally if that structure is clearly delineated and understood.
o   The RCC should have clear control of the maritime communications network, delegating authority to the OSC and ACO, and to any sub-coordinators nominated, for their parts of the operation.
o   There will be 'bottlenecks' in communication. MRO responders should seek to avoid them by making good use of the various communications facilities available.
o   Long-range communications and the clear communication of geographic information should be considered at the planning stage.
o   Efficient communications in major maritime response incidents are best arranged by dividing communications into manageable parts. On-scene communications can be divided between a few radio frequencies, each controlled by, for example, the OSC, the ACO or a search coordinator.
o   It is important that all units responding should know who to call, and that the OSC and ACO in particular should be clearly identifiable by callsign.
o   Private, 'person-to-person' calls may be useful, but should be the exception rather than the rule, to facilitate coordination overall.
o   In an MRO no-one should expect perfect information, and no-one should expect the situation to remain the same. The communications plan should be flexible enough to deal with this.
o   Communications discipline is very important. All responders should be able to have an overall view of the operation – but no-one needs to know every detail. Anyone with something to communicate should consider how best to do so before pressing the button.
o   The SAR SITREP is a useful means of passing information.
o   Survivors should be given as much updated information as is appropriate, and they may be able to provide information of importance to the ongoing operation.
o   Public communications should be part of the plan, via the news media and more directly, especially as regards communications with friends and family of people involved.
o   Good, clear, honest and inclusive communication is important when planning for MROs; when conducting them; and when analysing them afterwards.

20 Further Reading

20 Further Reading

20.1 For further reading on command, control, coordination and communications in mass rescue operations, follow this link.

20.2 The IAMSAR Manual is the principal source of guidance on maritime SAR communications, in an MRO and in general. Volumes I & II cover various aspects of communications planning: see Volume II, chapter 2, chapter 5.21.4, chapter 6.15.6, 6.15.19-20, & 6.15.33-37, and appendix C: 'MRO communications in a maritime incident' in particular. Volume III contains good guidance for ships and aircraft on scene, including the SAR SITREP format at appendix D.

20.3 The 2016 edition of the IAMSAR Manual contains new guidance on multi-aircraft SAR communications, in particular in Volume II, chapter 7, and Volume III, Section 5.

20.4 IMO's MSC Circular 1079 explains the SAR cooperation planning process between passenger ships and SAR services. IMO's International Code of Signals and Standard Marine Communication Phrases are also useful.

These publications, like the IAMSAR Manual and other IMO publications, may be purchased from the IMRF’s online bookshop, with a 20% discount for IMRF Members: see www.imrfbookshop.org. The IMO also make available, free of charge, a large amount of guidance on communications and other matters relevant to SAR. This can be accessed via the IMRF main website: www.international-maritime-rescue.org.

ANNEX

ANNEX

 

Extract from IAMSAR Manual Volume II Appendix I:


SITREPs

Situation reports (SITREPs) are used to pass information about a particular SAR incident. RCCs use them to keep other RCCs, RSCs [Rescue Sub Centres], and appropriate agencies informed of cases which are of immediate or potential interest or as a briefing tool where an RCC is requesting assistance or action(s) from another RCC or organization. The OSC uses SITREPs to keep the SMC aware of mission events. Search facilities use SITREPs to keep the OSC informed of mission progress. The OSC addresses SITREPs only to the SMC unless otherwise directed. The SMC may address SITREPs to as many agencies as necessary, including other RCCs and RSCs, to keep them informed. SITREPs prepared by an SMC usually include a summary of information received from OSCs. Often a short SITREP is used to provide the earliest notice of a casualty or to pass urgent details when requesting assistance. A more complete SITREP is used to pass amplifying information during SAR operations. Initial SITREPs should be transmitted as soon as some details of an incident become clear and should not be delayed unnecessarily for confirmation of all details.

For SAR incidents where pollution or threat of pollution exists as a result of a casualty, the appropriate agency tasked with environmental protection should be an information addressee on SITREPs.


International SITREP Format

A SITREP format has been adopted internationally which is intended for use [...] for international communications between RCCs.

Short form: To pass urgent essential details when requesting assistance, or to provide the earliest notice of casualty, the following information should be provided:

TRANSMISSION   (Distress/urgency)
DATE AND TIME   (UTC or Local Date Time Group)
FROM:   (Originating RCC)
TO:    
SAR SITREP (NUMBER)   (To indicate nature of message and completeness of sequence of SITREPs concerning the casualty)
A. IDENTITY OF CASUALTY 
  (Name/call sign, flag State)
B. POSITION   (Latitude/longitude)
C. SITUATION   (Type of message, eg distress/urgency; date/time; nature of distress/urgency, eg fire, collision, medico)
D. NUMBER OF PERSONS    
E. ASSISTANCE REQUIRED    
F. COORDINATING RCC    


Full form: To pass amplifying or updating information during SAR operations, the following additional sections should be used as necessary:

G. DESCRIPTION OF CASUALTY   (Physical description, owner/charterer, cargo carried, passage from/to, life-saving equipment carried; attach photography, if available)
H. WEATHER ON SCENE   (Wind, sea/swell state, air/sea temperature, visibility, cloud cover/ceiling, barometric pressure)
J. INITIAL ACTIONS TAKEN   (By casualty and RCC)
K. SEARCH AREA   (As planned by RCC)
L. COORDINATING INSTRUCTIONS   (OSC designated, units participating, communications, AIS and/or LRIT data available on ships in the vicinity)
M. FUTURE PLANS    
N. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION   (As appropriate, pictures, maps or links to websites where further information is available, include time SAR operation terminated)


Notes

(1)   Each SITREP concerning the same casualty should be numbered sequentially.
(2)   If help is required from the addressee, the first SITREP should be issued in short form if remaining information is not readily available
(3)   When time permits, the full form may be used for the first SITREP, or to amplify it.
(4)   Further SITREPs should be issued as soon as other relevant information has been obtained. Information already passed should not be repeated.
(5)   During prolonged operations, "no change" SITREPs, when appropriate, should be issued at intervals of about 3 hours to reassure recipients that nothing has been missed.
(6)   When the incident is concluded, a final SITREP should be issued as confirmation.

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