Control rooms play a vital role in managing the early stages of a multi-agency incident. There cannot be a co-ordinated multi-agency response or effective communication if control rooms do not deliver a swift and joint approach to handling them.
Specific control room guidance in the interoperability framework builds consistency into the procedures and working practices of emergency service control rooms.
This guidance sets out how control rooms, working together, start the principles for joint working. It also sets out what responders can expect from their respective control rooms when attending a multi-agency incident.
The control room guidance is divided into three sections, which align to the principles for joint working:
- Shared situational awareness and joint understanding of risk
- Co-ordination and co-location
As with the principles for joint working, they do not have to be followed in the order in which they are presented.
Control rooms generally operate from separate fixed locations and therefore cannot feasibly co-locate. They can, however, help in co-locating responders and commanders by jointly agreeing the initial multi-agency rendezvous points.
6.1.1.Supporting Principle 1
A dialogue between control room supervisors should be established as soon as possible.
A multi-agency discussion between control room supervisors in the affected control rooms at the earliest opportunity starts the process of sharing information about the incident. The ‘talk not tell’ procedure involves control room personnel passing information and asking other responders what their response to the incident will be.
This is done by:
- Sharing information from all available sources along with immediate resource availability and decisions taken in accordance with each organisation’s policies and procedures.
Because of the unverified nature and range of information sources at this early stage, situational awareness may be unclear until information can be verified by the first responders at the scene.
- Nominating a single point of contact (SPoC) in each control room and establishing a method of communication between all of them. This could involve creating a telecommunications link or a multi-agency interoperable talkgroup.
Information and intelligence can then be shared in a timely way and inform deployment decisions. It also allows a co-ordinated response to be managed efficiently when key decision-making personnel (operational commanders, for example) are deployed to rendezvous with their emergency service counterparts.
To maximise shared situational awareness, responding commanders should be invited to join shared talkgroups between the control room single points of contact before they arrive at the scene or other location such as the tactical co-ordinating group.
- Co-ordinating the setting up of multi-agency interoperable voice communications for commanders and operational working if necessary. See Supporting principle 4 for further guidance.
6.1.2.Supporting Principle 2
Plain English should be used in all discussions between control rooms.
Emergency services and responder agencies may not fully understand each other’s call sign structures and single-service terminology, such as colloquial references to assets. Control rooms should therefore use plain English and avoid using acronyms and single-service jargon whenever they communicate with one another.
Control room staff should ensure that shared information, including terminology and symbols, is understood and agreed by everybody involved.
6.2 Shared Situational Awareness and Joint Understanding of Risk
6.2.1.Supporting Principle 3
Talking to commanders, both before the first commander arrives at the scene and to commanders throughout the incident will contribute to shared situational awareness. The process should include identifying risks and hazards to all responders.
Discussion between control rooms should be frequent and cover the following key points:
- Is it clear who the lead agency is at this point? If so, who is it?
- What information and intelligence does each agency hold at this point?
- What hazards and risks are known by each agency at this point?
- What assets have been – or are being – deployed at this point and why?
- How will the required agencies continue communicating with each other?
- At what point will multi-agency interoperable voice communications be required, and how will it be achieved?
Whenever possible, control rooms should use electronic data transfer to share information. This can reduce congestion on voice channels, prevent misunderstandings and eliminate ‘double-keying’ information.
Direct data transfer does not, however, remove the need to establish early dialogue between control room supervisors to achieve shared situational awareness.
6.3 Co-ordination and Co-Location
6.3.1 Supporting Principle 4
Control room supervisors should engage in multi-agency communications and carry out the initial actions required to manage the incident.
Control room supervisors should co-ordinate communication between the single points of contact in each control room by a method agreed during early multi-agency discussions (see Supporting principle 1). When identified, the lead agency should agree the timing of subsequent conversations between control room supervisors to ensure that shared situational awareness is maintained.
Control room supervisors should be ready to set up multi-agency interoperable voice communications for commanders if and when required. Requests to use multi-agency interoperable talkgroups should always be made to the police control room for authorisation. After identifying the talkgroups to be used, the police control room will communicate this to the appropriate responder control rooms so that the relevant commanders can be informed.
Multi-agency interoperable talkgroups are not necessary for every multi-agency incident. But when each service has allocated a commander to an incident, the value of making interoperable voice communications available should be considered.
Co-locating commanders and face-to-face exchanges will always be the preferred option. But when this is not possible or practical, interoperable voice communications can allow decision-makers to keep each other informed, contribute to shared situational awareness and enhance joint decision-making.
Control room supervisors and dispatch personnel should familiarise themselves with the policies, procedures and any other arrangements for using interoperable voice communications. A specialist operational communications adviser from each organisation should be identified to support the incident.
6.3.2.Supporting Principle 5
The lead responder will suggest a location for commanders to co-locate in the early stages of a multi-agency incident when operational commanders may be travelling to the scene.
When early location information is unverified and the suitability of potential rendezvous points is unclear, the lead responder and other control room supervisors should jointly agree an initial rendezvous point and communicate it to commanders as soon as possible.
Commanders may wish to revise the location of the rendezvous point and/or the forward command post in the light of further information at the scene.
Further information on the role and responsibility of control room managers / supervisors can be found here