Breaking down barriers: bridging the interoperability gap in emergency response

Breaking down barriers: bridging the interoperability gap in emergency response

Published: 27th Feb 2024

In the dynamic world of emergency response, effective collaboration between the Emergency Services is essential for saving lives and maximising public safety. However, despite JESIP’s decade-long commitment to improving interoperability, seamless collaboration remains a challenge.

JESIP has been leading the effort of promoting organisational change towards greater interoperability. However, evidence from public inquiries, such as the Manchester Arena Inquiry, have found that efforts have not always translated smoothly into practice. Assessing this gap was the goal of our latest research. Our team sought to explore why interoperability was challenged, specifically building on our insights as social psychologists with shared expertise on group psychology.

Drawing from our analysis of interviews with experienced commanders and insights from a systematic literature review, we evaluated JESIP’s efforts to promote interoperability, and identified the roadblocks that have hindered success. There were two core findings.

First, our interviews revealed a principle-implementation gap where responders were motivated to work well together, but a series of challenges limited the seamless integration of JESIP’s principles into day-to-day operations.

At the systemic level, issues such as limited funding, and the narrow scope of JESIP were perceived to hinder effectiveness. At the organisational-level, incompatible command structures and organisational cultures exacerbated the gap. At the individual-level, the stress and pressure of real-world incidents strained interpersonal relationships, making it difficult to apply JESIP principles effectively. All responders were keen to engage with JESIP principles, but a variety of factors limited their capacity to put JESIP into practice.

Building on this, our systematic literature review sought to identify the core components of interoperability that could be harnessed to bridge the gap. Specifically, we identified that emergency teams who possessed trust, secure team identities, cohesive goals, effective communication and adopted a flexible and supportive team structure would be more able to work together. We defined interoperability as “a shared system of technology and teamwork built upon trust, identification, goals, communication and flexibility”.

Using this definition, we returned to our interview data and found that JESIP had made positive strides in developing some of the core components of interoperability. For example, commanders described how JESIP principles had helped to structure communications during incidents, and further that JESIP training had helped to build understanding about team structures between emergency response groups to foster more flexible teamwork.

Despite these positives, the principle-implementation gap remains. To bridge this gap, we recommend that future interoperability training should have a greater focus on the psychology of interoperability. Building on JESIP’s progress, psychological training would help to strengthen the interpersonal skills and team dynamics that are essential for driving a truly interoperable team.

Further Reading:

For further reading including published papers, executive summaries and video animations, please visit: The Psychology of Interoperability – Dr Nikki Power

Dr Nikki Power – University of Liverpool*

*correspondence to Dr Nikki Power on

Dr Richard Philpot, Lancaster University

Professor Mark Levine, Lancaster University