Your life in their hands: how training first responders is critical
The first few minutes following a major incident are critical. Realistic scenario training can give first responders the experience to help minimise further injury and damage.
Post-major-incident analysis tells us that in nearly all of the cases, what happens in the first few minutes has a significant effect on the number and types of casualties, damage and disruption. It is a time of uncertainty, lack of appreciation of the extent of what has occurred, and in many cases, fear. Without experienced direction and immediate guidelines, things can go wrong and the situation may be made worse.
Responding to life-threatening events
The vast majority of people, thank goodness, have never had to cope with a life-threatening event. Often the nearest they have come to it is a vehicle accident or illness. Although serious, these are relatively contained events where the parameters are likely to be known and generally understood. A weapon attack or an unexpected explosion are unpredictable and in the main, will be outside the cognisance of those involved. There is an expectation that security or postroom staff, receptionists, building management teams or front of house people will deal with it until the emergency services arrive. Depending on the location, availability and to a certain extent, luck, this could be three or four minutes or 15 minutes or more. Even then, the first person to arrive may also not have experienced this situation before.
The role of first responders
Are we expecting too much from these ‘first responders’? Previous articles in City Security magazine and elsewhere, particularly when debating Martyn’s Law, have discussed the need for training first responders. But where is the training going to come from in this type of situation? Certainly, the requirement under SIA licensing does not cover it. Online training, although adequate for routine everyday awareness, cannot hope to provide realistic life-threatening experience.
Some would argue that experience can come from our Forces, but recent conflicts such as Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq are in an entirely different environment and culture. A good example to illustrate this problem is to briefly analyse one of the aspects of the response procedure: the 4Cs – Confirm, Cordon, Clear & Control. In a life-threatening incident, a lot of people’s first reaction is to evacuate (Clear) people immediately to a safe place until the emergency services arrive to handle the situation.
The quickest way to evacuate a large building is to sound the fire alarm. However, once you have done this, you have lost control, because people will evacuate as they would in a fire practice or follow the fire exit signs. In other words, they might now walk right into the main threat.
This has happened on a number of occasions, causing deaths and serious injuries. This is why when the threat has been ‘Confirmed’ e.g. a person with a weapon, the next action is to stop any other person going near the threat – ‘Cordon’.
In actual fact, depending on the type of location, the Cordon and Clear go on together. It is similar to a pebble being thrown into a pond – the impact is the epicentre of the threat, the ripples are the progression of the Cordon and Clear, i.e. they start small but get bigger and bigger until the distance is considered safe.
Some would argue that you can get round this problem by giving first responders instant support, for example by having a security control room, supervisor or a management responsibility for coordinating the incident.
They will have the detailed procedures to be followed in the event of a serious incident. But it isn’t instant, is it? The first responder has to stop what they are doing and radio or phone to their support to explain the situation.
Look at the ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ advice – the Tell comes at the end when one is in a safe/safer place. Run is instant when trying to protect oneself and colleagues. It is also debateable whether the person manning the control room, supervisor or manager is any more experienced at handling this type of situation.
For most working in offices and other locations, there is no doubt that they are putting their personal safety and security initially in the hands of first responders, so they should be given every opportunity to fulfil that duty effectively. This can be achieved by realistic scenario training relevant to their environment and having quick-reference incident procedures to hand.
Dr John Wyatt MBE PhD
Former Bomb Disposal Officer and Commander of the UK’s High Risk Counter Terrorist Search Operations.
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