The goals of command and control in coping with major incidentsIn any disaster response system, the command and control system plays a crucial role in coordinating the efforts of rescue and relief personnel. No matter how brave and well equipped emergency response personnel are, they will not be able to focus their efforts effectively unless they receive appropriate, accurate, and timely information and instructions. An effective command and control system must accomplish several basic goals: Appropriate emergency-response personnel must be dispatched quickly to the right place with the right equipment. Responders must be given proper instructions and information.
Because the information available changes as an emergency progresses, command and control personnel must be able to supply responders with updated information and orders whenever necessary. Civilians must be provided with accurate, consistent, and timely information in order to be able effectively to help themselves and those around them. This information should be made available on both a “push” and a “pull” basis—that is, it should be broadcast (or “narrowcast”) to civilians who are likely to need it, and should also be available to those who request it, e.g.
by calling emergency telephone numbers. Obviously, emergency-response personnel at the scene should provide civilians with the same information and advice as is available from centralized sources, differing only as necessary to conform to specific local conditions. Information from various sources—news media, involved civilians, emergency-response personnel, and others—must be gathered, sorted, integrated, evaluated, and communicated quickly and rapidly. Personnel from various agencies must be able to work together effectively, based on shared information and consistent instructions. This requires that all emergency responders be able to communicate with the same command and control staff; ideally, responders from different agencies should be able to communicate directly with one another as well. Decisions must be made quickly and correctly, and implemented with no uncertainties regarding the chain of command.
“Turf wars” must never be fought in the midst of a crisis; and all relevant agencies must be ready and willing to work under a predefined, unitary command structure for the duration of the crisis. Of course, even the best command and control system cannot solve all the problems presented by natural and human-made disasters; but a well-designed and implemented command and control system can ensure that the full strength of the emergency-response system is brought to bear in a timely and effective manner, so that the effects of disaster are mitigated to the maximum extent possible. Components of an effective command and control systemIn order to accomplish the goals outlined above, a command and control system must include a number of components, which can be grouped into several interlocking categories: policies, personnel, equipment, and practice.
(9/11 Commission Staff, pp. 4-6)Policies: In order for the emergency-response system to be ready to function at peak efficiency on minimal notice, policies must be formulated well in advance and effectively communicated to all relevant agencies and personnel.
These policies must define how the system will respond to a crisis, so that only decisions specifically related to the unique details of a particular emergency remain to be made during the emergency itself: