Date: Wednesday, 16th, September, 2020

It was 2002 and the Manchester Commonwealth Games when I first thought of emergency responses to potential terror attack. Post World Trade Centre disaster and with the previous IRA terror attack on Manchester in mind I began drafting ideas for an automated response communication strategy to bring all emergency services and agencies into a single quick-acting network.

Today (mid-September, 2020) a public enquiry is hearing about the responses in Greater Manchester’s emergency services to the Manchester Arena suicide bombing in 2017. Perhaps if I’d had the resources in 2002 much of the slow response to the Arena bombing would have been better, sharper and quicker.

The outline software plan I drew up in 2002 anticipated and tried to solve the difficulties people have with a sudden crisis:-

Where did it happen?
What happened?
How bad is it or is it likely to be?
Who do you tell?
Who do you alert?
How do you alert them?
How do you up-date everyone?
How do they feed back into the information base to refine the information flows and resource demands?
What technology and resources do you use?
And how do you pay for it all?

The ideal system needs to receive a formal notification. The first responder alarm. The situation and its severity needs to be verified and flagged as quickly as possible. The alarm has to be broadcast. But to whom?

Any large city has a huge range of emergency response resources and locations from a service control room or head quarters, through major hospital accident and emergency centre, to the smallest branches, a police station or a doctors’ general practice, plus all emergency vehicles and the civilians who will rush to help or just need information. It all needs to be handled quickly, smoothly and effectively.

For example, those establishments and emergency workers based nearest the site of disaster may be the first line of response and need to be most closely involved in the crisis. This is not just a case of rapid response elements, police, fire brigade, ambulance. What of nearby clinics and doctors who may suddenly find casualties walking in off the street? They, and anyone else likely to come into contract with the situation, need to be involved and informed throughout the emergency.

What situation warrants all this?

A terrorists knife attack in the street is nowhere near the same as a major bombing by a terror group. This is where you need that critical first responder and senior judgements, the key human factor, to make the decision: escalate to a global response or restrain to a local case that can be handled locally.

A small local event can be handled without serious disruption, while a large-scale event will have a more global effect across the city and demand a more co-ordinated and comprehensive response from far more people, agencies and services.

This is where my model provides a predefined point of control and co-ordination, notifying all agencies and branches across the effected areas about the event, its severity and likely responses, points of contacts, etc.

Pre-programmed communication is the key to facilitating a prompt and effective response. Muddled thinking, lack of information and lack of clarity cannot be allowed during such a crisis, but human operators cannot function in a vacuum of instruction. The response system fills that early gap with pre-planned direction. As more information flows in the network of information, recipients are up-dated on the extent, severity, urgency of the event.

This is not a chain-of-command flow but an all-points broadcast of alert and information bulletins, giving all front-line staff the information they need to prepare and act. The information is targets according to levels of alert. The highest level of alert aims it service focal points and those immediately around the location of the event, lower levels of awareness are broadcast out to peripheral locations according to the severity of the event. General news and points of contact are opened on a single point of information for the public, which can be echoed through assorted social network and other broadcast channels where possible.

I had no money to develop and propose this in 2002 but we can see from past experience and the advances in communications and computer technology there is an opportunity to be better prepared.

As for the future. It is possible to raise and supply funds for such networks but that requires government licence to go ahead with it.

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