Emergency Responders in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom the legislation, which governs response to emergencies, is the Civil Contingencies Act of 2004. (The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 2011). The Act provides a structure for protection of the UK citizens by the emergency responders located across the country, as well as the local emergency planners. The Civil Contingencies Act of 2004 defines an emergency as, “an event, which threatens serious damage to human welfare in a place in the UK; an event, which threatens serious damage to the environment of a place in the UK; or a war/terrorism, which threatens serious damage to the security of the UK” (The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 2011).

According to the Act, there are two different categories of emergency responders: first responders and second responders. Each category has different roles and responsibilities concerning responding to any of the situations as defined under the Act. The category of first emergency responders is made of organizations, which are usually at the core of response during emergencies. These include the police, emergency services such as fire and rescue, and ambulance services, local authorities, National Health Services (NHS) bodies such as independent healthcare organizations, and acute trusts and foundations trusts. Second responders’ category is made of transport, communication, and other utilities companies, Health and Safety Executives, and highway agencies. This category of emergency responders is usually less involved in the core planning of emergency response activities, but deals with incidents, which affect their sectors (The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 2011).

For the parties categorized as first responders, their main priority when responding to emergencies is to save and protect life. However, it is usually important to ensure the safety of the scene of the emergency, in order to preserve the evidence for consequent enquiries or criminal investigations. For this reason, the police act as first responders in times of emergencies by safeguarding the emergency scene (Emergency Response and Recovery 2009). They coordinate activities of all other responders at and around the emergency scene during land-based emergencies. The police continue safeguarding the emergency scene even after conclusion of all life-saving activities: unless disrupted by occurrence of further situations, which are beyond human control.

The duty of the police in responding to emergencies is also to oversee criminal investigation of individuals suspected to have caused the emergence: during emergencies such as terrorist attacks (Emergency Response and Recovery 2009). The police undertake this duty by collecting, labelling, sealing, and storing evidence from the crime scene. They also facilitate questioning of suspects by investigation bodies such as Marine Accident Investigation Branches and Health and Safety Executives. The duty of police in emergency scenes is also to create and maintain barricades at appropriate distances within the emergency sites (Emergency Response and Recovery 2009). This is to facilitate easier movement of other responders into the emergency scene. In addition, police elect barricades around emergency scenes in order to protect both public and private properties within and surrounding the emergency site from possible looting by criminals.

Where an emergency is suspected to be an act of terrorism, the duty of the police is to assess the situation in order to ensure that it is relatively safe for all other responders. The police assess specific risks associated with rescue operations in terrorist incidents, and ensure that the other responders are fully aware of such risks, as well as adequately prepared in case of occurrence of such risks (Emergency Response and Recovery 2009).

In the UK, the police also have a duty of recording causality information in emergency scenes, as well as arranging for removal of dead bodies from the emergency sites (Emergency Response and Recovery 2009). The police undertake this duty on behalf of the HM Coroner, who is legally obligated to investigate the cause and circumstances of deaths recorded in emergency scenes. Finally, the duty of the police as emergency responders is to coordinate land-search activities of casualties and/or survivors who may not be immediately located in the incident scene but are believed to part of the victims in the incident (Emergency Response and Recovery 2009). However, where the search is intensive, they liaise with the armed forces or volunteers.

For the fire and rescue services, their main duties and responsibilities in emergencies include to rescue people trapped by debris, wreckage, or fire in incident scenes. Their duty is also to prevent escalation of the number of casualties in an incident by putting-off or controlling fire in fire-related incidents. Other duties of fire and rescue services are to assist in removal of large quantity of flood water in water-related incidents, and assisting in ambulance services to transfer the injured persons to hospitals (Emergency Response and Recovery 2009).

The ambulance services are responsible for providing on-site National Health Services (NHS) response within a short notice. This includes offering first-aid services to casualties of emergences, and identifying which hospitals the casualties should be taken to depend on the types and number of injuries (Emergency Response and Recovery 2009). In the UK, many statutory ambulance services deploy single first responders (Paramedics), usually in Rapid Response Vehicles (RRVs). The vehicles are usually 4x4s or estate cars, fitted with high-visible ambulance markings, loud sirens, and blue flashing lights. In many cases, an Ambulance Incident Commander (AIC) coordinates the activities of ambulance services in emergency sites. When necessary, he/she seeks assistance from specialized medical teams: when a big number of severe injuries is involved (Emergency Response and Recovery 2009).

In the UK, hospitals are managed by acute and foundation trusts. During the times of emergencies, the duty of acute and foundation trusts is to assist the NHS. They ensure provision of specialized medical teams in incidents scenes when requested by an AIC, as well as ensuring that they help ambulance services to identify receiving hospitals for different types of injuries. For the primary care trusts, their duty is to provide primary care to casualties of emergence once they are brought to their health care facilities by ambulance services. They focus on wound dressings, drug regimes, physiotherapy, orthopaedic clinics, chest clinics, and post-traumatic stress. This is to facilitate quick and easy recovery of emergency victims.

For independent healthcare organizations, their role in times of emergencies is to deploy rescue resources such as ambulances and fire engines in order to facilitate quick rescue efforts. The duty of the local authorities in times of emergences is to provide survivors, who do not get medical care, with humanitarian aid such as temporary housing and other short-term needs. The local authorities also have a duty of cleaning any form of pollution, which may have occurred because of an emergency. They also facilitate in inspection of dangerous structures within emergency sites, and make recommendations before reoccupation of emergency-hit areas (Emergency Response and Recovery 2009).

Under the second responders’ category, the roles of utility services providers include liaising with the local authorities in restoration of essential services. This is to minimize the impact of an emergency on a wider community. These include fixing damaged water pipes, power lines, sewer lines, and gas pipes. They also work with the statutory agencies involved in control of major hazards in repairing damaged utility lines, which are likely to escalate an incident through radiation, leakage of dangerous gases, or contamination of drinking water by sewer water or any other form of toxic substances (Emergency Response and Recovery 2009).

The duties of highway agencies include directing and managing traffic for easy movement of ambulance, and fire and rescue services, as well as other responders to and from the disaster areas. They also provide other road users with useful information about which roads are safe. In addition, they provide alternative travelling routes to vital road users in the event that an emergency disrupts the main routes of such road users. For the Health and Safety Executives (HSEs), their main role is to provide expertise services during rescue operations. They have specialized personnel, who provide technical advice as well as planning of rescue operations in chemical, nuclear, biological, or radiological-related emergences (Emergency Response and Recovery 2009).

One of the advantages of having clearly defined duties and responsibilities of emergency responders is that it allows cooperation of a wide range of organizations. This facilitates easy and quick protection of lives, as well as securing the safety of many lives. When every a responder is aware of its duties and responsibilities during the times of emergencies, each of the responders executes its duties without wasting time trying to locate where it can probably fit in the situation. This helps in reducing the number of fatalities in a disaster area, thus preventing escalation of the magnitude of a disaster.

For example, during the London’s terrorist attack on July 7, 2005, the forth bomb was detonated in double-decker bus in Tavistock Square near the headquarters of the British Medical Association House (7 July London Attacks 2005). Since the medical practitioners located in that building were fully aware of their duties and responsibilities in times of emergences, they responded quickly to the emergency and were able to save many lives. It is said that their quick response helped to reduce the number of fatalities in the incident because they attended to those who suffered severe injuries as quick as possible, thus saving them from death due to causes such as excessive bleeding and lack of oxygen.

Furthermore, clear definition of the duties of emergency responders prevents occurrence of ‘spill over effects’ of a disaster to the entire community. For example, during the terrorist attack of July 7, 2005 in London, telecommunication services were disrupted. Vodafone initiates an emergency procedure, which allowed individuals to make emergency call (ACCOLC). Similarly, bus services were disrupted for approximately eight hours. In order to facilitate easy movement of people in London, the mainline railway stations started operating immediately, while the river vessels started offering free transport services to help de-congest overcrowded trains (7 July London Attacks 2005). This is a good example of how clear definition of the duties and responsibilities of emergency responders prevented occurrence of ‘spill over effects’ of the London bombing to the transport sector.

In addition, in cases of terrorist attacks or criminal-related incidents, clear definition of the duties and responsibilities of emergency responders help in conducting investigations, thus finding the individuals responsible for such acts. This is because all emergency responders are usually aware of their duties in such events, and they try as much as possible not to interfere with the evidence. In reference to the London bombing of July 7, 2005, the police barricaded the bombing sites. The responders coordinated well with the police in obeying the barricade rules and handling of victims in crime scenes. For these reasons, the police were able to conduct investigations as quickly as possible and were able to bring to book the four suicide bombers involved in the attacks (7 July London Attacks 2005).

However, clear definition of duties and responsibilities of emergency responders may sometimes create confusion, thus slowing-down the rescue operations. This is may arise when a certain responder is assigned a specific duty but fails to arrive at the scene of an incident as fast as possible. This may create confusion especially when the duties of such a respondent aid other responders in performing their duties. Furthermore, it is most obvious that emergency responders only equip themselves with relevant equipment for undertaking their specified duties, therefore, limiting their capacity to act in absence of another responder.

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