Situational awareness: People at risk

Control Measure Knowledge

When dealing with people at risk who are distressed, afraid or confused, fire control personnel may find it difficult to gather accurate incident location details. In such situations, use of Enhanced Information Service for Emergency Calls (EISEC), Advanced Mobile Location (AML) and other geo-location tools may provide address and location information if the call is ended before the address is given or if the caller cannot provide the necessary information.

Accurate situational awareness will help fire control personnel to categorise the type of call and identify the hazards and risks associated with the incident. This will enable them to share risk-critical information with the personnel attending, provide appropriate evacuation guidance, safety advice or survival guidance and apply dynamic mobilising strategies if the incident or the situation of the people at risk changes.

Situational awareness can be gathered from:

  • Questioning callers about the incident, their location and environment
  • Occupant and premises risk information such as information linked to the premises or caller details on the mobilising system
  • Risk information shared by other agencies
  • Updates from operational personnel
  • Location and vehicle information from in-vehicle safety systems

Risk information may be out-of-date or inaccurate, and appropriate continual assessment and questioning to determine the hazards and risks should still take place.

It is important to determine whether the people at risk are in a place that will remain safe until the incident is resolved or they can be rescued. If people at risk are not in such a place, then it should be established whether they are able to evacuate.

If people at risk inform fire control personnel that they cannot evacuate, or they delay doing so, fire control personnel should determine through effective questioning whether the people at risk are physically unable to evacuate or whether it is their perception or unwillingness that they cannot evacuate. All possible means of evacuation should be explored before giving survival guidance.

Several key points determine the advice that fire control personnel give to people at risk, and the same key points will also assist operational personnel at the scene:

  • The immediate level of risk to the people concerned
  • The condition, number, age, and ability of the people at risk
  • Whether the people at risk are under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • The location of the people at risk
  • The environment that people at risk are in, for example:
  • Road network
  • Water
  • Building or structure

If people at risk are unable to evacuate from a fire, the incident should be categorised as ‘persons reported’, which may affect:

  • The mobilisation of additional resources or personnel where appropriate
  • The police and ambulance services’ response priority level
  • The tactical plan of the incident commander

Fire control personnel can declare ‘persons reported’ incidents at the point of the first emergency call or following repeat or duplicate calls, or operational personnel may do so when they arrive at the incident.

Following the declaration of a ‘persons reported’ incident, and once operational personnel are confident that no one is within the building or area, operational personnel must confirm with fire control personnel that everyone has been accounted for. Procedures should be in place for this information to be shared promptly and recorded within the incident log.

Because incidents change and potentially escalate quickly, it is vital that information gathered is continually reviewed and reassessed, particularly if survival guidance is being given. Fire control personnel can ask simple questions to determine whether conditions are deteriorating, for example:

  • ‘Has anything changed?’
  • ‘Has the situation got better or worse for you?’
  • ‘What has happened since I last asked you?’
  • ‘Tell me exactly what is happening now?’
  • ‘Is there more or less of the hazard?’

During the management of an emergency call, fire control personnel should be aware of other potential indicators of how the situation is changing and how this is affecting the people at risk, for example:

  • Vocal signals, such as:
  • Raised or lowered voice
  • Rapid or slow speech
  • Periods of silence
  • Coughing or spluttering
  • Sounds in the background from other people at risk
  • Alarms actuating

If fire control personnel identify any change in the situation, or the advice given to the people at risk changes, this should be communicated verbally to operational personnel immediately. If the situational information received from operational personnel requires a change of advice, this should be immediately relayed to all people at risk.

Control measure Situational awareness: People at risk and Hazard – Calls from or about multiple people at risk contain further information.

Fire control personnel and operational personnel should reach a shared understanding of risk, which should be used to identify whether advice to people at risk should change. Specific information gathered by operational personnel about the location and number of people who are at risk should be shared with the appropriate sector on the incident ground and with fire control personnel. Timely, efficient and proactive communication is necessary to ensure that shared situational awareness is maintained.

Where possible, contact should be maintained with people at risk until they have reached a place of safety. If the people at risk are already in a place of safety or contact cannot be maintained, then a method of recontacting the caller should be agreed and recorded within the incident log. Contact may not be maintained when, for example:

  • The caller is calling from a landline that does not have a cordless handset
  • The caller has a cordless handset that needs to be taken out of range of its base unit
  • The mobile phone signal is poor or device battery low

Fire control personnel may receive emergency calls from people who are not at risk or from friends and relatives indicating that there could be people at risk. Where these calls are about incidents involving fire, they should be categorised as ‘persons reported’ and details regarding the specific location, name, age, and ability of people at risk, if known, should be recorded within the incident log and passed to operational personnel promptly.

People at the scene of an incident may be on the phone to people who are inside the building or area and may attempt to pass the phone to operational personnel for them to provide advice, guidance and reassurance. In such situations, operational personnel should inform people at the scene or people at risk on the phone to clear the line and dial 999 to speak to fire control personnel who can provide appropriate guidance.

Emergency call supervision

To ensure prompt mobilisation of resources the fire control commander, another supervisory manager or suitably experienced team member may mobilise appropriate resources to an incident while an emergency call is ongoing. This will allow the fire control emergency call taker to focus on providing safety advice or survival guidance. More information can be found in Fire control command guidance – Emergency call supervision.

Other emergency control rooms

When calls are received from other Category 1 and 2 emergency control rooms about people at risk, fire control personnel should request all information gathered by the other agency during the call. Fire control personnel should apply appropriate questioning techniques to obtain additional information to enable them to mobilise an appropriate fire and rescue service response.

In-vehicle safety systems

For incidents involving people who have been involved in a road traffic collision and are trapped or unable to dial 999 manually, the use of in-vehicle safety systems may help to provide information to emergency control room personnel.

Emergency calls may be received from vehicles with eCall, where a call is generated manually by the vehicle occupants or automatically via activation of in-vehicle sensors following a collision. The system allows the vehicle occupants to communicate verbally if they can, and vehicle location data is also sent to the call handling agent. This data can be passed to fire control personnel, enhancing their situational awareness.

Likewise, emergency calls may be received from vehicles that have a Telematics service that uses mobile phone technology linked to global positioning system (GPS) information from satellites. This service sends a message to a call handling agent with vehicle and location data prior to setting up a voice call.

When an eCall or Telematics call is connected to the fire control room, the emergency operator will highlight that the call is an ‘eCall mobile’ or ‘Telematics mobile’ and give the GPS location information. If there is a delay in receipt of the location data, the emergency operator will interrupt with location details when it becomes available.

If the caller cannot supply the information required, fire control personnel can ask the emergency operator for further details and can usually obtain the direction of travel, make, model, colour and registration of the vehicle or its identification number, and sometimes other personal information supplied by the customer.

Some vehicles have safety systems that, if the car is involved in an accident where the airbag is deployed or the fuel pump cut off, will make an emergency call from the customer’s mobile phone. When the call handling agent receives the call, a message will be played giving the geographic co-ordinates of the caller’s location. If the call is silent, or there are problems obtaining the location from the caller, the call playback facility can be used to allow the co-ordinates to be played directly to fire control personnel.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions