Why use standards of procedures?

By: Nic Meunier

Picture1One of the most convoluted and misunderstood parts affecting technical operation in the disaster and emergency (DEM) field is legal mandates and standards. So many standards and guidelines have been written to reach different kinds of operations in DEM. These protocols are important to responders for safety purposes and to management members overlooking these teams. When initiating a rescue, the team leaders commit to follow laws and regulations in place that will or could affect the team and resources (human, material and financial). Major consequences could result from failure to comply during an operation.

Clear and constant training is essential when preparing a DEM and rescue team. Mandatory and minimum training requirements diverge between countries and even communities. Each community wants to evaluate its training needs and at the same time develop its own standard of operation procedures (SOPs).

The majority of these organisations prefer to work with SOPs. These SOPs are not only essential during operations but also must serve as the basis within the administrative, training and development components. SOPs will answer the technical, commandment, coordination, engagement and many other questions. But they would also dictate the structure of the operations during a response.

Type of SOPs

Professional organisations and teams should consider establishing two types of SOPs: administrative and operational. Administrative SOPs provide the structure of the personnel and resources and would include: the chain of command, qualifications, equipment, staffing. And the operational SOPs could describe in detail the techniques and responsibilities of each element during operation. These would include protocols, operations procedures, regulations, requirements, management, tactics and management requirements. The guidelines must be integrated into one common document or manual.

Each of these aspects should be reviewed and revised regularly. All operational levels should be in communication with each other and all members should be empowered within the full process of the review.

SOPs overriding Operations

It is important to understand that SOPs should be developed to consider all local, national and international agreements. The SOPs are then oversight document for the operations of the organisation. The national level includes the most significant laws and regulations including health and safety considerations. National regulations often protect the employees from risks and hazards that the places of employment are responsible for. Often the organisations will include standards from national authorities in their manuals to make certain they are legally incorporated within the procedures.

The organisations must consider the impacts of the National laws and regulations on their SOPs. The teams may be liable for the negligent performance of their duties. No team could count on any immunity against negligent actions. This is why the failure to follow any of the SOPs could result in serious negative impacts. Organisations should consider having their standards review done by lawyers to mitigate any gaps within their practices.

To conclude, the more your organisation is specialized and provides specific skills, the more your organisation needs strong and robust SOPs to protect the casualties, its members and the organisation itself. Many more organisations should consider using international and globally recognized standards and guidelines to be resilient in the face of negative situations. One of the best examples is probably the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) Secretariat of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs section of the United Nation that develops prominent international standards for Urban Search and Rescue teams and methodologies for international coordination. They facilitate exchanges between international teams from around the world and present information on their Virtual On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (http://vosocc.unocha.org) and within the United Nations INSARAG Guidelines.

Nic is a PhD candidate at Cappella University. In the spring of 2014 he worked at the Headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva with the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group.

He was also active in the military for two decades and left as Sergeant Team Leader Search and Rescue. The Search and Rescue Technician (SAR Tech) is part of a group of elite, highly trained rescue specialists who provide on-scene, medical aid and extraction from some of the harshest and most remote areas of Canada, deploying from rotary or fixed wing aircraft in various environmental and climactic conditions. SAR operations may require parachuting, mountaineering, hiking, swimming and scuba diving in adverse conditions.