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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds A really useful way to help us examine the different phases of an emergency is to consider it in terms of activity and time. In essence, we draw a timeline. Now we consider our incident

Skip to 0 minutes and 22 seconds timeline in four separate phases: we have an Incubation Period, we have a dynamic initial period, we have what you might call a fully engaged period followed by a tail off and recovery. We can show that on this graph. So, if we look initially, we have a period of incubation / preparation where a disaster begins to unfold without really being noticed. At some point, the emergency will commence, sometimes, it’s a catastrophic incident, sometimes it’s something that builds slowly. We then see this element of dynamic phase followed by what you might call a steady state affair, before tailing off to recovery to a new normality. Within the timeline though, these phases are shown in a graphic way.

Skip to 1 minute and 14 seconds When we look at the first phase, Incubation, during this phase, the plans and preparations that we have made to deal with the disaster become inadequate. Messages are overlooked, monitoring is inadequate, and warnings not heeded. This results in the emergency occurring and a Dynamic Phase begins. The Dynamic Phase is where we push resources in place to try and deal with the emergency but the time of the emergency, the risk criticality of the emergency overwhelms or is ahead of the resources.

Skip to 1 minute and 52 seconds More resources are requested, more response is brought in and we get to this steady state almost phase where the resources that are in place are largely equal to the task, are largely able to deal with the emergency elements of the situation. A successful resolution of emerging problems. And then at some point we are going to tail off to a recovery period and here we see the incident diminishing, even though additional resources are there and sometimes we see an over-provision of resources in this phase, probably what you might losely call the Die Off Phase, before we go into a Recovery Phase where we go back to some kind of normality, usually a new normality.

Skip to 2 minutes and 39 seconds Now the timeline lends itself to any length of incident, short or long. Let’s consider a short incident. Imagine a steady state policing emergency. Two police officer on what the police call steady state operations, go to arrest a suspect. The suspect becomes violent and the best things that the officers can do is try and contain the situation whilst they are waiting for additional resources. At some point additional officers arrive and the culprit is subdued and arrested and then we go through a period when we go back to some kind or normality, except of course for one of the police officers who has been injured and therefore that person’s life has changed forever.

Skip to 3 minutes and 19 seconds We look on a wider scale now and take a wide area flooding as an example. Here, during the Incubation period, our plans are insufficient, warnings are not taken note of and wide area flooding starts to commence. Flash flooding, rapid flooding, roads and towns become inundated and an emergency response is sent to aid the population, always just behind the level, the rising level of water. At some point, the additional resources arrive, and these resources are able to deal with the flood as it starts to progress and then slowly diminish and as the flood water starts to flow away, additional resources are easily able to resolve what’s going on. Of course, the Recovery Phase for flooding can take months, maybe even years.

Skip to 4 minutes and 5 seconds The interesting thing though here is that the decision-making processes are very similar in each of the phases. During the Dynamic Phase we get very instinctive decisions, we get naturalistic decision-making processes, in the steady state and Recovery Phase we get what you might loosely call more rational decision-making process, so the timeline helps us to examine decision-making. The timeline can also help us to examine things like information management flows, how data is processed throughout the length of the incident. It helps us to examine political interest and media interest, both of which very broadly align with the curve of activity against time and these are very, very important elements of understanding decision-making and leadership in incident risk management.

An introduction to the incident timeline

In this section you will review the stages that emergency incidents transition through prior to their resolution.

Watch the video, in which Paul Amos describes the emergency timeline.

All emergency risk incidents have a timeline:

  • a pre-incident period where we see an incubation of the disaster, a period of missed opportunities to spot the problems coming and to take corrective action
  • the initiation of the emergency, where the dynamic realisation of the risk appears
  • a fully engaged period, where all available resources are deployed to deal with the emergency
  • a transition period into the recovery phase.

Your task

How do you think the way events develop on the incident timeline affects the way people make decisions?

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This video is from the free online course:

Emergency Management: Risk, Incidents and Leadership

Coventry University