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Working together during major incidents and emergencies – optimising interoperability during major incident management using the social identity approach

This research will look at the ways in which emergency responders come together in a major incident to work towards a collective goal.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Louise Davidson
Police region
South East
Collaboration and partnership

Dr Holly Carter (Public Health England), Professor John Drury (University of Sussex), Professor Richard Amlôt (Public Health England), Professor Alex Haslam (University of Queensland).

Level of research
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

Major incidents can have devastating effects on the public and be disruptive to society in general. These effects can be minimised and mitigated by a well-coordinated emergency response. However, research suggests that emergency response is often hindered due to factors such as poor communication, poor information sharing and ineffective coordination between emergency responders. To address this, the Home Office developed the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme (JESIP) in 2012 to improve emergency response to a major incident and promote successful joint working between agencies. However, there are persistent issues that occur in multi-agency response.

This project will look at the ways that people work together both within and between different organisations, and how this understanding can be applied to better understand the way in which emergency responders come together in a major incident to work towards a collective goal. Furthermore, this research will help to enhance our understanding of why problems in multi-agency response persist and what interventions can be put in place to reduce the reoccurrence of them in the future.

This project will:

  1. Identify evidence-based best practice in current guidance and training for major incident management

  2. Understand facilitators and barriers to interoperability between emergency services during major incidents

  3. Develop and test training interventions designed to promote improved interoperability during major incidents

  4. Use relevant literature and novel research findings to inform the development of guidance and training to optimise interoperability in major incident management

This research will advance our understanding of the barriers and facilitators to effective joint working during incident management, in order to enhance the response of Fire and Rescue, Police and Ambulance Services and their partners to major incidents.

Research methodology

This research involves:

  1. Two systematic literature reviews to (i) identify common themes arising in relation to incident management and (ii) understand the way in which organisations work together, in particular behaviour within and between organisations.

  2. Semi-structured interviews with representatives from responding agencies (i.e. Police, Fire and Rescue, and Ambulance Services, and local authorities) across the UK to understand how the response to COVID-19 develops and changes over time and increase our understanding of interoperability dynamics in emergency response. Rapid evidence assessments and analysis of the current response will be provided through briefing papers to help support the ongoing development of good working practise in response to COVID-19.

  3. Discussion-based exercises will be carried out with mixed groups of emergency responders from different emergency response organisations, to observe interactions between members of different emergency response organisations, and to understand more about how organisations work together when managing a major incident. Following each exercise, participants will take part in discussion groups to understand more about their perceptions of interoperability during a major incident, including any facilitators or barriers to achieving effective interoperability. 

  4. Theory-based recommendations for improving interoperability will be developed using findings from the results from the previous stages of research. The effectiveness of which will be tested during a field experiment in which one group of responders will receive the newly developed training intervention, while another group will receive existing training.

Findings will be collated using a process of methodological triangulation to develop an improved understanding of facilitators and barriers to interoperability during major incident management, and to develop improved training for emergency responders in relation to interoperability and major incident management.

Interim reports or publications

Multiple reports and publications are planned throughout the duration of the project and will be shared with College of Policing.

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