Major incident management: A lawyer's view
CRJ was pleased to have been invited to the University of Wolverhampton’s Telford campus (CRJ Key Network Partner) to listen to renowned and acclaimed solicitor advocate, Mark Scoggins of Fisher Scoggins Waters, give his personal views and share his experiences on the legal side of major incident management. Claire Sanders reports.
In what was a very insightful view on how to deal with complex legal proceedings, Mark Scoggins gave clear, helpful advice to incident managers and responders throughout his talk. Credit: phartisan|123rf
Based on his wealth of experiences spanning more than 30 years and ranging from the Camelford water contamination case in the late 1980s to the disappearance of Corrie McKeague in 2016, both in the UK and overseas, Scoggins put forward his ideas and gave advice to emergency professionals who find themselves having to deal with strict and often long-winded legal processes.
He stressed the need for setting clear post-event priorities in the immediate aftermath. Quick and sensible decision making is key, in his opinion, to preserving reputations and often to saving lives – indecision can lead to fatalities and, more commonly, leave victims, their families, the media and the wider community flummoxed and liable to come to their own adverse conclusions. The primary focus will be on the first few hours after an incident breaks out. The media will usually look for an easy target and the indecision on the part of managers and leaders will influence their choice of victim.
Following the decision-making process in the initial phase of the incident comes the delivery of information to affected communities and the public at large. Scoggins underlined the speed with which social media now relates and publishes events, even as they are still unfolding, and gives no quarter to emergency professionals or leaders who are striving to inform communities and the wider public as quickly as possible. Therefore, it is important to deliver information clearly and rapidly. The key factor to consider, he suggested, is that social media is built upon popularity – what people like to view – and this often trumps the truth if the truth is less interesting. He advised caution but also urgency when having to publicise information in order to steer public opinion towards fact, not fiction.
Above all of this perhaps, is the need to be able to prove credibility. Precise and accurate record keeping is a must for commanders and leaders in times of crisis. Scoggins advocates audio records eg Dictaphones, but he advised that these should be seen as an additional tool, not a substitute for written records of decisions. If a handover of command is needed, a written record is far easier to read through in order to inform the succeeding commander than listening to hours of recordings. Moreover, all records in whatever form need to be kept safely and securely in anticipation of long, drawn out inquiries and inquests.
Logging should be clear and detailed – every decision and the rationale behind it must be provable after the event, should the case need to be investigated in a court, inquiry or tribunal. Scoggins stressed the need for credibility, whenever emergency professionals are called to be witnesses or to defend their actions. And credibility must be provable with detailed evidence and, importantly, contemporaneous records.
During a response, the key to effecting a successful outcome is communication, according to Scoggins. Communication within and between stakeholders, agencies and involved authorities needs to be frequent, clear and constructive if incidents are to be dealt with effectively. Forecasting is entirely possible, said Scoggins, who referenced the Hatfield rail crash of 2000 near London as an incident that had clear precursors of events which built up to the major incident. A lack of communication within an organisation itself can result in matters being missed and tragedies more likely to occur. In effect, Scoggins said, a major incident usually has a preceding event or other history that can help forecasting and allow precautionary measures to be put in place.
Essentially, in what was an extremely useful insight into the legal world for emergency professionals on the ground and managers in the hot seat, Scoggins gave sound advice as to how to deal with aspects that can sometimes be overwhelming for lay people who find themselves plunged into the litigious side of incident management. There were plenty of take home messages, all of which are easy to implement in any organisation in order to help cases progress and protect emergency service employees who are, ultimately, doing what they do best – saving lives.