Leadership in UK Multi-Agency Emergency Co-ordination Groups: A Functional Approach (2nd Edition)

Mark Leigh, Rob McFarlane, DAVID WILLIAMS

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This paper is not intended as a discussion of leadership in general. Its purpose is to define and briefly examine the functions of leaders in the local (strategic and tactical) multi-agency co-ordinating groups convened to manage civil emergencies in the UK. By local, we mean the level of the police force or constabulary area in England and Wales that mirrors the Local Resilience Forum. As such, it is concerned specifically with what those leaders need to do to make the local level of the UK national Concept of Operations for emergency management work in practice.
It complements a number of other publications, which can be seen in the bibliography. These include the Joint Emergency Services’ Interoperability Principles (2013) Joint Doctrine: The Interoperability Framework, various examples of capstone guidance on emergency response and British Standards Institute publications on crisis management.
We are not concerned here with the generic attributes, traits or characteristics of leaders. Nor are we concerned with a philosophical discussion of the types of challenges and decisions they face. The focus of this paper is on what leaders in these groups actually have to do. In this way, we believe it both complements and usefully extends the content of existing guidance, doctrine and standards.
Tactical and local strategic co-ordinating groups are part of the UK Concept of Operations. They are multi-agency bodies with a diverse membership that is determined according to the needs of the emergency they are convened to manage. However, they should comprise people with experience of working and exercising together as part of their Local Resilience Forum. They are, for UK constitutional reasons, consensual co-ordinating groups and not command teams.
As such, they are led by a chairperson and not a commander. That person will usually be a police officer, but there is no reason why other agencies (such as local government or the health service) may not chair these groups when and if the emergency falls mostly within their domain and the consensus of the group reflects that.
We understand leadership in this context to mean the behaviours and actions of members of these groups as well as their chairs, since they are (in effect) multi- agency groups consisting of single-agency leaders. Each member has a leadership function within the co-ordinating group and in respect of the organisation they represent in it.
Where a function associated with leadership is specific to the chair, or a particular organisation, or a particular level (tactical or strategic), this will be noted. Otherwise, we consider them to be functions which are required to one extent or another of all members. In most cases, their discharge is a shared responsibility and we believe it is a requirement that members of tactical co-ordinating groups appreciate the overall
picture and can think “one level up”. That is to say, they should be able to understand the workings of the strategic level, appreciate the sort of challenges they face and anticipate their requirements.
The aim of the paper is to give those who may work in such groups, and who receive varying levels and types of training for it, a common and concise understanding of these functions. This will, it is hoped, help them prepare to be effective leaders within these multi-agency constructs. The result should be that members of these diverse agencies can work together more effectively, bring their own organisational assets to bear in a co-ordinated way and support the overall effort in a coherent, integrated manner.
The recommendations we make are not intended to be prescriptive or to be used as a checklist. However, we believe they reflect good practice and are consistent with relevant doctrine. They are designed for the guidance of practitioners, always with reference to local circumstances, conditions and the requirements of the emergency. The core functions identified and explained below are not presented in any particular order, although we would suggest that the first two are naturally pre-eminent.
Guidance on this subject has sometimes identified the first principle as the establishment and imposition of “command”. Putting aside for a moment doctrinal specifics in the UK (command is, in this context, a single-agency function, not a multi-agency one), we would suggest that this generalised notion should be boiled down to a rapid delivery of the first two of the core functions, along with a clarity around which agencies are doing what and what the chains of command and co- ordination are.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 29 Feb 2016

Publication series

NameEPC Position Paper


  • Emergency


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