We followed the progress of Exercise Unified Response with great interest. For us, seeing that kind of collaboration between the emergency services is a vindication of why fire and rescue services are working so hard on bringing their operational guidance up to date.
While at first glance it may seem that what we are doing is purely about how the fire and rescue service carries out its own tasks, it doesn’t do these in isolation. When the fire and rescue service responds to incidents – and the collapse at Waterloo station is a tough example of what the service can face – it doesn’t work alone. In some cases it can work across borders with other fire and rescue services but most often it will work with the other emergency services.
And for those working at the scene of any incident, it is incredibly important that everyone knows what to expect from the fire and rescue service. This is the whole point of the guidance – consistency and predictability. There may be some local variation, but fundamentally the principles are the same.
The process of exercising – testing it out, like Exercise Unified Response – means that the way in which firefighters are working can be seen in action and analysed in a structured way. It will show what works, what needs adjusting and what lessons can be learned to improve response even more.
One of the newer projects under the National Operational Guidance Programme is focused on operational learning. We are working on defining good practice and mechanisms for capturing operational learning. These are then complemented by some cultural change – we want to promote reporting, extracting learning and evaluating for all incidents, not just the unusual or the simulated.
For us, there’s a real benefit from a consistent approach to capturing that learning as we can then feed it back into the guidance and update it quickly so that everyone can share it. The national approach, done once but shared many, many times, that’s the strength of our process. National Operational Guidance at its best.