Rob Davis describes the work Avon Fire and Rescue Service is doing with the UN to improve search and rescue response to overseas disasters.

The United Nations (UN) Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) On Site Operations and Co-ordination Centre (OSOCC) training course is aimed at disaster managers and urban search and rescue team members to teach the intricacies of working in an OSOCC at a future major disaster within the world.

OSOCC is a coordination centre that manages the potential huge levels of international teams mobilising following a call for international assistance after a major disaster. It provides support to the affected country and assists with resource and information management. As part of this process a Reception and Departure Centre (RDC) is also established at the receiving airport to welcome and assist with the journey logistics of the mobilising international community.

Avon Fire and Rescue service, in partnership with Search and Rescue Assistance in Disasters (SARAID), hosted an OSOCC course at its training centre last September, a first for UK fire and rescue. Members of OCHA delivered the course to a delegation of disaster managers from numerous organisations from around the globe, including members of SARAID, a UK non-governmental organisation.

SARAID have witnessed first hand the benefits of early co-ordination at major crisis including the Sri Lanka tsunami, and the Pakistan and Haiti earthquakes. It was during the Haiti earthquake that SARAID set up and managed the RDC in Santa Domingo airport, Dominican Republic before handing over to later arriving UN officers.

Haiti was a unique disaster as this was the largest mobilisation of international search and rescue assets from around the globe. It was disappointing to note that a couple of UN classified heavy urban search and rescue teams failed to set this centre up as they passed through the airport, leaving this to SARAID to manage and organise the RDC when they arrived.

As recognised UN International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) members these teams should have known their responsibility to the INSARAG guidelines and the need to set up the RDC as the first USAR teams through this airport. The need to provide this early coordination is essential to the overall management of the major disaster that has occurred. The requirement at major disasters is to provide early coordination prior to being able to assist people trapped and hurt within the major disaster, obviously both these activities can be done simultaneously but with an element of control.

It must also be remembered that these disasters are the responsibility of the host country and the Local Emergency Management Agencies (LEMA) play the key command and control role with the support of the international community in a co-ordination role. This requires certain skills within the OSOCC and RDC that requires elements of sensitivity and political awareness.

An OSOCC that is well managed relies on efficient and effective information management. As per the OSOCC course and methodology, information management is a continuous process where all stages must be taken in to consideration. The process can be divided into three stages:

Input − information and data may come by sector of humanitarian activity or reported by geographical area. It may come in various formats including meeting minutes, briefings, reports, report forms, ICT tools, etc

Throughput − the information has to be processed by the OSOCC through collation and analysis before it is presented in various formats. Processed information provides a good tool for managerial decisions and the OSOCC has to establish internal processes for comparisons and verification of the information before it is distributed

Output − various stakeholders will need differing forms of information. High level decision makers need processed and analysed information from a more strategic level while actors on the ground may need displayed, structured and specific information to plan their activities. The OSOCC should have systems for issuing summarised situation reports, but also determine ways of displaying the detailed information the reporting is founded on.

Key roles within the OSOCC include:

  • OSOCC management, including Team Leader
  • Operations
  • Logistics
  • Media
  • Administration
  • Support
  • Information management
  • Liaison, and
  • Safety and security.

The OSOCC course within the UK allowed the delegates to practice these key roles within a simulated disaster and allow the candidate to manage the vast amounts of information to provide a robust input, throughput and output.

Avon Fire and Rescue in partnership with UN OCHA have entered into early communications to run another course next year.


Photo: Rob Davis is an Area Manager, Head of Operational Response and Operational Director for Search and Rescue Assistance in Disasters (SARAID).


Posted February 10th, 2012 at 0910 by Andrew. Comment by emailing: