The current research landscape in Strategic Risk management Emerege


Chief Superintendent Chris Allison, Gold commander for the Metropolitan Police, "It was role, not rank," says Allison, who is at pains not to give the impression that any one person was the linchpin. "And I wasn't dealing with 'someone from the Fire Brigade'. I was dealing with Ron (Dobson) - someone I know. A mate of mine. We've gone on training weekends, we've done training exercises together. We've drunk, probably to excess on occasion, together ... We all know each other and we trust each other."

Information flow through the command hierarchy

Information needs to flow both up and down the command hierarchy, so that the different levels of commanders are aware of what is happening at an incident, and responders are aware of the tactics their commanders are employing. Personnel at all levels need to be briefed on the tasks their superiors are expecting them to perform, and senior commanders need an accurate picture of the incident as it unfolds. It is important that, at each level in the hierarchy, the correct amount and type of information is available. It is not appropriate for all levels to know everything, and such a state would rapidly lead to information overload. Thus, as information moves up and down the hierarchy, the amount of detail involved changes (Figure 3). Top-level strategic response plans pass down through the structure, becoming more refined and detailed as they near those that will implement them, and information about the incident and progress of the response becomes less detailed as it moves up through the command levels (Figure 4). Thus each level of command is exposed to the correct amount of information and planning that is relevant to their area of responsibility. For example, Silver Commanders don't need to know where all the individual firefighters at an incident are at any one time, however they do need to know that response teams are performing key tasks to produce an effective response; whereas the Response Team Commanders need to know where the Responders in their team are, but do not need to know about response teams not connected with their current task.

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The types of information considered here are the following:

• Plans and instructions - at different levels of detail / refinement.

• Constraints - information regarding the boundaries (physical and non-physical) in which the response must occur.

• Incident and response feedback - reports and information regarding the incident (nature and status) and the progress of the response.

• Situation awareness - "knowing what is going on so you can figure out what to do" [3], at different levels of detail / refinement.

• Requests - for information, resources (including people), time, help, etc.

The previous chapter provided the reader with background and context to the environment in which the FRS Gold Commander operates. The journey continues with an overview of the literature relating to the role, and seeks to understand the decision making interaction between the Gold and Silver Commander, and establish the minimum training requirements. The author intends to review and critically evaluate published material, and define and explain the research question in the context of contemporary ideas and thinking, to "develop a good understanding and insight into relevant previous research and the trends that have emerged" (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2003, p.44).

In simple terms the intention is to ensure that this literature review 'should provide the reader with a picture of the state of knowledge and of major questions on the subject' (Bell, 2005, p.100)

The role of a FRS strategic manager at operational incidents is articulated within the National Occupational Standard (NOS) for a Gold Commander, the person responsible for "providing strategic advice and support to resolve operational incidents" (EFSM1, 2003). Although there is no specific mention of leadership within the standard, it is referred to several times within the ICS Manual, for "Leadership is in the domain of critical incident command, often characterised by the need to deal with uncertainty in demanding timeframes" (ICS, 2008, p. 9). However, the newer Civil Contingencies NOS, aimed at those who "provide leadership in an emergency response at the strategic (gold) level" (CC AG1, 2008), identifies leadership in a list of key skills.

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The specific inclusion of leadership in the civil contingencies NOS, the generic standards designed for emergency responders, adequately reflects the position of the Police Gold Commander, who has 'ultimate responsibility and accountability' for leading the police response to an incident. The leadership requirement sits alongside a secondary function, to "establish and chair the SCG in order to coordinate the emergency or major incident" (ACPO, 2009 p.26). This infers a different expectation of the role of the respective Gold Commanders, with the levels of culpability/accountability appearing to be weighted differently. Whilst the Police Gold Commander is required to "ratify and review the progress of Silver Commanders tactical plans" (ACPO, 2009 p.25), the Fire Gold Commander is required to "set tactical parameters for Silver to operate within, and prioritise the personnel and resource demands" (ICS, 2008). Ratifying, or approving the plan suggests that the Police Gold will have a higher degree of involvement with tactical decision making than their FRS counterpart, although they are likely to provide "major support to Silver, often discussing tactics and their implications and acting as an advisor" (ICS, 2008, p.16).

Providing leadership, is defined as the need to "influence a group of individuals to achieve a common goal" (Northouse, 2007, p. 3), and in a crisis, leaders "are expected to reduce uncertainty and provide an authoritative account of what is going on, why it is happening, and what needs to be done" (Boin et al, 2005, p. 13).

Commanding an incident in the emergency response phase will require effective decision making, and in order to understand what is meant by effective decision making it is necessary to consider some of the research on the topic. Klein (1999 p.4) acknowledges that poor decisions made by fire commanders can lead to a loss of life, and training and preparing incident commanders for critical decision making in high pressure / low time situations, is an important factor in ensuring optimum individual and team performance, organisational efficiency, and safe and effective resolution of incidents.

Decision making in dynamic environments, where "an intervention may be made in seconds and minutes, or it is likely to be too late or of little value" (Flin and Arbuthnot, 2002, p.17), where the stakes are high, requires skill and expertise, and preparedness for these situations will most likely have come from real life experiences or training. In order to be effective, this training should be both challenging and realistic, and should include the development of non-technical skills, described by Flin, O'Connor and Crichton (2008, p.1) as "the cognitive, social and personal resource skills that complement technical skills, and contribute to safe and efficient task performance".

Acknowledgement of the requirements for Gold level decision making places greater reliance on non-technical skills, as "analytical, managerial skills are brought into play rather than the dynamic decision making skills of the on-scene or tactical commander" Flin and Arbuthnot, 2002, p17). So if operating at the Gold level is identified as being different from other levels of command, because there is more time available, and less, or at least a different type of pressure, this paper will explore whether the non-technical skills required for the Gold Command environment might be acquired outside of the emergency service environment?

would suggest a degree of success in operating to the norms of that organisation, would struggle at the multi-agency table during the dynamic phase of a crisis?

The main intent of Part 1 of the CCA, Emergency Preparedness (Cabinet Office, 2009c), is to provide guidance on effective pre-planning and preparedness, in order to address the risk of confusion and ambiguity before an incident occurs. Further recognition of the need for closer integration between responding organisations, can be found within the 2nd edition of ERR (2009), and the Police Interoperability Manual (NPIA, 2009). An example of how there is much closer co-operation and integration is apparent when one considers the Airwave/Firelink digital radio replacement programme which has allowed greater communications interoperability, arising from a key criticism within the report which examined the response to the 7/7 London Bombings (GLA, 2006, p.15). However, there is still much work to do to ensure completely effective closer integration, which is not just about 'technological enablers', as '....further research needs to be carried out into the social science that enables or inhibits interoperability' (Cole, 2010, p.4).

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In recognition of this issue, Cole (2010) recommends that a Chief Executive of a Local Authority attending an SCG during the response to a major incident, should attend with their Emergency Planning Officer (EPO) to provide subject matter expertise, "the former to make the decisions, and the latter to act as an advisor informing the command decisions". Cole's recommendation, which appears to make perfect sense given the rarity of multi-agency events, throws up an interesting paradox when considered against some of the comments made to the researcher, and this will be explored further in this research. What is the role of the tactical advisor at Gold and how does the inter-personal relationship affect this (explore Yates here Buncefield)

A business leader may lead a team and make difficult decisions through an economic crisis, in the same way that the Gold Commander is responsible for leading their team, albeit remotely from the personnel who will be working at Bronze and Silver level. As it is recognised that "effective leadership processes represent a critical factor in the success of teams in organisations" (Zaccharo et al., 2001, quoted in Flin et al., 2008: 132), it is clear that the role of the Gold Commander in leading the team is vitally important to a successful outcome. The leader needs to be 'effective' in order to play a positive role in the resolution of an incident, and it is therefore necessary to define what 'effective' actually means, Oxford Dictionaries online simply states its meaning as "successful in producing a desired or intended result" ( - accessed 24/11/10). However the measure of that success, and therefore effectiveness, is very subjective, indeed in the case of a tragic incident involving loss of life, the quality of the leadership may be subject to scrutiny by judicial review or public enquiry.

The Role of the Gold Commander

If the same incident required a higher degree of interoperability and a Strategic Coordinating Group (SCG) were formed (HMG, 2009), it will require the attendance of a commander, who may be a lower ranking officer, but who nevertheless should have an appropriate level of experience and authority to act. This individual, formally known as the Fire Gold Commander, will set tactical parameters for Silver to operate within, and will not be expected to direct or take charge of operations on the actual incident ground. As soon as circumstances permit the Principal Officer should assume command, indicating that the positions are role related (ICS, 2008, p.21-24).

1 Chief, Deputy or Assistant Officer

2 Gold Silver Bronze

Experiential Decision Making

The definition of an 'appropriate level of experience' as stated above is subjective, and clearly open to debate. It raises the question of whether the skills required for effective command at the operational and tactical level, are identical to those required for strategic command? For years, researchers have tried to establish how decisions are made during stressful non-routine situations, with fire Commanders being of particular interest. Klein (1998) gives numerous examples of decisions made by experienced commanders with incomplete information, and the commanders were forced to choose an option utilising a combination of previous experiences. He also identified that these experiences gave them the ability to perform a mental simulation of the effects of their decisions. Indeed, he characterises command decision-making as being based on problems that are ill defined, critical and time-bound which do not offer perfect solutions nor lend themselves to rational decision making models based upon the evaluation of a series of options culminating in the selection of a best fit. The study of Naturalistic Decision Making (NDM) or recognition-primed decision-making (RPD) as Klein refers to it, is concerned with how "experienced people, working as individuals or groups in dynamic, uncertain and often fast paced environments, identify and assess their situation, make decisions and take actions whose consequences are meaningful to them and to the larger organisation in which they operate" Zsambok and Klein (1997) (cited in Flin and Arbuthnot, 2002. p. 207). It has been stated that decisions made under stress do not follow traditional decision-making processes, and instead fireground commanders rely on their well developed sense of intuition (Gasaway, 2007). The amount of information required to make a decision will depend on the experience and intuition of the commander, and this has been referred to as 'thin slicing' by Gladwell (2005) which means making very quick decisions with small amounts of information, or the concept of "thinking without thinking", or "the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behaviour based on very narrow slices of experience".

Gladwell contends that thin-slicing can have its uses or can be a mistake. If one takes a small amount of information to generalise or make decisions in whole then decisions may be made that really are incorrect.

However, sometimes a small amount of relevant information is all that is required to make decisions and act. Gladwell hints that ultimately we should only rely on thin-slicing when our intuition has been honed by experience and training as "truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking". Clearly, the ability to 'thin slice' derives from experience of the situation or similar environment, where the commander has successfully or unsuccessfully dealt with an incident and can anticipate the next problem that may arise, which links to recognition primed decision making (RPD). The question of whether 'thin slicing' has its place in the SCG environment is debatable, as RPD is not usually associated with Gold level decision making, indeed strategic commanders may need to be discouraged from making decisions based on intuition, if a more analytical approach is more appropriate (Fredholm 1997, cited HMG 2008).

Multi-agency incidents requiring the formation of an SCG are infrequent, and therefore the opportunities for senior fire officers to experience command at the Gold level are limited. This contrasts with the police who will routinely respond to incidents, such as public order or firearms, with a GSB structure, so a police Gold Commander will be conversant and practiced in the role (Broadhurst, 2010). Conversely fire commanders operating at the Gold level, will be relying on a memory bank of previous incidents to identify previous situations with similar features from which they can evaluate a potential course of action, via a mental simulation in order to find a best fit. Their RPD library of '"film slides" (Arbuthnot, 2011) from commanding incidents at the tactical and operational level, will mean that they will feel familiar and comfortable making command decisions at this level, but perhaps unsure when dealing with the unfamiliar. This can lead to "individuals defaulting to their 'comfort zone', which is a common command failure". (Flin and Arbuthnot, 2002, p.28). This tendency was observed by the author frequently when he observed Hydra exercises a

Flin and Arbuthnot (2002, p. 214) considered the fields of aviation, military and the police, and suggested that Incident Commanders (IC) may adopt one of four decision strategies, depending on their assessment of the available time and level of risk:

Recognition primed (intuition, gut feel) (If X then Y- little conscious effort need to retrieve Y)

Procedures (written or memorised) (If X then Y - conscious search)

Analytical comparison of the different courses of action available (If X, which Y?)

Creative (designing a novel course of action) (If X, have no Y, design new Y).

The decision strategies are based on "increasing levels of mental concentration, not just to retrieve information from the memory stores (long term memory), but to consciously operate on or think about the information retrieved (working memory)" (Flin and Arbuthnot, 2002).

Most of the studies involving NDM have related to decision making in dynamic environments where there is little time for the luxury of creative or analytical problem solving (HMG 2008). So how are prior operational and tactical experiences of a Gold Commander utilised, when faced with never before experienced occurrences such as the Buncefield Fire, the largest fire in Europe since 1945 which relied on creativity rather than prior experience to resolve successfully? (Yates, 2011)

If decision making is dependent on the experiences of the decision maker, it must also rely on the ability of the Gold Commander to be self reflective. If an individual is unable to effectively reflect and learn from their experiences, they will be unable to apply the learning to future events. Considering Kolb's experiential learning cycle (as shown in figure 1), it could be that they have twenty years experience, or one years experience, twenty times. So time alone is not a pre-cursor to being an effective Gold Commander, it's what has been learnt from the experiences during that time.

Figure 1 Kolb's Learning Cycle (University of Leeds 2010)


One of the key responsibilities of the Gold Commander is to 'work with partner agencies' (ICS, 2008 p24). This will require a positive working relationship both before an incident occurs, as "true interoperability is built on mutual understanding, familiarity and trust" (ACPO, 2009). According to Goleman (2002: 51-52) relationship management relies on the most visible tools of leadership - including persuasion, conflict management and collaboration. More recently, this was confirmed by Bradberry and Greaves (2005), and of course collaboration, and to a lesser extent persuasion, are components of leadership which will often be tested in the Integrated Emergency Management (IEM) environment. Much research has been conducted to quantify the desirable attributes required for effective leadership (Kets de Vries 1993; Higgs 2002, Parry and Meindl 2002). Although there are many different types of leaders, people will often prefer to work with a leader who has outstanding soft skills. "Evidence increasingly shows that the higher one goes in an organization, the more important EI can be" (Kemper, 1999, p. 16). The Gold Commander should have developed self awareness, as the leadership of an organisation or team, can influence the work environment and affect everything from morale, to effective performance.

The selection and development of leaders is amongst the oldest of personnel functions (Fiedler 2001), but much of early leadership selection was conducted by birthright (Northouse 2007). Throughout the past century considerable research has been conducted into leadership which can largely be placed into three primary categories; leadership traits, leadership behaviours and the situational context of leadership (Sashkin and Sashkin 2003).

Northouse (2007) states that "Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal" (Northouse. 2007: 3). Flin et al (2008: 129) suggest that leadership relates to the "personal qualities, behaviours, styles and strategies adopted by the team leader". They further suggest that leaders come in various forms, with some being task specialists, and others good with people. Trait theories of leadership were popular during the early to mid 1900s, and worked on the assumption that great leaders are born great (Sashkin and Sashkin 2003) and that by defining the necessary traits of effective leaders the secrets of leadership could be unlocked (Densten 2003). If leadership was a result of definable traits then it would be reasonable to expect that a defined list of those traits would have been found after over 100 years of research. This has not been found.

The main criticisms of the trait theories are that they fail to take account of the situational and contextual aspects of leadership, and many of the definitions of various traits are highly subjective (Northouse 2007).

The debate continues as to whether an individual must possess a definite set of characteristics in order to be a leader in any given situation. Some authors have suggested that the traits necessary for battlefield leadership would be effective in a school environment, dismissing the impact of the situation (Sadler 1997). Research indicates that there are varying opinions on the level of requirement of these very different qualities. Annotating these qualities into a list form results in a comprehensive summation - but does the Gold Commander have to possess all, or just some of them? Conversely, if the list is not exhaustive and it is possible that someone might have other 'leadership qualities'. How does that equate?

Emotional Intelligence

Commanding an emergency clearly requires effective leadership, and by its very nature a dynamic incident will sometimes require an autocratic style, but is this always necessary? Is it the case that in the Gold environment, the application of softer skills is more advantageous, with Emotional Intelligence (EI) becoming a more important component?

EI was first mentioned in an unpublished thesis in 1986, and was the subject of a US article published in 1990, where it is described as "the ability to monitor one's own and other's feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions" (Mayer and Salovey, 1990). Since that time there has been a vast amount of research and published information on the subject of EI, evidenced when the author searched for books titled 'Emotional Intelligence" on the website of an online bookseller, returning a total of 9507 results (Amazon UK - November 2010). Goleman's original work is open to some debate as he seems to contradict his theory by suggesting that emotion is a biological reaction on the one hand, whereas EI can be learnt and developed. Whatever the case, it is clearly 'more art than science', as the interpretation of EI is subjective.

It would appear that the wide interest in the subject is due to the emerging recognition of the power of EI, both in terms of personal development, with the suggested opportunity to transform an individual's life experience, health and happiness, and for transforming the effectiveness of work organisations. The developing argument is that levels of emotional intelligence are inextricably linked to levels of performance, particularly in senior positions within an organisation, a viewpoint which is often repeated (Sparrow and Knight 2006).

Some organisations have embraced the principles of EI, including the Royal Air Force, which in 2002 completed a comprehensive review of leadership development, leading to the establishment of the RAF Leadership Centre. The centre's website informs that the RAF seeks a particular contribution from its leaders and lists nine attributes required for effective leadership.

The second attribute listed, is concerned with the possession of EI, described thus;

"Emotionally Intelligent - Self-awareness is one of the key foundations of effective leadership. Leaders who know themselves will be able to develop self-control and subsequently understand the needs of others. This will enable them to manage relationships at all levels better and remain calm under pressure. Thus individuals will be able to function as part of a wider team, invariably multidisciplinary, increasingly joint and often multinational, in the delivery of military capability" (accessed 29/11/10).

In 2006 the 'Centre for Leadership' was established at the Fire Service College. The strategy for the development of tomorrow's FRS leaders is enshrined within the leadership model 'Aspire' (HMG 2008) which has been developed in response to the identification of the importance of excellence in leadership. The model is underpinned by the FRS core values, linking transformational models of leadership, and guiding behaviours to influence leadership actions and results.

The Aspire model contains some elements which can be linked to EI, including;

Openness to Change

Situational Awareness

Confidence & Resilience

Effective Communication

The author finds it somewhat surprising that, whilst it is obvious that the RAF has recognised the connection between emotional intelligence and effective leadership, there is no direct mention of EI within the 'Aspire' Leadership Model and Framework for the FRS. This is somewhat disappointing

Notwithstanding the above, the FRS has recognised the value of people management competences, in addition to task competencies, and that both competency sets need to be included in assessing, training and evaluating effective incident commanders. ""The non-technical skills of an organisation's emergency response personnel are as important as their technical expertise and knowledge and application of emergency operating procedures" (Crichton and Flin, 2001).


A dictionary definition ( of competence is:

"the quality of being competent; adequacy; possession of required skill, knowledge, qualification or capacity."

Whereas Harvey (2004) describes it as "the acquisition of knowledge, skills and abilities at a level of expertise sufficient to be able to perform in an appropriate work setting"

However acquiring skills are only part of the equation, for it is necessary to effectively perform a role as defined by Boyatzis:

"Effective performance of a job is the attainment of specific results

(i.e. outcomes) required by the job through specific actions while

maintaining or being consistent with policies, procedures & conditions

of the organisational environment." (Boyatzis, 1982:12)

He further contends that maximum performance occurs when an individual's capability is consistent with the job demands and the organisational environment. (Boyatzis, 2007:2).

Figure 5 Boyatzis's model for competencies and effective performance

Figure 2 - Boyatzis's model for competencies and effective performance

Boyatzi's model illustrates how an individual's personal values, knowledge, competencies and abilities contribute to performance in terms of the overlap with the job demands and the organisational environment. In simple terms this means that the bigger the overlap the better the performance.

For the purpose of this research paper, Flin's (1996) definition will be followed, which is "the ability to perform consistently within an occupation to the standards expected in employment".

The National Occupational Standard for a Fire Gold Commander working at the Strategic Level is EFSM 1 ( accessed 7/12/12). This standard details the technical skills and understanding which are required at this level. However, there is no mention of non-technical skills, as these are contained within the National Strategic Manager Personal Qualities and Attributes (CLG, 2009).

In the emergency services, competency requirements for key decision makers are still very much based on rank rather than proven skill or ability though there is a move to change this. In the FRS, there is a shift from "rank to role", where there is a role map of competences under the Integrated Personal Development System (IPDS) designed to be relevant to each level in the service. However, as with any cultural shift, it will take some time for this reality to assert itself through all ranks within the FRS (Devitt, 2009). The author finds it interesting to note that whilst there is a role map for Brigade Manager, strategic uniformed mangers within the FRS still prefer to title themselves, Chief Fire Officer. Does this perhaps suggest that the senior leadership of the FRS are not culturally ready to embrace modernisation in its truest sense?


Organisational culture is a system of shared values, and beliefs about what is important, what behaviours are appropriate and about feelings and relationships internally and externally. Values and cultures need to be unique to the organisation, widely shared and reflected in daily practice and relevant to the company purpose and strategy. (CIPD, 2011). In simple terms it can be referred as 'the way we do things around here'.

The leader will be affected by the culture in which they operate, and its values, structure, hierarchy and rules will dictate how they are likely to command an incident, and ultimately whether they will be judged to be effective or ineffective (Devitt, 2009 p.37). Devitt refers to the work of Reiner (1991) who studied senior police officers and identified four different types of Chief Constable, the barons, bobbies, bosses and bureaucrats. Reiner contended that their different leadership styles will be reflected in the culture of the organisation which may influence the Chair of an SCG, and thus the style and approach with which a strategic multi-agency response is operated. If the Chair of an SCG adopts the style of a 'boss, who controls mainly through authority not power, don't suffer criticism gladly, and see community policing as idealistic in the face of an overwhelming tide of crime', this will clearly affect the dynamics of the group Devitt (2009).

Chan (1996) undertook a study of police culture, and refers to Bourdieu's relational theory, which explains cultural practice as the result of interaction between cultural dispositions (habitus) and structural positions (field), situating culture in the social and political context of police work. Sackmann goes on to describe the essence of culture as 'the collective construction of social reality'. Her cognitive model encompasses all forms of shared organised knowledge:

'the form of things that people have in their minds; their models for perceiving, integrating, and interpreting them; the ideas or theories that they use collectively to make sense of their social and physical reality' (Sackmann 1991: 21).

She classifies cultural knowledge within an organisation into four dimensions:

dictionary knowledge, which provides definitions and labels of things and events within an organization;

directory knowledge, which contains descriptions about 'how things are done' generally in the organization;

recipe knowledge, which prescribes what should or should not be done in specific situations; and

axiomatic knowledge, which represents the fundamental assumptions about 'why things are done the way they are' in an organisation.

Axiomatic knowledge, often held by top management, constitutes the foundation for the shape and future of the organisation. These may be adjusted or revised from time to time as a result of critical evaluations or growing experience. Sackmann sees cultural cognitions as being held by groups rather than individuals. These cognitions are socially constructed, and may be changed or perpetuated by organisational processes through repeated applications. In time, these cognitions are imbued with emotions and acquire degrees of importance; they also become 'habits' of thoughts that translate into habitual actions. With the FRS implementation of the modernisation agenda under the National Framework (although this has recently changed with the election of the coalition government), some senior fire officers are reluctant to readily accept that direct entrants or non-operational staff may be effective at undertaking a Gold Command role, whilst a number of Police Gold Commanders have expressed their opposition to the idea, as evidenced by the author's research..