By Katy England
edge staff writer
Since Sept. 11, 2001, local agencies have recognized a need for better ways to manage critical incidents. Prior to 9/11, most incident management was handled by fire departments, often in response to large-scale wild fires. But the need for critical incident management has evolved, and The Maine State Police have developed a Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) to help agencies across the state manage these high-stress events.
(Lt. Christopher Grotton interacts with the Smart Screen. He or other incident commanders can draw on the maps,
save the files and then e-mail information to responding parties out in the field. (Edge Photo by Katy England)
Since the team was formed in 2007, Lt. Christopher Grotton estimates that they have responded to between 30 and 40 incidents across the state, including hazardous material train derailments, plane crashes, standoffs and manhunt situations.
Grotton explained that there are often large numbers of people responding to these critical incidents, between local law enforcement agencies, EMS and fire departments, and search and rescue.
“The scope, size and scale [of these operations] are much bigger,” he said. “When they’re that large there comes a need to organize the response in some way.… If we can respond with the team and the Mobile Command Post, we can work with the incident commander to establish objectives and move forward in a positive direction.”
Not every incident that police respond to requires the IMAT team. It’s when the situation has multiple layers of complexity that a team of people solely responsible for managing and planning becomes necessary.
“[In] a situation that is uncontained – searching a large area – or contains other pieces, such as road blocks, the investigation becomes more complex,” said Grotton. “The size, scale and complexity is how we evaluate whether to deploy [the IMAT team].”
This team’s purpose is not to take over the investigation, but to support agencies that are already out in the field by handling planning and logistics and organizing command staff.
The Mobile Command Post (a large truck that has dispatch, satellite mapping and various video capabilities) can combine radio frequencies, allowing multiple agencies to communicate by radio. The IMAT team can provide interactive maps for different teams working in the field. Grotton explained one team may need to identify roads for traffic control, while the tactical response team can identify a perimeter they need to establish, while search and rescue personnel with GPS units can provide coordinates for where they are searching – these maps can then be saved and e-mailed to law enforcement units standing by who can begin mobilizing as needed.
“This gives a lot of perspective [to responding agencies] and better situational awareness,” Grotton said.
The support provided allows the agencies that have already responded to focus on the work at hand, while the IMAT team provides planning and logistical support as well as focusing on the goals and objectives of the mission with the command staff (local law enforcement, EMS, fire and rescue). It also allows for vital information to be shared almost instantaneously to responders even before they have arrived on scene.
“We can brainstorm and develop a plan very rapidly, take a snapshot [of a map] and e-mail to responding troopers who can be in-briefed by the time they reach the scene,” he said. “Ultimately, we’re there to support them, not to take over the investigation.”
He notes that the team doesn’t simply manage the immediate incident on hand, but the aftermath as well.
The Mobile Response Post can essentially be split into two sections: a dispatch center with a planning and logistics area, and command central.
The dispatch center functions just as any dispatch center does, with the exception of 911 capability (which would be handled as normal by a local communications center). The logistics people support the operation on hand, from getting responders food and making sleeping arrangements to ensuring fuel accommodations are made for air support. The planning aspect includes looking beyond the immediate future to what will need to be addressed hours and days from now, as well as keeping track of events that have already taken place (who went where, did what, when and why).
This allows people in command central to focus on creating objectives and finding out what resources need to be tapped.
“We break down goals and work around objectives, working with other agencies as needed,” said Grotton. “We take something that may be chaotic and overwhelming and make it a little more objective.”
And not every incident the team deploys to is chaotic. They will often stand by at major events, including the governor’s inauguration or the University of Maine’s commencement. While they wait, the team develops a multitude of “what-if” plans. Then, in the event there is a security issue, they already have several actionable plans at the ready.
Despite the wonderful tools at their disposal, Grotton notes that the most important element of the IMAT is the team itself. Technology is ever changing, and there’s always a chance for it to fail in some way.
“We focus on providing a team,” said Grotton. “The technology is great, but we try not to overly rely on it. It’s people that are our strongest asset.”
For more information about the IMAT team, visit the website.