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Silver Command

August 2007

Introduction

A key skill in incident management is knowing how and when to escalate issues to a higher level of command. This article examines how a Silver level of command is reached and then operated in accordance with the Standard Incident Management Guidance. It also illustrates how this links into the Contingency Plans already held (or soon to be held) nationally, regionally and locally.

What is Silver Command?

Silver Command is fundamentally the mobilisation of a tactical level of management. This means that there are additional, often more senior, individuals involved to take the 'bigger picture' view of the incident and its wider consequences. It is purely a management strategy as opposed to a special control room or similar. However each Regional Control Centre does have a specific room allocated as a Silver Control Suite.

Silver Command fits into the well recognised Bronze, Silver and Gold incident management model. These levels directly equate to operational, tactical and strategic management involvement. This is the basis of the various Highways Agency Contingency Plans and the Standard Incident Management Plan documents.

Different forms of Command and Control

A key point is that Silver Command is put in place to reinforce the efforts of those who are managing the scene at a bronze level. It does not negate the need for command and control at a Bronze level.

All of the above is set out in the Highways Agency Standard Incident Management Plan (SIMP) published in March 2007. This provides a framework and guidance for the effective management of incidents. The Standard Incident Management Plan consists of 3 parts:

When is a Silver Command required?

It is the responsibility of the Bronze Level Commander to ensure that if the incident objectives (view the objectives) are threatened then the management level is escalated. Fundamentally escalation to silver is required when the bronze level is unlikely to be able to contain the incident or its effects.

The SIMF document contains an acronym to assist with deciding when to escalate.

Escalation Acronym

TRACK:

  • Time 
  • Responsibilities of Agency
  • Alternatives
  • Credibility, Capability, Capacity
  • Knowledge

If one organisation escalates the incident to a Silver level of command there is no requirement for others to follow suit. For example, it is perfectly acceptable for the Highways Agency to operate at Silver whilst the Police operate at a Bronze level. This is because each organisation will have slightly different incident objectives and therefore needs to escalate at different stages.

Arrangements for operating at Silver

Given that Silver Command is purely a management state there is no strict method for operating at Silver. A Silver Command can be as simple as a Silver (tactical) manager from a single organisation becoming involved to oversee events. At the other end of the spectrum is a multi-agency Silver Command Team established in a single location. It is acceptable to have Silver Command operating within several organisations at different locations as long as they are in liaison.

Most responders will have their own, well rehearsed, arrangements for establishing Silver Command. This section focuses on how the Highways Agency escalates to a Silver level of Command in accordance with SIMG.

The initial escalation of the Highways Agency's status to Silver Command is typically done by the Traffic Officer Service. In normal circumstances the HA Silver Commander will determine if the Silver Command is to be based at the Regional Control Centre, on scene or another agreed location. This does not automatically mean that any other organisations will be asked to attend as the incident may only require a tactical management input from within the Agency.

If the incident warrants it then the HA Silver Commander may offer the opportunity for other organisations to form a multi-agency Silver Command Team at an agreed location, typically the RCC. There are advantages to this discussed below but it is important that invited organisations are carefully chosen. Equally the offer of joining a Silver Command Team may come from the Police or other responders, this may be something to discuss locally and incorporate into contingency plans.

SIMG provides a guide to the numerous functions which may need to be fulfilled by a Silver Command Team established by the HA. These include:

  • Silver Commander
  • HA Area Performance Team Representative
  • Emergency Services Liaison
  • Service Provider Liaison & Tactical Management Team
  • Vehicle Recovery Coordinator
  • Health and Safety Advisor
  • Staff Welfare Liaison
  • HA Command and Control Operator
  • HA Radio / Airwave Operator

Silver Command Structure

Figure taken from SIMG section 5

View the silver command structure diagram (106 KB)

Within SIMG there is extensive guidance on the roles and responsibility of each of the above functions. Given this is well documented elsewhere the article is going to concentrate on providing some useful tips on how to participate in a Silver Command.

Being involved in Silver Command

The aim of Silver Command is to take a tactical overview of the incident. Those involved in Silver Command should be looking at the incident from a 'bigger picture' viewpoint. The Bronze level will look after the few hundred metre zone of the incident whilst Silver should be looking at a Regional level and considering longer term implications.

For example, a serious incident occurs on a Friday at 4pm on the M6 near Birmingham. The incident scene may only be a few hundred metres in length but the impact on the motorway network and the surrounding routes could extend for 10-20 miles. The Silver Command should set tactical objectives for those on scene but primarily concentrate on meeting the incident objectives for the wider effects.

Communication during the management of any incident is critical and one of the key points highlighted in post-incident cold debriefs. Silver Command may help by taking the overview to identify and eliminate spurious information. It also helps to keep communication disciplined as it provides a focal point for key information both inward and outward.

A useful technique is to hold regular briefing sessions. These entail key individuals stopping work for a few minutes every 30-90 minutes to ensure everyone is aware of the latest information and agree what the priorities are. They are also an opportunity to collate information and provide situation reports. These briefings can be held internally within an organisation or as a multi-agency briefing.

On scene communication

Stopping for a few minutes to collate information and agree priorities can be beneficial at all levels.

Information flow during incidents requiring Silver Command can be substantial. It is important therefore to ensure there are adequate resources available to keep accurate logs. If a multi-agency silver command team has been established at a single location then ensure that all understand who is logging what information so items are not missed.

There is currently training ongoing within the Traffic Officer Service specifically focusing on Silver Command and further guidance on Silver Control is under development.

Benefits of a well run Silver Command

There are numerous advantages to escalating to a Silver level of Command when the incident objectives are threatened:

  • Limits the incident effects
  • Prevents the incident objectives moving from 'under threat' to 'not met'
  • Promotes the viewing of the bigger picture
  • Considers medium to long term (3hrs to 48 hrs ahead) implications
  • Provides support to the Bronze level which is likely to be under significant pressure
  • It provides a focal point for information and communication
  • Allows for further escalation to Gold level if required

In addition there are advantages to using the single location, multi-agency Silver Command Team arrangements where applicable:

  • Promotes joint working
  • Faster, more efficient communication paths
  • Faster, high quality decision making avoiding misunderstandings.
  • Each organisation understands everyone else's needs and priorities
  • Risks are identified early and there is a joint effort to manage these risks
  • Misunderstandings avoided therefore simpler post-incident cold debrief
  • Opportunity to learn from others and identify good practice
  • Greater visibility to joint assets and capabilities

Once Silver Command has proved its value in a Region it promotes the mindset of "it is better to escalate early and stand down rather than escalate late". One well executed escalation to Silver is likely to result in Silver Command being used more frequently to guarantee the incident objectives are met.

Has this article been worthwhile reading? Why not take a moment to send us your comments, thoughts or questions. Please e-mail TIMbulletin@highways.gsi.gov.uk.