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Critical Incident Decision-Making: A systematic review of the barriers, processes and frameworks

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posted on 27.11.2020, 14:00 by Brandon May
Critical incidents are environments that can be characterised by complexity, high-stakes, ambiguity, time-urgency and uncertainty, and often involve a multi-agency response (e.g. Fire and Rescue, Police, and the Military); for example, in terror attacks (e.g. Manchester bombings, London Bridge), fire disasters (e.g. California wildfires, Grenfell Towers), and the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. In this respect, critical incidents are distinctive, dynamic events in which multi-agency systems lack the situational awareness and operational experience to make effective strategic and tactical decisions. Whilst research has begun to understand and explore decision-making in complex environments, there is limited research that focuses on understanding the processes used to coordinate effective responses in situ within critical incident environments; specifically, critical incident decision-making. This review sought to (i) identify relevant studies, (ii) critically appraise concepts that relate to the central theme of critical incident decision-making in-situ, and (iii) examine the barriers that compound effective strategic and tactical decision-making. The research identified numerous factors that affect the decision-making process (e.g. political agendas, disparity between operational objectives, and intra-and-inter agency collaboration). Additionally, several theoretical and applied decision-making frameworks were identified (e.g. Joint Decision Model; JESIP), that to date, have not factored in how complex, high-stake multi-agency decisions are made under conditions of uncertainty and time-urgency. This presentation will discuss the theoretical implications across security, defence, and law enforcement contexts and present pathways for future research.


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Defence and Security