In this chapter, our concern is with the challenges facing the emergency services when trying to make sense of multi-agency, major incidents. Major incidents can be separated into the following four main phases: 1. Initial response 2. Consolidation 3. Recovery 4. Restoration of normality

Each phase involves a different set of activities and is consequently associated with different sensemaking requirements across the various levels of command. In broad terms, the initial response phase echoes the discussions of Chapter 8; an incident is defined for a specific emergency service and the response is mobilised. In general (in the United Kingdom), any member of the emergency services can declare a major incident. This raises some interesting issues relating to what might constitute major. For example, if the nearest accident and emergency unit in a hospital has four beds, then a major incident could be one that has more victims than can be handled by this hospital. In this case, the initial challenge of co-ordinating a response would be to ensure that all victims can be accommodated in hospitals in the vicinity of the incident. Alternatively, a major incident could involve significant threat to the public, such as a leak of hazardous gas, which might require cordoning off the area and issuing of instructions to the public to keep doors and windows closed. In both cases, there is a strong likelihood that the incident would be handled by a single agency with supporting roles being played by other agencies. This notion of supporting roles would probably be read with a sharp intake of breath by members of the emergency services because, if they are involved in what has been called a major incident, they will all play key roles in ensuring the effective resolution of the incident. This also implies that each agency, in terms of managing its own response, would seek to

manage the incident in terms of its understanding of the situation and the activity that it is able to perform.