The Inter-Organizational Coordination of Mass Rescue Operations in Complex Environments (MAREC) project studied the coordination of emergency response agencies involved in mass rescue operations (MROs). The challenge of large-scale emergency response reflects the knowledge gap related to the organization of emergency response in complex settings, particularly in the context of maritime emergencies in the Arctic, where resources for effective emergency response provision in scarcely populated areas are limited. Mass rescue evacuation demands a close interplay between sea, land, and air resources from both private and governmental sectors. Such operations involve several municipalities and a broad range of volunteers.
The project’s overall contribution is connected to increased knowledge of the interplay between emergency preparedness policy frameworks and capacities, coordinative roles and mechanisms, information flows, and competence needs. In the MAREC project, we emphasized the importance of knowledge of management systems and the coordination and control of a broad range of actors. We elaborated on the need for specialized training for incident commanders at different levels so that they are prepared for complex emergency contexts, with a special focus on roles and responsibilities, structuring mechanisms, and information flows in joint and often combined operations.
In more detail, the MAREC project has revealed the following important findings:
- The project has contributed to the assessment of the current state of resources and infrastructure for large-scale operations in the legal search and rescue framework of the Arctic, particularly in Greenland, Norway, and along the Northern Sea Route. The studies conducted by the project have discussed international and bilateral agreements, including the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters and its influence on the future of Arctic shipping, and examined how operations and operational safety are influenced by a governance perspective and geopolitics in a complex environment such as the Arctic. Despite the existing national and international institutional and legal frameworks, such as the Polar Code, the fragility of the region requires that all related regulations undergo continual review of existing resources and demands for safe shipping in the Arctic waters. The lessons learned from the unbridled communication of Arctic experiences and knowledge will help us better understand the demands for protection of the Arctic while minimizing risks. We found that the currently existing maritime infrastructure and the available response capabilities in the Arctic region are not adequately prepared for the current sea-ice retreat and the increase in maritime shipping and human activity in the north. Therefore, further study of the necessary response assets, international policies, and joint search and rescue facilities is needed to secure safe marine shipping in the Arctic in the future.
- Another contribution of the project is the knowledge gained regarding the coordination of emergency response systems and emergency management in MROs, with a focus on the managerial roles of the coordinators involved in incident response, as well as the structuring mechanisms helping the coordination. Our studies defined how role flexibility, re-planning capability, and authority delegation are critical prerequisites for an efficient management response in the Arctic. Our studies also showed that there is a need for qualitative studies demonstrating the contextual elements and their influence on managerial roles and structuring mechanisms.
- By exploring information sharing between different actors in mass rescue incident command, with a focus on how management influences information sharing and situational awareness, the MAREC project has contributed to our understanding of the use of communication tools and how information flows and communication means influence coordination practices. In the region, there is a lack of communication infrastructure aimed at information sharing and situational awareness. Further research in this field is needed, which should be in the form of multi-case studies of emergency response operations and full-scale exercises, with a more in-depth focus on information sharing and decision making.
- Other important contributions of the project are related to the use of simulation and other types of exercises for emergency management in complex environments and the development of incident commander competences, including recommendations for MRO training and exercises. There is a demand for cross-disciplinary research to understand managerial challenges and emergency management competences and training.
- Through the project, we have developed a practical tool in the form of a GIS map with case studies, which can be used for education and research: https://arcg.is/11SOTX.
The project’s overall outcome and impact is connected to the generation of knowledge, aimed at the development of strategies and methods that different actors can employ in prevention and preparedness activities, with a special focus on mechanisms influencing decision-making processes in emergencies characterized by high complexity.
An important impact of the MAREC project is its contribution to a better understanding of the inter-organizational coordination of emergency organizations with a high degree of variability, using an interdisciplinary approach that includes theories from organization, management, and political science.
One of the project’s most important outcomes is oriented toward improving knowledge of the interplay between emergency preparedness policy frameworks, the coordinative roles and mechanisms of rescue services, and information strategies to ensure situational awareness and collective sense making among emergency response actors, including the development and improvement of agencies’ internal incident command systems (ICSs). This work has an important impact in terms of building more efficient, flexible, and dynamic mechanisms for emergency response agencies, with the aim of dealing with high complexity in the most efficient way.
The case studies and simulations that were performed in the simulation lab (NORDLAB) at Nord University involved search and rescue (SAR) response operations of different scenarios. The findings showed, for example, that in disasters at sea, where often voluntary, Samaritan vessels with limited SAR experience are involved, coordination and competence issues have to be highlighted by SAR agencies at both operational and strategic levels. This outcome will have an impact on the better development and improvement of existing and new study programs and courses aimed at the competence development of personnel involved in SAR operations at different levels and with different roles.
Another important project outcome is a strengthened research network and cooperation between academic partners. Scientific cooperation led to many peer-reviewed publications, including the book Crisis and Emergency Management in the Arctic: Navigating Complex Environments, and set the background for further collaboration, not only among the original partners but also with new academic institutions and researchers with whom we have established connections as a result of the project.
An important impact of the project results is that they have led to closer cooperation between academia and professionals. This has already resulted in the initiation of a new project, Collaboration Complexity in Nuclear Emergency Preparedness in the Maritime Arctic (ATOMEX), which received financing from the Research Council of Norway in 2022.
The overall outcome of MAREC lies in its emphasis on the strong societal relevance of competence development efforts within emergency management in complex settings such as the Arctic region.
The MAREC project studies inter-organizational coordination of mass rescue operations in environments characterized by high complexity. The project aims at improving the knowledge on emergency preparedness policy framework, coordinative roles and mechanisms of the rescue services and information strategies to ensure situational awareness and collective sense making among emergency response actors. We address inter-organizational and inter-jurisdictional coordination challenges in the operational context of high complexity and the managerial challenges of joint operations. The empirical setting is mass rescue operations at sea and land, with a broad range of emergency response actors, including volunteers. The coordination of the volunteers group is especially highlighted in this project, representing both an asset and additional coordination challenges. The volunteers group may have different organizational system and professional background, yet it has to be an integral part of the mass rescue response. Theoretically, we build upon and contribute to management theory, emphasizing generic managerial roles and coordination processes, organizational theory on structuring mechanisms, and institutional theory in targeting environments where a large number of aspects regarding stakeholders have to be considered. The four working packages focus on (1) The Policy framework for mass rescue response including international agreements; (2) Incident command in mass rescue operations, emphasising managerial roles and structuring mechanisms; (3) Information sharing and situational awareness among different actors in mass rescue incident command; and (4) Dissemination of results oriented at publishing of scientific articles, as well as developing concepts for education and training of key personnel and recommendations for emergency agencies and educational institutions.