Managing serious incidents

First priority tasks—immediate

  • make sure the field situation is secure to prevent any further damage or consequences
  • ensure all relevant emergency services are contacted
  • notify next of kin
  • notify necessary organisation personnel (school principal, CEO, etc.)
  • notify other administrative staff as required.

Second priority tasks

  • notify insurance company
  • review field needs
  • set up system for news media liaison.

Third priority tasks

  • review plans and activities scheduled for administrative personnel and adjust priorities, as a serious accident will pre-empt all routine matters
  • notify any remaining organisational personnel (other staff, teachers, board members, etc.)
  • notify others who may become concerned (e.g. parents of other students, people on other activities)
  • implement the reporting process.

Securing the field situation
Ensuring that no further damage or complications occur is a very high priority. Leaders, party members and emergency service personnel will usually do this. Reassess planned activities and adjust if necessary to avoid subjecting group members, relatives and others who may be involved to further unnecessary stress. Plan for creative ways to proceed; terminate the trip only as a last resort, as more positive alternatives are almost always possible. Assess needs of all involved for physical and emotional support. Arrange for someone senior from the organisation to go to the scene immediately to attend to this, and to facilitate reporting and documentation. Make certain all affected legal and land management authorities are notified. In the event of a fatality, wait for legal authorisation (usually the police) before moving the body. Arrange for all relevant photographs before the body is moved.

Notifying next of kin
This is the most crucial of the immediate follow-up procedures after a serious injury or fatal accident and also the most distressing both to contemplate and to do. An appropriate senior person from the organisation sponsoring or running the activity is generally in the best position to do this. However, timeliness is critical, and the best person available at the time will nearly always achieve a better outcome than a more appropriate person who cannot undertake the task for two days. Promptness is absolutely critical, as delays will almost certainly lead to suspicions or other bad feelings.

Sensitivity to the feelings of the family is the foremost consideration. Think through what will be said before contact is made. Have your facts organised and accurate and be sure to convey whatever personal condolences might be appropriate. Remember that the next of kin have a right to all factual information pertaining to a serious accident, but as the initial notification will be received with surprise and shock don’t expect to convey many details until a follow-up call. Be conscious of the timing of your call and try to think through what the recipient might be doing, for example, at work, sleeping, etc. Try to anticipate possible responses and prepare accordingly.

Other actions which may be appropriate include:

  • inviting family representatives to come to the organisation, or the accident scene, at the organisation’s expense
  • having a staff member who has first-hand knowledge of the accident make a follow up call
  • having a school representative visit the family at their home
  • arranging for others involved with the organisation to reinforce communications, but be careful of extraneous or uncoordinated efforts.

Reporting and documentation
Make certain that written accounts, complete with dates and times are obtained from all witnesses, affected students and staff as soon as possible. Prepare a detailed factual report within seven days. This should avoid judgements, conjecture, analysis, or conclusions. Submit the report to legal personnel for review and revision. Submit the revised report to any necessary organisational groups for review, revision and recommendations.