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Is an incident controller just an incident controller?

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-23, 19:01 authored by McNeil, R, Steven CurninSteven Curnin, Benjamin BrooksBenjamin Brooks, Christine OwenChristine Owen

One of the emerging debates in the Emergency Management community relates to the value that hazard-specific Subject Matter Expertise adds to the role of an Incident Controller. Multi-agency responses, increased inter-operability, the greater frequency of climate-induced emergencies and inter-jurisdictional deployments both nationally and internationally, all point towards this issue becoming more, rather than less of a challenge.

Management systems such as Australasian Inter-service Incident Management System implement generic management structures and fundamental principles such as span of control, options analysis and risk management. In theory, a skilled Incident Controller should be able to adapt those skills to respond to ANY hazard. Or should they?

Our paper explores this issue through the analysis of a deployment of an Australian Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team to Fukushima, Japan, following the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. We identify several decisions made by the USAR commander. Subsequent to this, we consider the role that hazard specific Subject Matter Expertise played in those decisions. We assess the possibility that hazard-specific Subject Matter Expertise could be resident in the team, rather than an attribute of the Incident Controller. We conclude that hazard-specific Subject Matter Expertise is important for Incident Controllers in these particular events.

Finally, we explore the implications for organisational capability. We examine the challenges of training our future leaders and our ability to provide credible, challenging training scenarios, and therefore address the requirement for response agencies to train ‘at the edge of chaos’ as suggested by the City of Folsom’s Police Chief Cynthia Renaud (California, USA).


Publication title

Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC & AFAC Conference Proceedings


September 2018




School of Social Sciences


Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC & AFAC

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Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC & AFAC Conference

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