A Gold - Silver - Bronze command structure is used by emergency services of the United Kingdom to establish a hierarchical framework for the command and control of major incidents and disasters. Some practitioners use the term Strategic - Tactical - Operational instead, but the categories are equivalent.
Whilst this system does not explicitly signify hierarchy of rank, with the roles not being rank-specific, invariably the chain of command will be the same as the order of rank. Whilst the Gold - Silver - Bronze command structure was designed for disasters, it has been successfully utilised for all manner of pre-planned operations, such as football matches or firearms operations, such as Operation Kratos.
Scotland Yard soon realised that their usual rank based command system was inappropriate for sudden events. For example, it was never clear who was actually in operational charge of the police that fateful night. A small team led by Inspector Peter Power quickly decided that three essential roles were more important than numerous ranks in these situations and set about creating and promulgating a new structure with an eponymous title that was soon rolled out across all UK Police Forces and became the ubiquitous command standard it is today.
The Gold Commander is in overall control of their organisation's resources at the incident. They will not be on site, but at a distant control room, Gold Command, where they will formulate the strategy for dealing with the incident. If the Gold Commanders for various organisations at an incident are not co-located, they will be in constant touch with each other by videoconference or telephone.
The Silver Commander is the senior member of the organisation at the scene, in charge of all their resources. They decide how to utilise these resources to achieve the strategic aims of the Gold Commander; they determine the tactics used. At the scene of the incident, they will work in proximity and harmony with other organisation's Silver Commanders, usually situated in purpose-built command vehicles, at the Joint Emergency Services Control Centre (JESCC). They will not, however, become directly involved in dealing with the incident itself. During the initial stages of a major incident, the first member of an organisation who arrives at the incident assumes, albeit temporarily, the role of Silver Commander.
A Bronze Commander directly controls the organisations resources at the incident and will be found with their staff working on scene. If an incident is widespread geographically, different Bronzes may assume responsibility for different areas. If complex, differing Bronzes can command differing tasks or responsibilities at an incident.
In the United Kingdom the principle of police primacy means that the police will be the organisation in ultimate charge of the incident, over the other organisations that may attend. Limited exceptions to this occurs if the incident involves a fire or other dangerous hazard, in which case the fire service will have overall charge of the area inside the inner cordon where firefighting or rescue is taking place and railway accidents, where primacy (if there is no apparent evidence of serious criminality) will lie with the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.
This principle is in place because the structure was first created by the UK Metropolitan police. Another reason for police primacy relates to communications and support infrastructure that are more abundant and widespread in the police than the other emergency services. However, since the basis of the simple system aims to put the most appropriate person in the right position at the right time, some incidents such as a serious fire could see a senior fire fighter adopt the role of Gold for as long as the main task remains extinguishing the fire, as opposed to investigation, etc.
The command structure in practiceEdit
The 2005 Buncefield fire can be used as one of many examples to show how the command structure functions. After the explosions on Sunday 11 December 2005, the strategic operation to bring the incident under control was located at Hertfordshire Constabulary's headquarters in Welwyn Garden City - some distance from the incident. Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service's Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Roy Wilsher was based at gold command "within one hour of the incident".
The location of silver command was initially located close to the incident then moved to Watford.
Bronze, was situated on the fire ground and was a Herts fire service control unit. Each of the services had its own senior officers who assumed the roles of gold, silver and bronze.
During the first three days of the fire, the gold command committee met at 1100hrs and 1400hrs, each session was usually followed by a media briefing. The command meetings were attended by the commanders of the main emergency services, local authority, health and safety officials and civilian press officers from the emergency services.
- Wiltshire Police: Major incident planning: Command structure
- London Emergency Services Liaison Panel: LESLP
- Suffolk County Council: Control of major accident hazards
- Government Office for the South East: Preparing for Emergencies - Response
- Government Office for the South East: Response: the National Picturefr:Structure de commandement or-argent-bronze