Most situations that incident commanders are faced with are not unique and are foreseeable. In resolving an incident, commanders use their own experience and knowledge of guidance, together with that of the command team and crew members. However, incident commanders may occasionally be presented with a situation that is extremely unusual and not reasonably foreseeable. In this circumstance they may have to make decisions using their professional judgement.
Operational discretion relates to rare or exceptional circumstances where strictly following an operational procedure would be a barrier to resolving an incident, or where there is no procedure that adequately deals with the incident. Incident commanders need to be sufficiently aware of procedures, the skills and qualities of crew members and the capability of resources available.
Policies and procedures should be written in such a way as to give incident commanders a safe system of work for all foreseeable situations. This is best achieved by avoiding the use of rigid procedures. The ability to apply flexible policies relies on the training of personnel and commanders in the application of safe systems of work and the ability to identify hazards and select suitable control measures. For further information regarding the planning of safe operational response refer to the Health, Safety and welfare framework for the operational environment.
Outcomes which would justify applying operational discretion include:
- Saving human life
- Taking decisive action to prevent an incident escalating
- Incidents where taking no action may lead others to put themselves in danger
The overarching principle should be that in the opinion of the incident commander the benefit of taking unusual, unorthodox or innovative action justifies the risk. See Decision controls.
Any decision to apply operational discretion should be the minimum necessary and only until the objective is achieved. Some areas of operational policies and procedures have to be written in a prescriptive way. In other cases, it should be written in a more flexible way with appropriate information to allow commanders and crew members to resolve an incident effectively.