News Release

University of Bath research shows how to improve emergency service response to terrorist incident

Over-reliance on Police, and centralised communication and decision making are lessons to learn in wake of Manchester Arena bombing

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Bath

Dr Olivia Brown discusses her research

video: Dr Olivia Brown of the University of Bath School of Management discusses her new research which shows flaws in the response of emergency services, such as those seen in the Manchester Arena bombing of 2017, that could be addressed with a new three-phase approach view more 

Credit: Olivia Brown

The Manchester Arena terrorist bomb attack in 2017 exposed flaws in the response of emergency services that could be addressed with a new three-phase approach, research by the University of Bath School of Management shows.

Current government guidelines outline a two-phase structure of 'response and recovery', which researchers discovered hampered effective communication between agencies, created over-reliance on centralised Police decision-making, and inhibited other services' ability to take initiative earlier in an emergency.

"To better prepare responders for emergencies we recommend a three?phase structure of 'response/resolve/recovery' is introduced in place of the current guidelines that outline a two?phase structure of response and recovery. Introducing the 'resolve' phase would allow and encourage other emergency services to act earlier and more effectively," said Dr Olivia Brown of the University of Bath.

Brown and her co-researchers from Lancaster University studied communication and coordination between emergency services during the response to a simulated terrorist incident. They worked with 30 commanders from 11 agencies, including the Police, Fire and Rescue, Ambulance, Military and local and central government.

They studied three phases: 1 - when the incident was ongoing; 2 - 48 hours after the incident; and 3 - three weeks after the incident.

Brown said communications were dominated by the Police in the first phase - a typical and sensible approach in the immediate aftermath of an incident where there remained a threat to life. However, they discovered that even after that threat had been resolved, other agencies became overly reliant on the Police to maintain the communication network, hampering the emergency response. And the Police struggled to act on important information from their emergency service partners.

"Our findings suggest that the Police were so focused on delivering the overall strategy of the response that they failed to attend to important information provided by other agencies and to manage the information flow across the network. This ultimately disrupted coordination and caused delay and uncertainty," she said.

Brown said a similar phenomenon was noted in the report reviewing the Manchester Arena attack, in which the demands placed on the Police commander to implement decisions and deal with the immediate aftermath of the explosion contributed to their lack of communication with the Fire Service located at a different site. This poor communication contributed to a two-hour delay in the deployment of the Fire Service to the site of the incident, which meant that their skills and expertise could be not be utilised until later on in the response.

Brown said decentralized communication structures should be introduced in the early phases of an emergency to improve decision?making across several specialised and diverse teams. Other agencies needed to be empowered to intervene on their own initiative once Police had addressed any immediate threat to life.

"Take the response to a terrorist incident as an example - the Police are tasked with mitigating any further threat, cordoning off the scene and collecting evidence, whereas the Ambulance service must quickly begin accessing and triaging casualties. An effective response to the incident cannot be achieved by one agency alone and instead rests on the ability of teams to work cohesively under immense pressure," she said.

Brown said the study showed that, as the incident evolved, the involvement of other agencies increased and communication became less centralised. That resulted in improved coordination, more joint decision-making, less uncertainty and a better use of the diverse expertise of all agencies.

Brown said their research showed the three-phase structure of 'response/resolve/recovery' more accurately described the behaviours of responders during emergencies than the existing 'response/recovery' structure outlined in government guidelines.

"Changing procedural guidelines to a three-phase structure may empower other agencies to get involved in decision making before the response transitions into the recovery phase," she said.

Brown suggested 'boundary spanners' - specially assigned team members tasked with managing the flow of communications across teams and having a comprehensive view of an emergency incident from its very beginning - may be one solution to the communication issue.


Notes to editors

* For further information please contact Tony Roddam at the University of Bath press office on +44 7971 500460 or

* The research paper Communication and coordination across event phases: A multi-team system emergency response can be accessed here

University of Bath

The University of Bath is one of the UK's leading universities both in terms of research and our reputation for excellence in teaching, learning and graduate prospects.

The University is rated Gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), the Government's assessment of teaching quality in universities, meaning its teaching is of the highest quality in the UK.

In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 research assessment 87 per cent of our research was defined as 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent'. From developing fuel efficient cars of the future, to identifying infectious diseases more quickly, or working to improve the lives of female farmers in West Africa, research from Bath is making a difference around the world. Find out more:

Well established as a nurturing environment for enterprising minds, Bath is ranked highly in all national league tables. We are ranked 6th in the UK by The Guardian University Guide 2021, and 9th in both The Times & Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 and the Complete University Guide 2021. Our sports offering was rated as being in the world's top 10 in the QS World University Rankings by Subject in

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.