Practice Makes Perfect
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 ROBERT L. MORAN
Accident Investigations, Reporting and Tracking
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
There I was, arriving to my new unit as the safety officer and learning there was no pre-accident plan (PAP) or mishap response plan (MRP). The unit was using a plan the contractors had in place and nothing to cover the military side of the house. This was wrong no matter how you looked at it. A unit needs to have an executable plan in the event something goes wrong and first responders are needed.
A unit never wants to discover its plan has flaws after receiving an initial mishap/incident notification. It doesn’t matter whether you call it a PAP or MRP, there needs to be an efficient, effective and detailed strategy focused on the survival of the occupants involved. Conducting systematic rehearsals and reviews ensures key players understand their roles and responsibilities in the event of a mishap. Every rehearsal needs to be treated as a real-world mishap response to maximize the training opportunity for all individuals or agencies that may have a roll in the response.
Commanders from garrison down to the unit level need to coordinate and integrate their plans to facilitate the best possible response. The unit operations officer develops and administers the plan with the technical assistance of the unit safety office in accordance with Department of the Army Pamphlet 385-90, Army Aviation Accident Prevention Program. Rehearsals of these plans are required quarterly and need to be documented to allow units to find discrepancies or flaws. However, documentation of the drill/exercise is only part of it. A detailed after-action review should also be conducted to ensure your control measures and execution were effective. Even a well-rehearsed plan has room for improvement.
As an aviation safety officer and mishap investigator, I’m amazed there are units that seem to fail at taking seriously the importance of establishing, practicing and executing a good response plan. According to the consolidated fiscal 2018 FORSCOM Aviation Resource Management Survey Trends, version 23.1, an average of 49 percent of active-duty, National Guard and Reserve units surveyed had an effective PAP. Units need know the purpose and importance of the PAP/MRP. Coordination with garrison and civilian crash rescue agencies in the local area allows your unit to understand what assets are available in the event they are needed.
There are many parallels between aviation and ground unit responses, even though the unit’s executions aren’t set up the same. Primary and secondary notification is critical for the survival of those involved and should be the focus of any plan. Aviation units produce a plan that S3/flight operations administers with technical assistance from the unit safety officers. Units must conduct full rehearsals and document the results.
Ground units typically develop their plans using the Military Decision-Making Process when producing their operations orders. Effective means to communicate the functions of the pre-mishap plan (paragraph 4 of the operations order) down to the Soldier level include rehearsals; primary, alternate, contingency and emergency, or PACE, plans; pre-combat inspections; and convoy briefings. How the unit develops their standard operating procedures is up to them, but it is imperative they follow the guidance in Army Regulation 385-10, paragraph 15-10, Pre-accident or pre-emergency planning, to remain in compliance.
If your unit does not have a PAP/MRP, you can reference DA PAM 385-90 for an example to create your own. If it has been awhile since your unit has dusted off its PAP/MRP, you might take this opportunity to bring it up at your next commander’s update briefing. I recommend your unit becomes familiarized with its plan before the next field exercise or real-world mission. Remember, the PAP/MRP is not just for operations in garrison; it will need to be updated for your operations at a combat training center or before a deployment.