Passing a message in an emergency – METHANE and SAD CHALETS

RIchard PrideauxSearch Operations, Survival, Work and IndustryLeave a Comment

chalet methane

Passing a message in an emergency

Planning for panic, hurry and disaster

A question that I often ask on outdoor safety or remote-area courses is:

“have you ever had to dial 999?”

As an instructor this is a slightly risky strategy – there is the possibility that you are about to unlock a tragic memory for somebody as dialing 999 is rarely a joyous experience. However – any course that deals with calling for help from the emergency services or external agencies is going to touch on that subject so we may as well just approach it openly and honestly.
So when I ask the above question the responses can be varied. Some common ground is a slight surprise that they were asked so many questions by the call handler, or were being asked questions that would seem irrelevant to the situation (being asked “has the casualty fallen from more than their own height?” when reporting an RTC was a good example).

There are established protocols for any incoming emergency call to any of the services, both statutory and voluntary. They of course vary between those services, but there is some commonality of function between them. The reasoning behind them might not be clear to the first-time caller, but once explained it does make sense.

Any information sharing between emergency services, the public and other interested parties needs to be done in the right way, at the right time and to the right people.

This article is not necessarily about dialling 999/112/911, but about how you prioritise the information you are passing along when you do need to call for help.


No, not smelly gases and depressing Swiss mountain dwellings…

There have been a couple of major-incident reporting protocols used within the UK emergency services. The use of mnemonics to aid memory and recall in emergencies is an established practice within all aspects of rescue and medical care, and it’s no surprise that a mnemonic acronym was created to help first responders and on-scene emergency service staff prioritise the information they were passing on to others.

CHALET was used until around 2013 when JESIP was introduced:

Casualties – Approximate numbers of dead, injured and uninjured
Hazards – Present and potential
Access – Best access routes for emergency vehicles,
bottlenecks to avoid etc.

Location – The precise location of the incident
Emergency – Emergency services already on scene, and what others are

Type – Type of Incident, including details of numbers of vehicles,
buildings etc. involved

A version of this for major incidents was also used  – SAD CHALETS:

Survey – Survey the incident scene/location and immediate surrounds
Assess – Assess the situation and the risk implications
Disseminate – Pass the information to the correct groups in the correct sequence

Casualties – Approximate numbers of dead, injured and uninjured
Hazards – Present and potential
Access – Best access routes for emergency vehicles,
bottlenecks to avoid etc.

Location – The precise location of the incident
Emergency – Emergency services already on scene, and what others are

Type – Type of Incident, including details of numbers of vehicles,
buildings etc. involved

Start Logging – Start collating information from the beginning of the event

The creation of JESIP (Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles) in 2013 encouraged the adoption of METHANE instead – a simpler and more appropriate mnemonic that encourages shared situational awareness between services. The origins of METHANE lie in military theatres, and was used extensively in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Major – incident declared?
Exact – location
Type – of incident e.g. explosion, building collapse
Hazards – present, potential or suspected
Access – routes that are safe to use
Number – type, severity of casualties
Emergency – services now present and those required

METHANE can also be shorted to ETHANE for incidents that are not declared as ‘major incidents’ but still require the implementation of a clear methodology for passing and sharing information.

There is a ton of information on this subject on the excellent JESIP website, and a JESIP smartphone app with aide memoires and note-taking facility available too. You do not need to be a member of the emergency services to view and use it.

SLIDE and Citizen Aid

citizenAID is a UK charity set up to help guide civilians in what to do in the aftermath of a major incident – a terrorist event is often used as the example but the principles they teach and encourage could be equally applied to any disaster or mass-casualty incident.

Again, there is a lot more information on the citizenAID website and a smartphone app. The acronym SLIDE has been promoted by citizenAID as a more appropriate mnemonic for prioritising the information that would be passed on to the emergency services:

Situation – Suspect Bomb, Explosion, Shooting, Stabbing, Crash etc
Location – Describe exactly where the incident is
Injury numbers – Walking, not walking, children, trapped, etc
Dangers – Active shooter, Fire, Building collapse, etc
Emergency Services – Who is present, Who is needed?

The key message – Finding the best acronym for you

It doesn’t really matter.

Unless you are a member of the emergency services, both paid or voluntary, and NEED to work within an agreed standard and protocol then it doesn’t matter if you memorise METHANE or SLIDE or any of the other acronyms that I could start listing.

The really important thing here is that when bad things are happening, people are hurt and YOU are the one they are relying on to get help to them without delay then it can be incredibly stressful. Words can become mumbled, you begin to doubt your own decisions and mistakes can be made. If there is the slightest possibility that you will need to call for help on behalf of yourself, your family, friends, colleagues or clients then you will save a lot of time and potential stress by creating some kind of pre-plan.

You can adopt one of the above acronyms or come up with one of your own. It may be dependent on your group types, the environments you are working in and indeed the type of rescue that is coming for you – a lifeboat/coastguard vessel coming to pick you up from the water won’t be concerned about elevation or ground conditions and a mountain rescue team isn’t that fussed about tidal flows.

Creating a safety net

Original Outdoors does a lot of work with companies involved in the surveying and erection of windfarms onshore, and we often train staff from companies who work in the remote and mountainous areas where those wind turbines are situated.
Those surveyors, ecologists and construction professionals often work alone or in small groups far from roads and often away from mobile phone signal. If there is an emergency in the middle of the work site then passing the information on to whoever can help needs to be done efficiently and clearly – if you have to send somebody away to go and find phone signal to call for help then you want to give them information on a scrap of paper – not a 15-page ring binder.

I sometimes help those companies come up with a pre-plan for dealing with those emergency events, and it almost always includes guidance on what information needs to be passed on by the person making the original call. This pretty much comes down to:

  1. Where the incident is (either a grid reference or site name such as “Turbine 12A at the southern access point” etc)
  2. What has happened (is it a fire, a crush injury, a fall from height, a trapped person?)
  3. Who it has happened to (the number of casualties, possibly a broad categorisation e.g.”3 unresponsive, 2 severely injured, 4 slightly injured/walking”)
  4. What you need to help you (this might not be down to the person reporting the incident, but could refer to specific requirements such as “only approach from north-east” or “water rescue team required”)
  5. What the dangers are (both to the people already on site and those who are coming to help – if those arriving are going to become secondary casualties then nothing about the situation has been improved)

The order of information might be changed – do hazards to first responders need to come before the help required? The exact guidance given to those working in the field and those who manage them will depend on the exact situation and working environment, and the experience levels of those who are using that guidance as part of their safety plan.

The really important bit

The key takewaway for all types of outdoor professionals here is that it is much, much easier to think about all of this on a wet Monday afternoon when sat a desk and drinking coffee than it is on the side of a mountain in a howling gale when your colleague is lying at your feet with a major head wound.

Pre-planning saves lives, and clear guidance on how information is passed onwards should be a vital part of any safety plan. You can adopt someone else’s acronym or just come up with your own – but do it now, not when the disaster has already occurred.

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