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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. The so-called "platinum control" is government level (COBR).
Some practitioners use the term strategic–tactical–operational command structure instead, but the different 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 emergencies, it has been successfully utilised for all manner of 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 night. A small team, including 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 that was soon rolled out across all UK Police Forces and became the ubiquitous command standard it is today. Peter Power did not invent the Gold, Silver Bronze command structure but he was the member of a small team of specialists at Scotland Yard who detailed the system and taught it to the Metropolitan Police Service. The command structure was invented and developed by David Stevens, who was then a Chief Superintendent in the Public Order Branch at Scotland Yard.
The Gold Commander is in overall control of his or her organisation's resources at the incident. This person will not be on site, but at a distant control room, Gold Command, where he or she will formulate the strategy for dealing with the incident. If the Gold Commanders for various organisations at an incident are not collocated, they will be in constant touch with each other by videoconference or telephone.
The Silver Commander is the tactical commander who manages the strategic direction from Gold and makes it into sets of actions that are completed by Bronze. They are not located at the scene normally, as they need to be able to take a step back and review all the different Bronze resourcing. They will work in closely with other agency Silver Commanders but may well be in command of their resources in order to achieve the Gold Strategy.
A Silver Commander can sometimes be in a purpose-built command vehicle at the Joint Emergency Services Control Centre (JESCC), but this is not common. He or she will not become directly involved in dealing with the incident itself. This role is often not strictly rank-related but does often fall to senior officers as opposed to constables or sergeants.
A Bronze Commander directly controls the organisation's resources at the incident and will be found with his or her staff working at the scene. He or she will be under the main control of the police normally, unless it is a fire-and-rescue-led incident, irrespective of which organisation he or she works for. This is to ensure safety and efficiency of all involved as far as possible. If an incident is widespread geographically, different Bronzes may assume responsibility for different locations. If the incident is of a complex nature, as is often the case, different Bronzes are given their own tasks or responsibilities at an incident, for example taking statements, cordon management, or survivor management.
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. Any incident on the cliffs and shorelines or at sea within the UK Search and Rescue region, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency will assume primacy.
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 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 commenced at Hertfordshire Constabulary's headquarters in Welwyn Garden City, some distance from the incident.
During the first three days of the fire, the gold command committee met at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.; 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.
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