Manchester Attack Emergency Response: Report Highlights The Good And The Bad

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, established an independent review into the Manchester Arena attack of May 22. The results were published March 27.

Manchester Arena Aftermath
Peter Byrne / PA via AP
– Manchester Arena Aftermath
Police guard close to the Manchester Arena in Manchester in England May 23, a day after a terrorist attack that killed at least 22 people during an Ariana Grande concert.

The review focuses on the response to the attack in the nine days that followed it, and concludes, that “there is a lot to be proud of in the response, both for the city-region of Greater Manchester and its emergency services.”

The positives include a well-prepared emergency response team that acted quickly, as well as brave arena staff, police, and members of the public. “At critical points in the evening, key emergency personnel exercised sound judgment in an extremely stressful, chaotic and dangerous environment,” the executive summary of the report reads.

Manchester Arena
Manchester Arena
– Manchester Arena
The people of Manchester were determined to keep the concert business going.

The panel calls the civic response “exceptional,” pointing out the early press conference by the leader of Manchester City Council and the mayor of Greater Manchester, through to the Town Hall vigil attended by thousands, which “stands testament to the determination that Greater Manchester would stay open for business.”

There are lessons to be learnt from the devastating events as well. The Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service took significantly longer to arrive at the scene than usual, which meant is was “effectively ‘outside the loop’, having no presence at the rendezvous point established by the police.”

Vodafone’s National Mutual Aid Telephony system failed completely, according to the report. “As a consequence, communication with the families caught up in the attack was badly affected.” The report also identified “issues of communication” among Greater Manchester Police too, which can be read in the full report.

Vodafone has since apologized. The company told The Register “As a result of a failure of one of our systems, Greater Manchester Police was not able to issue an 0800 incident response number in the immediate aftermath of the Manchester Arena Attack. This was clearly unacceptable and we sincerely apologise for the distress caused to those affected by this terrible attack.

“We have been running the National Mutual Aid Telephony service for the Home Office since 2009. It provides an 0800 number and call-handling solution for police forces during a major incident, and has been successfully deployed on numerous occasions. However, any failure is unacceptable and we have since undertaken a major upgrade of the system in question and it is being tested on a daily basis.”

Arena operator SMG had some 140 security staff on duty, 30 of which were full-time security staff and the remainder stewards, employed by Showsec. As people were already leaving the arena, when the bomb denotated just after 10.30 p.m., the duty manager decided to allow the audience to continue to exit the arena, believing this was the safest option.

“Within the first few minutes after the explosion, the duty manager instructed Showsec stewards in the Arena bowl to close the aisles nearest to the foyer exit and for the stewards on the concourse to position themselves to divert concert goers in order, as far as possible, to avoid the public having to witness the scenes in the foyer.

Manchester Arena Foyer
– Manchester Arena Foyer
The crime scene

Emergency Training UK is responsible for first aid during events at the Arena. Despite not receiving an all-clear signal from the duty manager, “all thirteen Emergency Training staff, two Emergency Medical Technicians and eleven first aiders either went to the foyer, where the director started a triage process, or otherwise supported those attending to the injured in the foyer. They were soon joined by SMG staff with first aid training, first aid kits and equipment (stretchers and carry chairs) and by BTP officers from the station.”

By 11 p.m. all guests and staff had been evacuated, apart from casualties and staff in the arena control room. 

“Based on everything seen and heard, the Panel believes that staff at the Arena made a positive difference and that, without their contributions, the response would have been diminished. The Panel recognizes that SMG, Showsec and EMT-UK personnel went above and beyond their roles to provide humanitarian assistance and that many of them attended to casualties in the foyer to the best of their abilities, putting aside concern for their own safety in order to try to save others.”

Lord Bob Kerslake, the former Head of the Civil Service, chaired the reviewing panel, which is why the report was named the Kerslake Review. Kerslake said: “The Manchester Arena attack was devastating for many thousands of people. We must think first and always of the families of those who have been bereaved, those injured, and all those affected by this act of terror. We have ensured that their views have been front and centre throughout this process.

“There is a lot to be proud of in the response to the attack, both for the city region of Greater Manchester, and for the emergency services. The benefits of collaborative working and planning for emergencies were demonstrated to the full. And there were hundreds, if not thousands, of individual acts of bravery and selflessness.

“But it’s also vital to learn the lessons around things that did not go so well. It matters not just for the people of Greater Manchester and beyond who were caught up in the terrible events of that night, but also for places that might be caught up in such an attack in the future.

“I would like to thank all of those who contributed to this report. There was honesty, there was soul-searching, and there was a determination that their insight would benefit others in the future.”

Mayor Burnham has been continually pushing for adequate compensation of all involved in the tragedy, including the victims’ families and emergency response teams.

The reviewing panel made it clear that it wasn’t going to address issues concerning the 22 individuals who lost their lives in the attack.