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SIO Corner: Setting Up A Major Incident Room

This week we begin a new chapter commencing with an introduction into setting up a Major Incident Room

In this series we look at various aspects of life as an SIO. This includes the necessary skill sets for the successful SIO, the management of serious crime investigation and specific elements of investigative practice from initial response through crime scene examination and investigative strategies to dealing with suspects and the media. The articles are excerpts from the 2nd edition of Blackstone's, the 'Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook', written by two highly experienced SIOs (see 'About the Authors' at the end of the article).


This chapter outlines roles, responsibilities, strategies, conventions, and standard procedures which the SIO uses to mount an enquiry after the initial response. These ensure professionalism and accountability, augmenting formal prescriptions established in law, eg disclosure principles under CPIA, and serve as foundation blocks for the investigation.

A synthesis of major incident-room standard procedures will be required, plus resources and suitable accommodation and equipment that are fit and adequate for running a major criminal investigation. This chapter will look at what the important roles are, moving on to some invaluable strategies and administrative methods that enable the SIO to launch and manage the investigation successfully.

There are sections on formulating main lines of enquiry and using investigative strategies; how to deal with information; action management, including fast-track actions; TIE, TI, and statement policies. The chapter ends by outlining the important function of accurate record keeping and the SIO’s policy files. These are all must do’s for the SIO.

Other material in the handbook could equally be included in this chapter, such as that relating to suspects and witness strategies. But what is contained here is more of a guide to the major components that will aid the SIO in establishing early, if not almost immediate, structure and control. These are vital ingredients and will get a professionally led investigation off to a flying start.

Setting Up a Major Incident Room

An incident room is the ‘beating heart’ of any investigation. It is the place where the enquiry is managed and controlled, although some investigations set off at such a fast pace that lots of enquiries and information have already been dealt with before it is in place. This is particularly so with a ‘crime in action’ (eg kidnapping) or terrorism-type incident. This means it is even more important to set up the major incident room (MIR) as quickly as possible in order to stabilize the policies and procedures required.

One function of the MIR can be said to have similarities to that of a medical ‘triage’ system. In adapting a definition of this term, it acts as a place for the sorting out and classification of information and material to determine priority of need. Major incident rooms will vary from place to place. Ideally there will be one available that is the right size, has good equipment and facilities, and is ideally located. In the early response phase a makeshift room may have to be utilized until a suitable MIR becomes identified and available. If so, the management of any transfer and administrative movement needs to be carefully managed so as to cause minimum disruption to the enquiry. The early appointment of a ‘finance manager’ will greatly assist and will take a lot of pressure off the SIO as the early administration and logistical issues can be passed over to them.


Most forces now choose to run major enquiries on HOLMES2, with specialist incident rooms and trained staff dedicated to major investigation. An early decision may have to be taken as to whether the enquiry should be run on the computerized database known as HOLMES2 or on an equivalent ‘paper’ version of it (there are effectively 3 levels of HOLMES usage, ie ‘full’, ‘intermediate’, and ‘minimum’). HOLMES2 provides a massive analytical and research facility, plus action/exhibits management, etc. There are a lot of advantages in putting an enquiry onto HOLMES2.

However, it must be remembered that, whatever management system is chosen, the golden rule is that HOLMES2 must not be allowed to dominate or take over an enquiry. It is there to assist the smooth running and improve effectiveness. At all times the SIO and management team must take a disciplined approach to putting in place monitoring and review mechanisms to check what work the system is producing. But the SIO and investigation team run the enquiry—not HOLMES2!

Therefore, the SIO, once officially appointed to take charge of the case, will need to fill some key roles in the incident room.

These may vary depending on the type and nature of the enquiry and with the exception of the SIO (mentioned elsewhere) will be outlined in the next excerpt.

About the Authors:

Detective Superintendent Tony Cook was a CID officer with Greater Manchester Police for over 31 years until his retirement in 2009. During his time as an SIO, he led a number of high profile investigations including operations into gangland violence at Moss Side, the Bolton murder of a teenage girl in 2002, and the Denton strangling case. He was a trained assessor for promotion and a qualified Authorising Officer under RIPA. Tony received 14 commendations and a first-class BSc Honours degree in social sciences and a Diploma in Social Policy & Criminology from the Open University.

Andy Tattersall, formerly Detective Superintendent in Greater Manchester Police on the Force Major Incident Team, retired in 2007 after 33 years service and became the first ever Support Staff SIO in charge of a new Homicide Support Unit. With over 29 years in CID at all ranks Andy received the Homicide Working Group National Award for his Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Homicide in November 2006.

To see more details about the Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook, or to purchase a copy, click here

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