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United Kingdom - Disaster management structure

Vademecum - Civil Protection

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England consists of 34 two-tier counties, 32 London boroughs and 1 City of London or Greater London, 36 metropolitan counties and 46 unitary authorities. Northern Ireland consists of 26 district council areas and Scotland and Wales has 32 and 22 unitary authorities respectively.

England is subdivided into nine administrative regions. Greater London has an elected Assembly and Mayor, but the other regions have a minor role, with unelected regional assemblies and Regional Development Agencies. Below the regional level and excluding London, England has two different patterns of local government in use. In some areas, there is a county council responsible for services such as education, waste management and strategic planning within a county, with several district councils responsible for services such as housing, waste collection and local planning. These councils are elected in separate elections. Some areas have only one level of local government, and these are dubbed unitary authorities. The City of London and the Isles of Scilly are sui generis authorities, predating recent reforms of local government.

The Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS), based in the Cabinet Office at the heart of central government, is responsible for civil emergency planning in England and Wales. This is a devolved responsibility in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The CCS was established in July 2001 and the administration has since then worked in partnership with government departments, the devolved administrations and key stakeholders to enhance the UK's ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies.

The role of central government, devolved administrations and the regional tier is to support and supplement the efforts of local responders through the provision of resources and coordination.

The central and regional tiers will only become involved in emergency response and recovery efforts where it is necessary or helpful to do so.

A guiding principle is therefore that the prime responsibility for handling disasters should remain at the local level. In the event of a disaster, where immediate reactions are concerned, reliance is placed upon emergency plans made by emergency services (police, fire, ambulance and coastguard), local authorities, public health services, those responsible for industrial installations and others, including the voluntary sector. The police will normally take the lead in coordinating the local response to an emergency where a crime has been committed. If there is a threat to public safety, the local authority will usually take the lead during the recovery phase. If the scale of a disaster overwhelms available local resources, regional resilience teams (a small team of Government Officials within a Government Office for the Region working on civil protection issues) will coordinate supplementary resources which may be called in from neighbouring authorities and organisations as well as from Central Government. Only massive disasters justify coordination at central government level by the CCS or the relevant lead department nominated by CCS or the Civil Contingencies Committee (CCC).

Where the nature of the emergency is such that it affects the business of a number of government departments, a collective response will be required, led by the Lead Government Department (LGD). The Lead Government Department (LGD) task is to ensure that the central government response is coordinated. Collective decision-making within central government is delivered through the Cabinet committee system, and decision-making during emergencies follows the same pattern. Due to the unpredictable nature of emergencies, the government maintains dedicated crisis management facilities - Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms (COBR) - and supporting arrangements which are only activated in the event of a major national emergency. The Prime Minister, Home Secretary or another senior Minister will normally chair key meetings involving ministers and officials from relevant departments, as appropriate. Key external stakeholders may be invited to attend depending on the nature of the emergency. Meetings will cover all the strategic aspects of the response and recovery effort. Officials in the COBR will identify options and propose advice on the issues on which Ministers will need to focus. Within the COBR, a senior decision-making body (the Strategic Group in terrorist incidents and the Civil Contingencies Committee (CCC) for all other emergencies) oversees the government’s response.

When emergencies occur in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, the response will often require the involvement of the devolved administrations. The devolved administrations take on some of the lead government department responsibilities which are carried out by UK government departments in England, and some of the regional coordination responsibilities, which fall to Regional Resilience Teams in England. In every case, the precise balance of activity will depend on the competence of the devolved administration involved (i.e. the terms of their devolution settlement) and the nature of the incident. In areas of reserved responsibility, the UK Government Lead Department will lead the response in the devolved areas working closely with the relevant devolved administration.

At regional level, Regional Resilience Teams (RRT) in each Regional Government Office act as a conduit for communications between central government and the local level. They are responsible for activating Regional Operation Centres where required, supporting local response and recovery efforts, and ensuring that there is an accurate picture of the situation in their region.

Where the response to an emergency would benefit from regional coordination, a Regional Coordinating Group (RegCG) will be convened. The need for these groups can either be decided by Regional Resilience Teams (RRTs) at the request of responders or by the Lead Government Department in consultation with either the Cabinet Office or the Department for Communities and Local Government. These groups are the regional equivalent of local Strategic Coordinating Groups (SCG).

In the most serious circumstances, there may be a need to convene a Regional Civil Contingencies Committee (RCCC) to support response and recovery activity across the region.

In London, because there are different arrangements, the London SCG brings together all the relevant responders on a pan-London basis. As a result, it has been agreed that while the London Resilience Team would perform the same functions as other Government Office resilience teams, the London SCG would perform the role that would normally be performed by the RegCG or RCCC elsewhere.

At local level, the UK’s approach to emergency response and recovery is founded on a bottom-up approach in which operations are managed and decisions are made at the lowest appropriate level. In all cases, local agencies are the building blocks of response and recovery operations. Indeed, the local level deals with most emergencies with little or no input from the regional or national levels.

Under the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) regime, Category 1 responders are required to have emergency plans which must include a procedure for determining whether an emergency has occurred. Whilst historically, this role has been undertaken by the emergency services, this is something that can be done by any Category 1 responder. The decision on who is best placed to determine whether an emergency has occurred will be dependent on the type of emergency.

Regarding interagency coordination, there is a generic national framework for managing emergency response that is applicable irrespective of the size, nature or cause of an emergency, but remains flexible enough to be adapted to the needs of particular circumstances. Adoption of this nationally agreed management framework will help integrate plans and procedures within and between agencies and across geographical boundaries. It also ensures that all agencies understand their roles and responsibilities in the combined response. This framework identifies the various tiers of single-agency and multi-agency management in emergency response, and defines the relationships between them. It provides a common framework within which individual agencies can develop their own response plans and procedures.

Where a Strategic Coordinating Group (SCG) has been established, and the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR) has been activated, a Government Liaison Officer (GLO) will normally be despatched immediately at the onset of an emergency. For non-terrorist emergencies, this role will normally be performed by the Government Offices in the English regions. In terrorist emergencies, the GLO will be normally be a senior Home Office official supported by a multi-disciplinary team (the Government Liaison Team). In the devolved administrations, officials from the relevant devolved administration, would also be part of the Team, or even lead it. The GLO will be the main liaison channel between the COBR and the scene.

Where the COBR is not activated, but there is a need for Central Government engagement, the relevant Regional Resilience Team in England will liaise with the SCG to facilitate two-way exchange of information and provide advice to local responders.

Within this framework, the management of the emergency response effort is undertaken at one or more of three ascending levels: Operational (the ‘lowest’ tier), Tactical and Strategic (or Gold, Silver and Bronze).This framework is based on the concepts of command, control and coordination. The meaning of these three terms is different, and they are as follows:

In some instances, the nature or severity of an emergency may necessitate the involvement of the regional tier in England, a devolved administration, or UK central government, as set out in the "Central Government arrangements for responding to an emergency: Concept of Operations", please look at: These arrangements are summarised in chapter 9 (regional arrangements), chapters 10, 11 and 12 (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively) and chapter 13 (Central Government arrangements). If regional, devolved administration or UK tiers are convened, their role and function is to identify and address issues that require resolution or coordination at those levels in pursuit of the agreed objectives. Such ‘higher level’ tiers do not remove the local strategic perspective from the local level; rather they consider only those issues and dimensions where value can be added by a broader or higher level perspective. For this reason, a local strategic perspective and role (i.e. the SCG) can be distinguished from the regional strategic perspective (e.g. the Regional Coordinating Group (RegCG) where for example competing priorities for available mutual aid may need to be determined) and distinguished again from the UK National perspective (i.e. the Civil Contingencies Committee) where national (and potentially international) strategic issues may bear on the emergency response.

Organisational chart

disaster management structure denmark

Legal basis

At national level

The Civil Contingencies Act, and accompanying non-legislative measures, deliver a single framework for civil protection in the United Kingdom capable of meeting the challenges of the twenty-first century. The Act is separated into two substantive parts: local arrangements for civil protection (Part 1) and emergency powers (Part 2). The Civil Contingencies Act Enhancement Programme is currently underway.

Part 1 of the Act and supporting Regulations and statutory guidance Emergency Preparedness establish a clear set of roles and responsibilities for those involved in emergency preparation and response at the local level. The Act divides local responders into two categories, imposing a different set of duties on each.

Those in Category 1, are organisations at the core of the response to most emergencies (e.g. emergency services, local authorities, National Health Service (NHS) bodies). Category 1 responders are subject to the full set of civil protection duties. They will be required to:

  • Assess the risk of emergencies occurring and use this to inform contingency planning
  • Put in place emergency plans
  • Put in place Business Continuity Management arrangements
  • Put in place arrangements to make information available to the public about civil protection matters and maintain arrangements to warn, inform and advise the public in the event of an emergency
  • Share information with other local responders to enhance coordination
  • Cooperate with other local responders to enhance coordination and efficiency
  • Provide advice and assistance to businesses and voluntary organisations about business continuity management (Local Authorities only).

Category 2 organisations (e.g. Health and Safety Executive, transport and utility companies). These "cooperating bodies" are less likely to be involved in the heart of planning work but will be heavily involved in incidents that affect their sector. Category 2 responders have a lesser set of duties - cooperating and sharing relevant information with other Category 1 and 2 responders.

Category 1 and 2 organisations will come together to form Local Resilience Forums (based on police areas) which will help coordination and cooperation between responders at the local level.

For more information see: Cabinet Office - Civil Contingencies Act

At international level

International intervention is governed by political agreements.

Human and material resources

No information available.


Private sector

  • Business continuity Institute
  • Association of British Insurers
  • Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters
  • Confederation of British insurance
  • British Retail Consortium.


  • British Red Cross
  • St John’s Ambulance
  • Salvation Army
  • WRVS.