Support for government publishers

National emergency publishing guidelines

How to publish content to GOV.UK about a national emergency.


GOV.UK will be used by government to publish information to the public in the event of a national emergency.

Who is involved

A lead agency will co-ordinate publishing - the Civil Contingencies Secretariat decides which agency this is.

The lead agency must make sure that:

  • GOV.UK provides a single source of government information on the emergency
  • there is a high quality user journey between information published by different agencies responding to the emergency

The Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR) is also likely to be involved.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) can provide emergency support and, if appropriate, put the GOV.UK homepage into national emergency mode.

What to do

The lead agency should nominate a co-ordinator - for example, the head of its digital team.

The co-ordinator should then work through the following steps:

  1. Create a destination page on GOV.UK.

  2. Contact GDS to deploy the GOV.UK ‘national emergency’ homepage.

  3. Organise further publishing with other agencies.

Step 1: Create a destination page on GOV.UK

Government will promote a single page on GOV.UK as the destination for users who need information about the emergency.

It should start with important information for the public, and then link out to more detailed information held elsewhere. The Woolwich newsroom article is a good example of this.

A link to the destination page should be given to news media.

How to publish the page

The co-ordinator from the lead agency needs to publish the page in Whitehall Publisher.

Typically the page will use the ‘news article’ format, but this is flexible. For example, in the case of an overseas crisis you could use a travel advice page, or an existing guide for a farming crisis.

If you need a ‘topical event’ page, contact GDS.

The title should include keywords specific to the incident, but be broad enough to allow for updates, for example:

  • Woolwich incident: government response
  • Woolwich incident: government updates
  • Woolwich incident: government information and advice

Updating the page

The page should be updated frequently as the emergency situation changes.

Make sure the page does not become cluttered. When you add new information, check the page is still well-organised and users can find what they need.

For significant changes, change notes must be used to describe how the page has changed - the updated page will then appear in GOV.UK latest news feeds and email alerts.

It usually takes 30 minutes for content to go live on GOV.UK. In an emergency, GDS can force updates to go live in 10 minutes. Request this using the GDS emergency contact details (Signon account required).

Step 2: Contact GDS to deploy the GOV.UK ‘national emergency’ homepage

Only do this if the emergency poses an immediate risk to life and demands immediate mass public action.

The co-ordinator in the lead agency needs to call the GDS emergency phone number.

GDS emergency phone number
Use the GDS national emergencies contact details (Signon account required).

GDS will confirm your identity and verify that the emergency is of an appropriate scale to deploy the GOV.UK emergency homepage.

It takes 30 minutes to deploy the emergency homepage.

The emergency homepage features a prominent red banner. The banner also appears in a less prominent form at the top of every page on GOV.UK.

What goes on the banner

You’ll need to provide:

  • wording for the banner
  • a link to the destination page created in Step 1

Follow the banner wording guidance. GDS can provide out-of-hours content design support - the emergency contact will be able to put you in touch.

The banner is made up of 2 parts:

  • headline - 30 characters or less
  • body text - 2 sentences or less, including any important, practical messages for users

Strip any formatting (such as bold text) from the banner wording.

The link to the destination page automatically reads ‘More information’.

Content for the banner should be brief and clear. Users are likely to:

  • be in stressful situations
  • need to take immediate action
  • read the banner on a mobile phone

Because the banner will display on every page of GOV.UK, it will also affect how useable the whole site is.


London security incident

There has been a major incident in central London. Public transport is suspended in Zone 1.

More information.

Flooding in south west England

There are severe floods and storms across the south west of England. The M5 motorway is closed.

More information.

Step 3: Organise further publishing with other agencies

As soon as possible after a severe crisis has been identified, the lead agency and a member of the GOV.UK Programme team should arrange a conference call with representatives from the digital teams in relevant departments.

GDS will also nominate a single content-related point of contact to help with any further publishing.

This conference call, and follow-up calls and documentation, will establish:

  • promotion of the agreed single destination from departmental homepages and social media
  • content responsibilities of different departments

If the emergency is severe, GDS can also help with analysis of:

  • search terms used by citizens, to ensure content is optimised
  • performance of destination content (bounce rates, user journeys)