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National emergency publishing guidelines

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

Introduction

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

In the event of a crisis, a lead government agency will have been pre-agreed by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat. (Often, but not always, the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR) will also be involved.)

This lead agency will be expected to co-ordinate digital activity across government. They will be responsible for ensuring GOV.UK provides a single source of government information on the crisis, and that there is a high quality user journey between all the information issued by all the agencies involved in crisis response.

As a first step, the agency should nominate a digital co-ordinator. This would typically be the head of the department digital team.

This co-ordinator would then work swiftly through the following steps.

Step 1: Establish a destination page on GOV.UK

Crisis response on GOV.UK will typically begin by the agency establishing a single GOV.UK page to be used as the primary digital destination promoted by government.

Typically this will be a new news article, but this is flexible. In the case of overseas crises, it could be a worldwide or travel advice page for example, or an existing guide for a farming crisis.

The page should be frequently editioned as the emergency situation changes, and should be closely curated. 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 should lead with the key information for the public, and then link out to more detailed information held elsewhere. The Woolwich newsroom article is a good guide to structure. A link to this page should be given to news media.

It should be given a title with keywords specific to the incident, but broad enough to allow for updates, eg:

  • Woolwich incident: government response

  • Woolwich incident: government updates

  • Woolwich incident: government information and advice

Step 2: Secure GOV.UK homepage updates and GDS emergency support

This applies only to crisis situations in which there is an immediate risk to life, and which demand immediate mass public action.

The digital co-ordinator in the lead department should make contact with the Government Digital Service (GDS) Operations Manager to:

  • put the GOV.UK homepage into ‘national emergency’ mode

  • secure technical support for time-critical content updates

GOV.UK emergency contact phone numbers

The GDS Operations Manager will confirm the identity of the caller, and verify that the emergency is of a scale covered by these procedures.

The lead department must supply the form of words to publish on the GOV.UK homepage (see Appendix 1).

The standard lag time between publishing content and it going live on the site is 30 minutes. In the case of an emergency, the Operations Manager can force updates to go live within 10 minutes.

The message to the public should be to ‘visit GOV.UK for the latest information’.

Step 3: Crisis content co-ordination

As soon as possible after a severe crisis has been identified, the lead department and GOV.UK government 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 for crisis communications.

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

For a severe crisis, 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)

Appendix 1

GOV.UK homepage options

We will usually deploy our emergency homepage, with a red banner. This will link to the emergency information page published in step 2.

The lead department must supply the wording for this banner to the Operations Manager, and specify where it needs to link to.

Wording should be kept to 2 short sentences plus a link, for example:

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

There has been a major incident in Manchester. Police advise residents to stay indoors. More information.

We will also put this wording and link in a banner across every page on the site.

The lead department must ensure that this wording reflects the incident as it develops.

Version history

Version 1.0 – approved by GOV.UK steering group, July 2013