Preparation and planning for emergencies: the National Resilience Capabilities Programme

Guidance on who responds to what in the event of an emergency and advice on being prepared for a crisis.

The National Resilience Capabilities Programme (NRCP) aims to increase the capability of the United Kingdom to respond to and recover from civil emergencies. It does this by building capability to deal with the consequences that are common to most types of emergency, regardless of whether those emergencies are caused by accidents, natural hazards or man-made threats.

Capability to respond to emergencies encompasses a number of interdependent and interrelated factors including appropriate numbers and types of personnel, the right types of equipment and supplies, relevant and sufficient training and exercising, clear plans etc.

The purpose of the programme is to identify, challenge and monitor the current levels of capability in each of the areas covered by the workstreams. The information gathered on how much capability each workstream has delivered is then used to provide assurance to ministers on how ready the UK is to respond to civil emergencies.

Each of the 22 workstreams is the responsibility of a lead government department, but the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) manages the programme as a whole. CCS works with each lead government department to:

  • understand what capability is needed to meet the requirements of the National Resilience Planning Assumptions
  • measure on a regular basis the level of workstream capability, taking into account information available at the national and local levels

CCS also works particularly closely with the Resilience and Emergencies Division in the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG RED), which is able to feed in information about how the local level is building capability and how well the local and national levels are working together.

The assessment of capability is overseen by the National Resilience Capabilities Programme Board (NRCPB) and, ultimately, by the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Resilience, NSC (THRC), which is chaired by the Prime Minister. NSC (THRC) is the National Security Council Ministerial Sub-Committee on Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingencies. NSC (THRC) (R) (O) is a committee of officials that supports NSC (THRC) on resilience issues.

The programme is intended to cover the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (the devolved administrations). In some cases the responsibility for delivering particular aspects of a response to an emergency rests with the devolved administrations.

Workstreams within the National Resilience Capabilities Programme

Structural workstreams

These workstreams make sure that the frameworks for coordinating and directing an emergency response are in place.

Central response: Cabinet Office

This workstream supports central government departments to work together effectively in responding to an emergency. Cabinet Office does this by creating crisis management arrangements that are understood and used across all of central government.

Local resilience: Cabinet Office and Department for Communities and Local Government

This workstream supports local resilience partners in England so they can carry out their duties under the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) to plan for, respond to and recover from emergencies; encourage responders to work together across agencies and areas; and make sure that the local and national levels are joined up in the response to an emergency.

Functional workstreams

These workstreams build capability against specific types of consequences of major incidents.

Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) resilience: Home Office

This aims to ensure that the UK is able to respond quickly and effectively to and recover from emergencies involving chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear material. Some of the capabilities relevant to the National Resilience Capabilities Programme will be delivered by devolved administrations as per the devolution settlement.

Infectious diseases: Department of Health

This workstream aims to build capability to respond quickly and effectively in treating people as part of an emergency response to a serious infectious disease outbreak. Find out more information on NHS emergency preparedness from the NHS Commissioning Board.

Animal diseases: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

This ensures that the UK is able to respond to and minimise the spread of exotic notifiable animal diseases, such as foot and mouth disease and avian influenza.

Mass casualties: Department of Health

This aims to make sure that emergency responders and the NHS are able to cope with large numbers of injured people following a major incident. Additional information on emergency preparedness in the NHS is available through the NHS Commissioning Board.

Evacuation & shelter: Cabinet Office

This workstream aims to make sure that flexible evacuation and shelter arrangements are in place across the UK in the event of a major incident.

Mass fatalities: Home Office

This aims make sure that the UK is able to respond to an incident involving large numbers of fatalities. This includes being able to recover, store and identify the deceased in a safe and appropriate way and to return them to their families as soon as is practically possible.

Flooding: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Environment Agency

This aims to make sure that the UK can respond to severe river, ground water and coastal flooding. This includes being able to evacuate, rescue and shelter people affected by flooding, and ensuring that river and coastal defences in England are maintained.

Site clearance: Department for Communities and Local Government

This workstream ensures that the UK is ready to respond to incidents that create large amounts of rubble and debris, including rescuing trapped people.

Supporting workstreams

These workstreams build capabilities that are needed in all types of major incident.

Resilient telecommunications: Cabinet Office

This workstream makes sure that responders are able to communicate effectively with each other and the public in the response to an emergency. Find out more about telecoms resilience.

Warning & informing: Cabinet Office

This workstream makes sure that responders can warn and inform the public in the response to an emergency and to support responders in their duty to raise public awareness of risk.

Humanitarian assistance: Department for Culture, Media and Sport

The aim of this workstream is to make sure that the needs of British people affected by emergencies at home and overseas are understood and properly considered within government in planning for, responding to and recovering from emergencies.

Community & corporate resilience: Cabinet Office

This aims to make sure that individuals and families, private and public sector organisations and local communities have the information and support they need to prepare for emergencies and increase their ability to help themselves when emergencies occur.

Recovery: Cabinet Office

This workstream aims to make sure that individuals and families, private and public sector organisations and local communities are able to recover quickly and effectively from emergencies. Recovery might mean ensuring that demands on public services have returned to normal levels, utilities are fully functional, transport is running normally and businesses are trading as usual. Further information is set out in the National Recovery Guidance.

Interoperability: Cabinet Office

This workstream coordinates developments across government, supporting the delivery of compatible and coherent systems, procedures and equipment so that emergency responders can conduct large scale joint operations efficiently in the response to major emergencies. The interoperability workstream operates in collaboration with the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme and other specialist response initiatives.

Essential services workstreams

These build the capabilities needed to respond to the loss or disruption of 6 key sectors * health (Department of Health) * food & water (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) * transport (Department for Transport) * energy (Department of Energy and Climate Change) * telecommunications & postal services (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) * financial services (HM Treasury)

The capability developed through these workstreams comes within the remit of the NRCP. However, the Infrastructure Resilience team within Cabinet Office works on developing this capability. This team works with infrastructure owners and operators, regulators, trade associations and other government departments to ensure that the UK’s most critical infrastructure can withstand, absorb, respond to and recover from disruption from major incidents.

Warning and informing the public

The government believes communicating with the public about emergencies is essential. This section outlines what we mean by warning and informing the public, and how organisations should go about raising public awareness of the risks of emergencies, and warning them and providing information and advice at the time of an emergency.

Why warn and inform?

The government believes a well-informed public is better able to respond to an emergency and to minimise the impact of the emergency on the community. By informing the public as best they can, all organisations will build their trust. Part of this is also avoiding alarming the public unnecessarily.

Communicating before emergencies

Organisations should aim to make the public aware of the risks of emergencies and how the organisation is prepared to deal with them if they occur.

The risk section and emergency planning section provide more detail on how to go about risk assessment and planning, and the importance of publishing this information. There is also specific guidance available on communicating risk.

When deciding what to publish, organisations should consider whether publication will assist in dealing with an emergency, particularly by creating a more-informed public. It may make sense for organisations to group together in publishing information. It may not be necessary to publish whole risk assessments or plans. There may be sensitive information which needs to be edited out. And organisations should aim to help the public be alert but not alarmed - excessive information may alarm the public unnecessarily.

The simplest and most cost-effective way of publishing information is on the web. But paper copies should also be available where people do not have access to the web (for instance, in public libraries). All materials produced should look interesting and attractive enough for people to want to read it - otherwise it will be a waste of resource. Particular care should be taken to reach vulnerable people or those who may not understand the message (such as the elderly or children in schools).

Being prepared to communicate during emergencies

In many circumstances, it will be the government that first provides warning that an emergency is about to occur or is occurring. The government is ready to warn and inform the public about the whole range of possible emergencies.

But other organisations may need to ensure they too have arrangements in place to warn, inform and advise the public. In particular, organisations whose functions are likely to be seriously obstructed by an emergency or those who expect to take action in relation to that emergency and would require a redeployment of resources or additional resources to do so (eg emergency services or local authorities).

Confusion would be caused, however, if more than one organisation were to plan to warn the public about the same risk at the same time to the same extent. To avoid duplication, those organisations whose functions are affected by an emergency should aim to co-operate and identify which organisation will take lead responsibility for warning and informing in regard to a particular emergency. Organisations should also ensure that they do not duplicate warning arrangements which may already be in place in other organisations. For instance, utilities companies have a duty under their own regulatory frameworks to provide warning, information and advice in certain circumstances when their services are interrupted.

As with any other part of planning for response to an emergency, the communications strategy for warning and informing - either direct with the public, or via the media - should be fully integrated into the responder’s emergency plans. Organisations should test their warning and informing arrangements as they would emergency plans, through exercising and providing training to staff. Just as there may be generic and specific emergency plans, so there may be generic and specific arrangements for warning and informing, depending on the type of emergency being planned for and the particular circumstances in a locality. The emergency planning guide provides more detail.

What information is needed when?

Organisations engaged in warning and informing will need to think carefully about what information different audiences will want, and when, in an emergency.

For instance, immediately when an emergency occurs, and during the first hour:

The public needs:

  • basic details of the incident - what, where, when (and who, why and how, if possible)
  • to know the implications for health and welfare
  • advice and guidance (eg stay indoors, symptoms, preparing for evacuation) and reassurance (if necessary)

The public wants to know:

  • other practical implications such as the effect on traffic, power supplies, telephones, water supplies, etc
  • a helpline number
  • what is being done to resolve the situation

Broadcasters will require:

  • well-thought-out and joined-up arrangements between the emergency services, local authority and other organisations, capable of providing agreed information at speed
  • an immediate telephone contact
  • a media rendezvous point at the scene (adapted from the BBC’s Connecting in a Crisis)

Warning methods

The methods available to deliver urgent information to members of the public are extremely varied. Some depend on the availability of power supplies or phone lines. Some may require careful consideration of the risks to human life and health, in case at the time of an emergency staff or members of the public are exposed to hazardous substances while they are warning or being warned.

Some warning methods include:

  • mobilising officers to go round on foot and knock on doors
  • from car or helicopter, by loudhailer or other amplified means
  • media announcements
  • electronic/variable message boards, eg at the roadside or on motorways
  • direct radio broadcasts to shipping (in maritime incidents)
  • PA announcements in public buildings, shopping centres, sports venues, transport systems, etc
  • automated telephone/fax/e-mail/text messages to subscribers
  • site sirens

Working with the media

All organisations should be familiar with the media organisations and outlets in their own areas, and should aim to develop good relations with them. The BBC’s Local Radio service is recognised as an emergency broadcaster for the UK and its editors can be contacted for advice and to agree contact details and processes in the event of an emergency.

Planning before a crisis is key and the importance of a good pre-existing relationship between those in the media and those involved in emergency planning and work during a crisis cannot be overestimated. Editors’ contact details can be found via the BBC’s Connecting in a Crisis or for further advice please contact

The key to effective communication with the public is getting the message right for the right audience. How information and advice are delivered can greatly affect how they are received. Organisations should give careful thought ahead of any emergency about who may act as their official spokespeople and undertake media interviews. Clearly these people will need suitable training. Other public facing people in the responder community should have a basic level of information so that they can handle inquiries confidently.

Warning and informing at the local level

The Civil Contingencies Act includes public awareness and warning and informing as 2 distinct legal duties for Category 1 responders - advising the public of risks before an emergency and maintaining arrangements to warn and keep them informed in the event of an emergency.

The duties to assess risks and to prepare plans are coupled with a further duty to publish all or part of this information where it is necessary or desirable to prevent, reduce, control, mitigate or take other action in connection with an emergency.

The Act regulations allow for Category 1 responders to co-operate for the purpose of identifying an organisation which will have lead responsibility for maintaining arrangements to warn in regard to a particular emergency.

Warning, informing and advising the public is not a stand-alone duty. It should be integrated into the responder’s emergency plans, and just as there may be generic and specific plans, so there may be generic and specific warning and informing arrangements. Likewise, just as emergency plans should make provision for training and carrying out exercises, so should warning and informing arrangements.

The Act allows for Category 1 responders to discharge their duties collaboratively.

In many areas, particularly those where there are long-standing known hazards such as nuclear power stations or extensive industrial complexes, there are also local groupings of organisations and the media.

Warning and informing at the UK level

Media Emergency Forum (MEF)

Through the UK Media Emergency Forum (MEF), senior media editors, government representatives and representatives of local responders work together to help ensure that all parties can operate more effectively when an emergency occurs. Their work includes identification and discussion of strategic communications issues, overarching policy for engagement of the media in civil protection work at every level, planning practical arrangements for media involvement during emergencies and building trust and confidence on all sides.

Evacuation and shelter guidance

The non-statutory guidance on evacuation and shelters updates the 2006 guidance for local emergency planners. It sets out the issues that local planners will need to consider and tailor to local circumstances, and has been produced to support responders in meeting their legal responsibilities. It is intended to help responders to develop flexible plans for evacuation and shelter that can be used in a wide range of scenarios and that reflect work undertaken across the country to develop evacuation and shelter plans. It also shares good practice.

Useful documents

You should refer to:

Published 20 February 2013
Last updated 27 January 2014 + show all updates
  1. Linked to new 2014 evacuation and shelter guidance.
  2. First published.