Preparation and planning for emergencies

The Resilience Capabilities Programme aims to increase the capability to respond to and recover from civil emergencies and provides advice on preparing for a crisis.

The Resilience Capabilities Programme (RCP) aims to increase our capability to respond to and recover from civil emergencies. It does this by understanding what capabilities we need to deal with the consequences of emergencies, regardless of whether those emergencies are caused by accidents, natural hazards or man-made threats. The programme then coordinates cross-government efforts to build capabilities.

Response to and recovery from any emergency will call upon a number of different capabilities, which have to be able to work effectively together. Every emergency will call upon the capabilities in a slightly different way. The RCP helps government departments understand the relationships between risk, consequence and capabilities, so that we can articulate the nature of our preparedness more clearly and accurately to ministers.

Each capability is the responsibility of a lead government department. The Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) manages the RCP as a whole.

CCS also works particularly closely with the Resilience and Emergencies Division in the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG 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 Infrastructure Resilience team within Cabinet Office 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. Assessment of capability is overseen by the Resilience Capabilities Programme Board (RCPB) and, ultimately, by the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Resilience, NSC (THRC), which is chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

NSC (THRC) is the National Security Council Ministerial SubCommittee on Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingencies. NSC (THRC) (R) (O) is a committee of officials that support NSC (THRC) on resilience issues.

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 30 May 2018 + show all updates
  1. Out of date information (relating to National Resilience Capabilities Programme work streams) has been removed. New introductory text has been added to the first section.

  2. Linked to new 2014 evacuation and shelter guidance.

  3. First published.