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Why do we plan?

Find out why responding agencies plan for emergencies and the different types of plans that exist.

Why plan?

In 2004 the Government introduced a new piece of legislation, the Civil Contingencies Act, to improve the resilience of the country. This would be achieved through an enhanced ability to respond effectively to emergencies created from the way in which organisations, such as police and local authorities, plan and prepare for these events. A key way in which these organisations prepare for responding to disasters, is through the development of a multi-agency response plan.

Generally speaking, emergency plans lay down the roles and responsibilities of each organisation required to respond, enabling a consistent and thorough response that is well known and practices by each authority involved.

There are several different types of plan that may be written to help in the joint agency response to an emergency:

Generic plans

These plans are designed to cover the consequences of a wide variety of emergencies over a wide geographical area. These include general-purpose contingency plans, which detail the response role of the local authority in an emergency.

Specific plans

These are prepared for specific sites, which might include large industrial sites, airports and stadia. Most sites like this should have a plan for emergencies.

On-site and off-site plans

These are also site specific plans, but they relate to sites that are governed under specific regulations. For example, a site that is governed under the COMAH Regulations would be legally required to have and maintain both an on-site and an off-site plan. On-site plans relate to working practices within the site boundaries, hazardous materials, personnel and initial response measures in an emergency. The off-site plan will normally relate to response outside of the site for measures such as cordons, public information, rest centres, access arrangements and evacuation considerations.

Risk-specific plans

Risk-Specific plans are developed for a single type of emergency and generally cannot be applied to other forms of emergency. These include plans for risks such as rabies, fuel crisis and flooding.

Key elements of an emergency plan

The plans of the various organisations, which participate in emergency response and recovery, can vary greatly. Local Authority plans will normally deal with planning the authority's response in support of the Emergency Services, and recovery from an incident, whilst still maintaining the essential council services.

An emergency plan will normally contain the following:

  • Call-out arrangements and alerting cascades
  • Key personnel lists
  • Management arrangements and structures
  • Security arrangements
  • Public information
  • Media handling and response
  • Communication strategies
  • Data relating to the site, geography, population etc
  • Designated emergency centres and rest centres
  • Recovery strategies
  • Financial arrangements / authorisation

Once a plan has been written it will be sent out to any organisations involved in its enforcement for consultation. Any valid suggestions for change are made before it is published and put into effect.

Plan validation

A plan can be validated in a number of ways, but the most common way is through the use of exercises. These are aimed at testing the plan as a whole, or a specific section of the plan. Exercising can take either a 'live' form or may be done as a tabletop exercise i.e. a theoretical 'run through'. A 'live' exercise will aim to replicate an emergency as much as possible and is best for testing the plan to its fullest. A tabletop exercise will normally consist of a single procedure test, using paper injects to co-ordinate the development of the emergency and to make sure that a specific area of the plan is tested. Following the exercise, the plan will be revised if any shortcomings have been identified.


Another vital requirement of making sure a plan will work is to make sure that all those involved have been trained in their personal and their agencies role in the response. With regular training a good plan should be effective and easy to implement. Training is also available to those in a response role at the Emergency Planning College, which is run by the Cabinet Office and offers training in all areas of emergency response and recovery.

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