National Resilience

Definition of an Emergency

The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 defines an emergency as the following:

“An event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare in a place in the United Kingdom (i.e. Loss of human life, human illness or injury, energy or fuel, disruption of a system of communication, disruption of facilities for transport, or disruption of services relating to health).

An event which threatens serious damage to the environment of a place in the United Kingdom (i.e. Contamination of land, water or air with biological, chemical or radioactive matter, or disruption or destruction of plant life or animal life).

War, or terrorism, which threatens serious damage to the security of the United Kingdom.”

Large-Scale Emergencies

During the early 2000s, the United Kingdom experienced the impacts of a number of large-scale emergencies. The widespread flooding and fuel shortages of 2000 and the outbreak of foot and mouth in 2001, along with the terrorist attacks in New York on 9/11, showed there was a need for a more integrated approach to emergency planning.

The impacts led to a Government review of emergency planning and the creation of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. The Civil Contingencies Act divides local responders into two categories, imposing a different set of duties for each agency. The Act requires that emergency responders co-operate and share information in order to efficiently and effectively prepare for, and respond to emergencies and ensure the response is coordinated.

The Act is separated into two substantive parts: local arrangements for civil protection (Part 1); and emergency powers (Part 2). Part 1 of the Act and supporting regulations and statutory guidance ‘Emergency Preparedness’, establish a clear set of roles and responsibilities for those involved in emergency preparation and response at the local level.

Category 1 responders, also referred to as 'Core Responders' are subject to the full set of civil protection duties.

They are required to:

  • Assess the risk of emergencies occurring and use this to inform contingency planning.
  • Put in place emergency plans.
  • Put in place business continuity management arrangements.
  • Put in place arrangements to make information available to the public about civil protection matters and maintain arrangements to warn, inform and advise the public in the event of an emergency.
  • Share information with other local responders to enhance co-ordination.
  • Co-operate with other local responders to enhance co-ordination and efficiency.
  • Provide advice and assistance to businesses and voluntary organisations about business continuity management (local authorities only).

Category 2 responders are the ‘cooperating bodies’ – the health and safety executive / transport / utility companies. They are less likely to be involved in the core of the planning work, but will be heavily involved in incidents that affect their own sector.

Part 2 of the Act allows for the making of temporary special legislation (emergency regulations) to help deal with the most serious of emergencies. The use of emergency powers is a last resort option and planning arrangements at the local level should not assume that emergency powers will be made available. Part 2 of the Act was brought into force in December 2004.