Command, control and coordination

Authorised Professional Practice

This page is from APP, the official source of professional practice for policing.

First published
Written by College of Policing
Civil contingencies
37 mins read

In the event of an emergency or major incident, it is necessary to establish a dedicated command structure.

The civil contingencies command and control structure is based on strategic, tactical and operational commands. The principles of command and control are scalable and can be applied across different levels from national to local and in a multi-agency setting.

For further information see Cabinet Office guidance on emergency response and recovery.

National structure

There is an agreed national framework for managing the local multi-agency response to emergencies. Command, control and coordination are important concepts in a multi-agency response. Single agencies have often used the gold, silver and bronze control structure. In a large-scale, multi-agency coordination situation, this control structure is convened at strategic, tactical and operational levels.

A Cabinet Office briefing room committee (COBR) coordinates the response and recovery at a national level.

For further information see Cabinet Office guidance on control structures.

Cabinet Office briefing rooms

The UK central government response to a significant emergency is underpinned by COBR. The Cabinet Office briefing rooms are the physical location within the Cabinet Office from which the central response is activated, monitored and coordinated.

Ministers and senior officials from relevant departments and agencies, along with representatives from other organisations as necessary, are brought together in COBR. This is to ensure a common appreciation of the situation and to facilitate effective and timely decision-making.

The designated lead department minister or senior official from their department chairs COBR to manage the response and provide clear leadership. The lead government departments (LGDs) responsible for various emergency situations are set out in the list of LGD responsibilities and their roles are clearly defined in guidance.

COBR functions

The COBR structure is designed to be flexible to adapt to the circumstances at hand. COBR can be set at official or ministerial level depending on the seriousness or political relevance of the incident. There might be a number of COBR meetings for a single incident, depending on the length of the incident.

When COBR is activated, or where the incident is of national interest, a government liaison officer (GLO) is dispatched to the strategic coordinating centre (SCC) to act as the primary liaison channel between government departments and local responders. The GLO provides a useful information conduit both to and from COBR, and can flag up requests for additional capability.

A national SitRep template has been agreed and should be completed by the strategic coordinating group (SCG).

COBR oversees the strategic aspects of the response and recovery processes, and can ensure that national assets are provided to support the local activity. This includes the development of a communication strategy.

COBR attendance

COBR requires a response from the police. Depending on where the incident is, the response may be one of the following:

  • National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) chair
  • National Police Coordination Centre (NPoCC) commander
  • National Policing Lead for the cause of the incident
  • local SCG chair and/or police strategic (gold) commander

It is highly likely that the SCG chair or police strategic commander will be required to take part by video- or tele-conferencing to ensure the local perspective is provided to ministers.

COBR can be a challenging environment. If the police strategic commander is also the SCG chair, they must be clear of their distinct role in COBR. As the SCG chair, their update covers all the agencies they are representing. As the police strategic commander, their update is specifically about the police response. It can be difficult to separate these roles and it may be prudent to have a separate police strategic commander in place. When this happens, both the SCG chair and the police strategic commander may be required to contribute to COBR.

Before attending COBR, it is important that the attendee is thoroughly briefed, fully understands their role and is able to answer questions in relation to their areas of responsibility.

COBR updates

The answers to the following questions may help to provide an update in relation to the current position:

  • What have we done?
  • What can we offer?
  • What is the community impact assessment?
  • What is our capability and capacity to respond?
  • What is the impact of the incident on policing?
  • How might the incident evolve?
  • What support might be needed?

Occasionally, questions are asked in COBR that are not within the remit of the police. It is important to recognise when this happens and to deal with it to avoid mission creep.

Local, regional and national coordination

The purpose of control at a national level is to manage coordination across government departments and between multiple local SCGs. The SCG at a local level may request support from regional or national resources.

The police response may escalate from the local level to regional to national, depending on the scenario and the resources required. A local response can be supported by national resources without the situation becoming a national incident.

Details of the operation and coordination of sub-national and national levels of emergency response are outlined in the government’s Emergency Response and Recovery guidance.

The nature and severity of the emergency determines the need for the involvement of the sub-national and national tiers, while its location dictates the potential engagement of the devolved administrations.

Devolved administrations

The devolved administrations inform central government in the same way as local resilience forums (LRFs) to ensure coordination and to maintain an accurate national common recognised information picture (CRIP).

This section describes emergency preparedness and planning arrangements in the devolved administrations, where they differ from UK government and local arrangements in England.

It also outlines how Part 1 of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (CCA) and its associated regulations apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

More detail on the specific duties under the Act and how they apply in the devolved administrations can be found in Emergency preparedness.

Emergency preparedness in Wales

North Wales Police act as the single point of contact (SPOC). For details about the role of the SPOC, see Pan-Wales Response Plan (central notification).The Pan-Wales Response Plan sets out the arrangements for the response to an emergency in, or affecting, Wales. Response arrangements at the local level in Wales are the same as those in England but take into account devolved functions. The CCA pays due cognisance to those organisations whose roles are devolved including fire and rescue, and health.

The Emergency Coordination Centre (Wales), or ECC(W), is a facility established by the Welsh Government to gather and disseminate information in Wales on developing emergencies. It supports the Wales Civil Contingencies Committee (WCCC) and Welsh ministers in providing briefing and advice on emergencies. This facility also provides accommodation and equipment for all other services to work together and links into all three SCGs.

If the emergency is of a magnitude that requires national levels of coordination, it has been agreed that the ECC(W) will act as a conduit for communication. This includes all organisations whether devolved or not. Non-devolved organisations would also communicate through normal channels – for example, police to the NPCC or NPoCC. If emergency regulations are made covering Wales, the UK government must appoint a Wales Emergency Coordinator.

For further information see Welsh civil emergencies website and the UK/Wales Concordat.

Emergency preparedness in Scotland

Scottish emergency response arrangements are based on the same principles as those that apply elsewhere in the UK. These arrangements are outlined in Preparing Scotland. This guidance provides for suitable arrangements to be put in place to establish effective communication and engagement with the UK government depending upon whether the emergency relates to a devolved or a reserved matter. Resilience partnerships in Scotland are similar to LRFs. They operate regionally as regional resilience partnerships focusing on planning and locally as local resilience partnerships predominantly in response to the emergency. Strategic oversight and direction for civil contingencies and resilience is provided through government-led multi-agency governance arrangements. Scottish Ministers have devolved responsibilities related to managing the consequences of emergencies in Scotland.

Although the regional resilience partnerships are active during planning stages, in practical terms during response, multi-agency coordination is routinely configured around local resilience partnerships. These may be established to determine the appropriate management structures and strategy for the local inter-agency response.

Scottish ministers may open the Scottish Government Resilience Room (SGoRR), which gathers and disseminates information, coordinates activity, provides appropriate guidance and supports the Scottish response to emergencies. It provides a national picture of the impact of the emergency, which, in turn, can be used to advise and inform decisions on the strategic management of the situation for the Scottish and UK governments.

For further information see Scottish government civil emergencies website.

Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Office has responsibility for national security matters. It maintains crisis management arrangements to govern the strategic response to such emergencies. Civil protection in Northern Ireland is largely a devolved matter, with functions being exercised by the Northern Ireland departments.

Some functions are not devolved and are delivered in Northern Ireland by bodies that fall within the remit of the UK government. The Civil Contingencies Policy Branch in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister promotes civil contingencies preparedness in Northern Ireland. It maintains arrangements for strategic crisis management in serious and catastrophic emergencies.

Sub-regional and local coordination is achieved by a variety of arrangements, including those involving the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the district councils. The PSNI is a Category 1 responder. Some Category 1 and 2 responders in Northern Ireland are subject to Part 1 of the CCA and its regulations, and guidance issued by UK ministers including the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, and telecommunications providers.

Arrangements are in place to ensure information exchange and coordination in the event of emergencies that cross the border with the Republic of Ireland.

For further details see

Airwave interoperability

The Airwave network is used by all of Great Britain’s emergency services and provides the capability for different organisations to communicate with one another via common talkgroups. Airwave can enable communication in situations where a face-to-face meeting is not possible – for example, while commanders are travelling.

Each local resilience forum (LRF) is expected to have its own jointly agreed standard operating procedure in place for the multi-agency use of the Airwave network. This should set out which talkgroups are used for which purpose. Primary multi-agency talkgroups are hosted by the police, but requests to activate them may come from other organisations. These are routed to control rooms via the police hailing talkgroup. It may not be necessary for the police to join in the talkgroup, but, given their ownership, it is expected that the force will agree to any reasonable request made.

The relevant agencies and commanders should be informed which talkgroup is in use once it has been activated. Interoperability talkgroups should be configured in all control rooms, hand-held and vehicle-mounted radios. It is then agreed which control room will monitor that talkgroup over the course of its operation. Chief officer organisations have stated that monthly tests of this capability should take place to maintain familiarity with procedures.

In addition to the host of multi-agency talkgroups, a series of police-specific mutual aid talkgroups also exist to support cross-boundary operations. How these arrangements are employed in different organisations will vary. The Airwave team in each force can provide further information.

Strategic command

It is essential that appropriate provisions are implemented as soon as possible to support the strategic commander and the SCG.

The scale and nature of this support will be relative to the emergency or major incident.

Strategic coordination centre

The function of the SCC is to provide a location and infrastructure to enable the SCG to coordinate their response. LRFs should have a flexible plan to open elements of an SCC to provide the support necessary for specific incidents.

The SCC may be divided into the following cells or groups as required. These may include:

  • planning, intelligence, resources, logistics, finance and legal cells
  • mass fatalities coordination team
  • recovery working group
  • communication and information group (media group)
  • environment, infrastructure and utilities group
  • government liaison team
  • scientific and technical advice cell (STAC)

Strategic commander

The strategic commander is the identified lead representing each organisation involved in the incident response. The police strategic commander may locally be known as ‘gold’.

The suggested initial actions for a police strategic commander are shown below and take into consideration learning from the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP).

The strategic (gold) commander:

  • sets, reviews and updates the strategy, based on available intelligence and the threat and risk
  • ensures that the strategy is communicated to all relevant commanders and organisations
  • attends and/or chairs an SCG, if established, or considers the need to request that an SCG is set up
  • considers, as chair, whether to appoint a separate police gold commander (recording their decision and rationale)
  • consults partner agencies and community groups when determining the strategy
  • supports decision-making at the tactical level only where appropriate or requested
  • considers setting parameters within which the tactical command can work
  • becomes involved in briefings where appropriate
  • remains available to other agency strategic or tactical tiers of command, to ensure that appropriate communication mechanisms exist at all levels
  • ensures that, where appropriate, command protocols are set, agreed and understood by all relevant parties
  • secures strategic resources in order to resolve the incident
  • ensures that there are clear lines of communication between Category 1 and 2 responders and all appropriate agencies
  • reviews and ensures the resilience and effectiveness of the command team, identifies the requirements for assistance from the wider resilience community and manages them accordingly
  • plans beyond the immediate response phase for recovering from the emergency and returning to normality (considers the appointment of a recovery group lead at an early stage)
  • has overall responsibility within the command structure for health and safety, diversity, equality and human rights compliance, and for ensuring that relevant impact assessments are completed
  • identifies the level of support needed to resolve the incident or operation and resource the police response
  • appoints specialist leads where appropriate, such as senior investigating officer (SIO) and senior identification manager (SIM)
  • has responsibility for the development of communication and media strategies
  • carries out a post-incident hot debrief, and later a structured debrief
  • uses organisational learning to develop an action plan with clear ownership for delivery

Training and approval

When appointing a person to the role of strategic commander for civil emergencies, consideration should be given to the individual’s training and experience in relation to the specific incident being dealt with.

The College of Policing and NPCC have developed a training programme for national civil emergencies strategic commanders. This forms the basis of nationally recognised training. The training involves attendance on a Multi Agency Gold Incident Command (MAGIC) course and a police command course. Competency is maintained by way of deployment or continuous professional development (CPD).

Strategic coordinating group

The purpose of an SCG is to take overall responsibility for the multi-agency management of the emergency, and to establish the policy and strategic framework within which lower levels of command will operate. The SCG:

  • determines and promulgates clear strategic aims and objectives, and reviews them regularly
  • establishes a policy framework for the overall management of the event or situation
  • prioritises the requirements of the tactical tier
  • formulates and implements media and communication plans, possibly delegating this to one responding agency
  • directs planning and operations beyond the immediate response, in order to facilitate the recovery process
  • ensures that the national SitRep template is completed, to promote shared situational awareness across SCG members (before onward transmission to government departments and NPoCC)

The SCG does not have the collective authority to issue executive orders to individual responder agencies. Each organisation retains its own responsibilities and command authority, operating in the normal way.

The SCG sets strategy. This strategy is cascaded to the tactical coordinating group (TCG), which in turn undertakes multi-agency tactical planning. In the event that the incident is ‘bottom up’ and the TCG forms before the SCG (or no SCG is required), they may fulfil both the strategic and tactical planning functions.

TCG representatives cascade their agency requirements and actions to the organisational silvers, who carry out the detailed single agency planning and maintain the command and control of deployed resources.

For further information see JESIP.

Standing strategy

The SCG should be based at an appropriate location away from the scene. The location at which the SCG meets, with its supporting staff in place, is referred to as the SCC. This is usually, but not always, at the headquarters of the lead service or organisation (for example, police headquarters). The location of meetings may change when another agency takes the lead for the Recovery Coordination Group when the focus moves from response to recovery.

The SCG may take more than an hour to set up and obtain a clear picture of unfolding events. This ‘golden hour’ is not restricted to 60 minutes. It is the initial period following the incident occurring when the best opportunities exist to take decisive action. As a first priority, it must formulate a strategy with key objectives that encompass and provide focus for all of the activity of the responding organisations. A standing strategy should be immediately available to promote priority actions. When the SCG meets and gains a full understanding of the situation, they should then review and amend the working strategy, and adjust objectives and priorities as necessary.

JESIP doctrine sets out the following standing strategy to enable immediate response activity in any emergency situation. The aim is to contain the situation in order to save lives and limit the effect of both the direct consequences created by the emergency event and any indirect consequences caused by responder activity.

Governing objectives
  • protect and preserve life
  • mitigate and minimise the impact of challenging events
  • maintain life-support infrastructure and essential services
  • promote restoration and improvement activity in the aftermath of a challenging event
Enabling activity

The following activities need to be in place to promote an effective response:

  • the creation and sharing of an agreed situation report of unfolding events across the responding organisations
  • simplified procedures for making joint decisions and issuing timely direction
  • prioritisation of tasks
  • allocation of finite resources
  • cross-boundary cooperation between partners
Functional activities

The governing objectives above are designed to encompass, but not prioritise (which is the function of commanders at every level), the following list of activities:

  • saving and preserving human life
  • relieving suffering
  • containing the emergency, limiting its escalation and spread
  • providing the public and businesses with warnings, information and advice
  • protecting the health and safety of responding personnel
  • safeguarding the environment
  • protecting property, as far as is reasonably practicable
  • maintaining or restoring critical activities
  • maintaining normal services at an appropriate level
  • promoting and facilitating self-help within the community
  • facilitating investigations and inquiries (by scene preservation, record-keeping)
  • facilitating the recovery of the community (including humanitarian assistance, economic infrastructure and environmental impacts)
  • evaluating the response and recovery effort
  • upholding the rule of law
  • identifying and taking action to implement lessons identified

Where the lessons are longer-term, the SCG should identify an agency to take the learning and implement changes on behalf of all the agencies.

This is supported by a standing agenda for the SCG meeting.

SCG meeting agenda

JESIP doctrine sets out the following SCG meeting agenda template.


Pre-notified seating plan by organisation and name plates for attendees in place.

It is suggested that the SCG chair follows the joint decision model (JDM) for this and subsequent meetings, commencing with clarity and understanding around information and intelligence.

Item lead:

  1. Introductions (by exception and only where deemed necessary).
  2. Declaration of items for urgent attention.
  3. Confirmation of decisions on urgent items.

Adjourn as necessary to action urgent issues:

  1. Situational briefing (including any clarifications or recent updates from chief of staff, information manager and/or attendees by exception only).
  2. Review and agree on the strategy and priorities.
  3. Review outstanding actions and their effect:
    • determine new strategic actions required
    • allocate responsibility for agreed actions
  4. Confirm date and time of next meeting (alongside an established meeting rhythm).


  1. Distribute a record of decisions.
  2. Ensure that the decision log is updated and complete.

For further information see JESIP.

National SitRep template

The aim of the national SitRep template is to ensure that strategic commanders and SCG support functions have the necessary information to inform their collective decision-making. A standard template enables ease of sharing information across borders and also helps to enable the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – Resilience and Emergencies Division (DLUHC-RED) to synthesise the information for onward transmission to COBR.

The SitRep should focus on the strategic dimensions of the emergency. It will be based on operational reporting, but strategic issues should not be obscured by operational detail. The template is intended for use in both civil emergencies and counterterrorism incidents.

The latest version of the template is available on ResilienceDirect™.


ResilienceDirect™ is the UK’s free-to-use, secure web-based platform sharing emergency response and planning information between:

  • category 1 and 2 responders
  • government departments
  • organisations in the UK resilience community

ResilienceDirect™ supports strategic collaboration between partners locally, regionally and nationally, including the devolved administrations. It is administered by the Cabinet Office and can be accessed via any standard internet connection.

ResilienceDirect™ provides a browser-based tool to enable efficient and secure exchange of information during both routine planning and response to emergencies. It provides easy access to centrally stored information, including templates and good practice guidance, and enables timely communication of documents such as CRIPs and SitReps.

The three main elements of the service are information sharing, mapping applications and data visualisation. For more information see ResilienceDirect™. 

For further information watch the ResilienceDirect™ YouTube infomercial

Media and communication strategy

Consideration should be given to how communications will be managed and, if there are target groups, how best to communicate with them. The SCG should agree on the media lines for an incident. The media should be briefed away from the incident and at regular intervals, to minimise intrusion at the scene. It is important that a spokesperson is agreed from all the agencies. Where the incident has national implications, the lead government department should agree on media statements to ensure consistency in messaging.

SCGs are responsible for the development of communication and media strategies. They should ensure that these strategies provide clear guidance on both the resourcing and the effective use of all media (including social media) in major incidents.

For further information see Communicating with the public.

Social media in emergency situations

The increased use of smartphones and social media platforms means that first reports of an incident appear increasingly often on social media. Technological developments advance at a pace, sometimes leaving police and partners playing catch-up. A number of major incident debriefs have identified communication and information-sharing failures as issues that need to be addressed. Social media is a tool that may be used by the public to report emergencies or call for help. There is an expectation that the police and other agencies will be actively engaged in using the technology to create a two-way, real-time channel of communication.

Better use of social media tools may support emergency services to:

  • disseminate information to wider audiences
  • reassure the public that they are responding
  • warn and inform of either rising tide or rapid onset emergencies
  • conduct initial and continuing dynamic risk assessment
  • interact with the public, allaying fears and quelling speculation and rumour
  • monitor networks to better understand public concerns and emerging issues
  • gain a better situational awareness on the ground, to give practical advice and direction to the public to:
    • stay away from sites of concern
    • avoid routes to and from those sites
    • contact the appropriate casualty bureau if they are concerned for relatives and friends
  • improve information sharing and collaboration between agencies
  • confirm that the emergency is over and assist in restoring business and usual

The social network platform Twitter is an online space where news of emergency situations frequently breaks. Responding agencies should consider having an identifiable presence and should understand how to use the platform as an additional source of communication in an emergency.

Responding agencies should identify relevant hashtags that the public are using to follow reports of an emergency situation. The use of these hashtags should be considered to ensure that messages reach the maximum audience. These hashtags can be used in addition to the usual police and multi-agency hashtags.

For further information see Smart Tips.

Tactical commander

First responders are responsible for tactics in the initial stages of an incident. Once the scale and nature of the incident is known, emergency services appoint officers to act as tactical commanders for their organisation. Other agencies may also send representatives to the scene (or other appropriate location) to act as either tactical commanders or coordinators on behalf of their organisations.

Communication and coordination between commanders at a scene is vital. If possible, tactical commanders should be located at a mutually agreed location where they can maintain effective joint command of the operation. This includes effective joint working with other services and other factors, such as access to communications systems. In some circumstances, a visit to the scene may be required.

The tactical commander is likely to be in place before the strategic commander and likely to be the first senior officer taking command of the incident. The tactical commander needs to set priorities before the strategic commander has set a strategy.

In the event of the incident involving fatalities, the police may, at an early stage, appoint a scene evidence recovery manager (SERM), who acts as the disaster scene coordinator. The SERM is responsible to the SIO and SIM.

With major incidents, the initial tactical commander may use the following prompts as considerations in understanding their role:

  • What – what are the aims and objectives to be achieved?
  • Who – who by, what resources are available?
  • When – when are the timescales, deadlines and milestones for delivering tasks?
  • Where – what locations?
  • Why – what is the rationale within the overall aims and objectives set by the strategic commander (if in place)?
  • How – how are these tasks going to be achieved, what barriers to achieving them may be encountered?

Tactical commander actions

The suggested initial actions for a police tactical commander are shown below and take into consideration learning from JESIP.

The overarching aim of the tactical commander is to ensure rapid and effective actions are implemented that save lives, minimise harm and mitigate the incident. The JDM should be used as the standing agenda for TCG meetings. To achieve the overarching aim, commanders need to ensure the following.

  • Be aware of, and understand, the multi-agency command structure, commander roles, responsibilities, requirements and capabilities (including gaps) and monitor the operational command structure, including functioning roles, maintaining regular communications with those commanders.
  • Determine whether the situation merits the activation of the strategic level of coordination and recommend accordingly.
  • Establish a common view of the situation between the responder agencies. Initiate (if appropriate) and identify the chair of a multi-agency TCG at the earliest opportunity, and then ensure shared situational awareness at regular intervals.
  • Construct and agree the overall joint intent, objectives and concept of operations for their achievement within a joint plan. At regular intervals, assess and disseminate the available information and intelligence through the appropriate communication links, to properly evaluate threats, hazards, vulnerabilities, and own actions, in order to establish and maintain multi-agency shared situational awareness and promote effective decision-making.
  • Provide accurate and timely information to notify and protect communities, working with the media and utilising social media through a multi-agency approach. Consider the establishment of a media cell.
  • Understand how continually changing threats and hazards affect each organisation. Work with multi-agency colleagues to conduct joint dynamic risk assessments, putting in place appropriate mitigation and management arrangements to continually monitor and respond to the changing nature of emergencies for the organisation.
  • Ensure the legal and statutory responsibilities for the police are met, and that doctrine is considered in relation to health, safety, human rights, data protection and welfare of individuals during the response.
  • Share and coordinate operational plans to ensure multi-agency compatibility and understanding of both the initial tactical priorities and ongoing tactics.
  • Identify and agree a common multi-agency forward control point for all operational commanders and remain suitably located, in order to maintain effective tactical command of the incident or operation and maintain shared situational awareness.
  • Where required, manage and coordinate multi-agency resources and activities, providing a joined-up and directed response.
  • In a multiple fatality incident, liaise with the SERM and DVI scene coordinator.
  • Ensure that all tactical decisions that are made, as well as the rationale behind them, are documented in a decision log, to ensure that a clear audit trail exists for all multi-agency debriefs and future multi-agency learning. Ensure that those decisions are communicated effectively to appropriate commanders or organisations.
  • Assist with, or make available, debriefing facilities (supporting the operational commander and debriefing them).

As the response to the emergency or major incident develops, the initial tactical commander may be replaced by another officer more senior in rank and one with appropriate training, skills and abilities to perform that role efficiently and effectively.

Tactical control room

The tactical control room should house the resources required to manage a fast-moving incident effectively. This includes an intelligence cell linked to social media through non-identifiable channels, to gather useful information from social media users to assist with the response to the incident. Where this information is open source, there is no requirement for a Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) authority.

The requirement for an authority must be continually reviewed. An example of when a RIPA authority would be required is when access to private information was obtained by accessing a private account without notifying the owner of the account or others who are affected by collateral intrusion.

Tactical coordinating group

All emergency services appoint tactical commanders for their organisations. Other agencies may also send representatives to the scene to act as tactical coordinators. The police tactical commander should bring all these representatives together and form a TCG.

The TCG should meet at an appropriate location as soon as practicable to determine a coordinated response at the tactical level. Appropriate administrative support should be provided, as well as a suitable environment to ensure that an effective meeting can be held. The TCG should be at a location remote from the scene and should provide a multi-agency coordination function.

The TCG should meet as frequently as required by the circumstances of the incident. The meetings are set within an agreed schedule, to ensure that the updates are available to the SCG and nationally. Key decisions should be recorded for audit purposes.

A standard agenda can be used, similar to the one suggested for SCG meetings, but focused on tactical issues. The JDM should be used to assist in forming the standing agenda for TCG meetings.

TCG initial agenda:

  1. Tactical commander introduction.
  2. Introduction of attendees – name and organisation.
  3. Outline of what has happened by TCG chair.
  4. Any urgent actions or issues that require immediate attention or discussion.
  5. Has a major incident been declared? If not, should one be declared?
  6. Identify and agree on any specialist cells that need to be established, such as logistics or voluntary sector coordination.
  7. Updates from identified scene commanders or operational (bronze) as required – most operational updates will be provided by their agency silver. Once the commanders have given their updates, they may leave the tele-conference. This is to allow them to resume their operational duties. Any actions for them will be recorded by the TCG and given to them after the meeting or, if urgent, a TCG member of staff will contact them separately.
  8. Updates from each agency – if weather-related, start with the Met Office followed by the Environment Agency, then each other agency in turn.
  9. Any requests for assistance from partners.
  10. Current command structure – what strategic, tactical and operational commands have been established or need to be established?
  11. Review current membership of TCG – are there any agencies and departments that need to be included in the next meeting?
  12. In the event of no SCG sitting, the TCG may need to consider setting the strategy.
  13. Media and social media – including warning and informing the public. Identify the lead agency for media.
  14. Confirm tactical plan.
  15. Time and date of next meeting.

Subsequent meetings:

Tactical commander introduction

It is suggested that the TCG chair follows the joint decision model for this meeting, commencing with clarity and understanding around information and intelligence.

Introduction of attendees – name and organisation

  1. Any new urgent actions or issues.
  2. Has a major incident been declared? If not, should one be declared?
  3. Review of urgent actions from last meeting.
  4. Tactical and operational updates – any questions for these commanders before they are released from meeting to resume duties?
  5. Incident update from each agency – if weather-related, start with the Met Office followed by the Environment Agency, then each agency in turn.
  6. Any request for assistance from agencies? Are rest centres or evacuation required?
  7. Review and agree command and control, strategy and priorities.
  8. Are there any specialist cells required, such as a media cell?
  9. Review membership of TCG – are there any agencies that need to be included in the next meeting or stood down? Think about group representation.
  10. Any requests for military assistance (to be authorised by gold)?
  11. Business continuity issues.
  12. Media strategy – including warning and informing the public, confirm lead agency for media issues.
  13. Recovery phase – has a Recovery Group been established and does the tactical plan compromise the recovery strategy (set by the SCG)?
  14. Confirm date and time of next meeting (establish meeting pattern in line with SCG and other TCG meetings).

Other items to be considered depending on the incident:

  1. Intelligence update.
  2. Threat levels and security issues.
  3. Mutual aid – central resources required and attending.
  4. Logistics, finance and intelligence cells.
  5. Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) preparedness.
  6. Community tensions (to include overview of any conflict-related crimes and community impact assessments).
  7. Legal issues.

TCG force arrangements

Each force basic command unit (BCU) should ensure that they have arrangements in place to provide tactical coordination in response to a major incident in their area. These arrangements need to:

  • include all agencies and stakeholders
  • ensure clear lines of communication between agencies, stakeholders and the TCG
  • be underpinned by representatives with appropriate training and experience

During large-scale or widespread incidents, many agencies will be responding at a sub-national level, and may not be able to provide representation at a tactical level. Where agencies are responding at SCG level or above, it is the role of the SCG chair to ensure that TCGs are updated with the appropriate information.

In incidents where an SCG is established, TCG responsibilities may be based on a functional or geographical basis. A number of tactical coordinating groups may be required in metropolitan forces in particular and may be in existence at the time of the incident – for example, across a number of boroughs. It is best practice to have one TCG with multi-agency cells to deal with specific issues if this is required.

Operational commander

The operational commander (who may be known locally as ‘bronze’) controls and deploys the resources of their respective service within a functional or geographical area and implements the directions of the tactical commander. As the incident progresses and more resources attend the scene, the level of supervision increases proportionally.

The suggested initial actions for a police operational commander are shown below and take into consideration learning from JESIP.

Initial actions – operational commander

The overarching aim of the operational commander is to ensure that rapid and effective actions are implemented that save lives, minimise harm and mitigate the incident. To achieve, this they need to ensure the following.

  • Make an initial assessment of the situation, conducting a joint dynamic risk assessment. Ensure that appropriate resources are requested and, where appropriate, that a declaration of a major incident and/or a critical incident takes place.
  • Ensure that resources are deployed appropriately to specific roles or locations, such as cordons or traffic management (local authority or highways role). Further resources may be deployed to an identified rendezvous point.
  • Have an understanding of the role of each agency in the effective management and coordination of victims, survivors and relatives.
  • Use the JDM to establish shared situational awareness by agreeing a common view of the situation, its consequences and potential outcomes and the actions required for its resolution.
  • Carry out a briefing at the earliest opportunity. Ensure at regular intervals that the message is clear and commonly understood.
  • Convene joint meetings and use the JDM to share and coordinate information, intelligence and operational plans, to ensure multi-agency compatibility and a clear understanding of the initial tactical priorities and ongoing tactics.
  • Use the JDM to maintain shared situational awareness through effective communication to multi-agency organisations, to assist in the implementation of the operational plan.
  • Use the JDM to construct a joint action plan, and the priorities necessary for its execution, in sufficient detail for each service to have a clear understanding of the other responders’ future activities by nature, location and time. Understand all the multi-agency operational commander roles, core responsibilities, requirements and capabilities (including gaps).
  • Identify and agree the triggers, signals and arrangements for the emergency evacuation of the scene or area within it, or similar urgent control measures.
  • Use the JDM to conduct, record and share ongoing dynamic risk assessments, putting in place appropriate control measures with appropriate actions and review.
  • Understand how continually changing hazards and risks affect each organisation, and work with their multi-agency colleagues to address these issues.
  • Ensure that their legal and statutory responsibilities are met and action them in relation to the health, safety and welfare of individuals from their organisation during the response.
  • Make and share decisions within the agreed level of responsibility, being cognisant of consequence management. Disseminate these decisions for action to multi-agency colleagues.
  • Use the JDM to identify and action the challenges that their organisation’s operational plan may cause multi-agency partners.
  • Determine whether the situation requires the activation of the next level of command support (TCG) and make appropriate recommendations.
  • Update the tactical commander on any changes, including any variation in agreed multi-agency tactics within the geographical or functional area of responsibility.
  • Ensure appropriate support at the scene by the organisation, in terms of communications operatives and loggists. The amount and type of support will be determined by the incident.
  • Consider organisational post-incident procedures, carrying out a hot debrief of staff where appropriate.

It is important that both operational and tactical commanders are easily identifiable on the ground by means of identification tabards. In public order incidents, it may not be appropriate for police commanders to wear a tabard. When this happens, other emergency services should be briefed in how to identify police public order commanders by alternative methods.

First officer at scene

The first officer attending the scene of a major incident should consider the following initial actions:

  • record time of arrival and provide a situation report to the control room using the METHANE mnemonic
  • make a dynamic risk assessment of the scene using the information available
  • take interim charge until replaced by a more senior officer
  • maintain contact with the control room
  • request additional resources if needed
  • do not get involved in the rescue activities
  • identify forward command post if safe to do so
  • identify any victims, casualties or bodies
  • protect the scene, safeguard the evidence and isolate the perimeter, with tape if needed
  • identify possible witnesses
  • identify and arrest suspects (consider cross-contamination)
  • commence scene log

The preservation of life is paramount and should be considered above anything else.

It is important that other emergency services attending the scene are briefed and that a joint risk assessment and shared situational awareness is carried out. Where possible, emergency agencies should initially co-locate and communicate with each other at the forward command post.

This allows agencies to:

  • undertake and coordinate operational command of resources at the scene
  • undertake a joint risk assessment and shared situational awareness
  • appoint roles as required requesting further resources as necessary
  • activate emergency plans
  • set immediate priorities and agree them with other agencies
  • consider early tactical response

Joint decision model

The JDM has been developed through JESIP and is used in the event of an incident involving more than one of the emergency services. The JDM can be used for a rapid onset or a rising tide emergency to enable the establishment of shared situational awareness.

The JDM is based on the police national decision model (NDM). When commanders arrive at the scene of a major incident, it is essential that they can quickly establish what is happening around them and jointly agree a plan of action. The JDM has been adapted from the NDM to enable this to happen.

Joint decision model, with Working together, saving lives, reducing harm

The single difference between the JDM and the NDM is the wording in the central box in the diagram above. The NDM has the Code of Ethics in the centre, whereas the JDM has 'Working together, saving lives, reducing harm'. This does not negate the need for decision-making to comply with the Code of Ethics.

When involved in joint situations, the three emergency services apply the model collectively. For example, they consider and share information, make a shared assessment, and take any respective powers and policies into consideration.

JDM in action

Commanders should use the JDM to help bring together the available information, reconcile objectives and make effective decisions together. Like most decision models, the JDM centres on three primary considerations.

Situation Direction Action
What is happening? What are the impacts? What are the risks? What might happen and what is being done about it? What do you want or need to achieve in the first hour (what are your desired outcomes)? What are the aims and objectives of the emergency response? What overarching values and priorities will inform and guide this? What do you need to do to resolve the situation and achieve your desired outcomes?


Along with a commander’s personal experience and knowledge of any given situation, the JDM is designed to help commanders make effective decisions together.

Strict adherence to the JDM should be secondary to achieving desired outcomes, particularly in time-sensitive situations.

The JDM has six key elements. Each of the following components provide the user with an area for focus and consideration:

  • gather information and intelligence
  • assess risks and develop a working strategy
  • consider powers, policies and procedures
  • identify options and contingencies
  • take action and review what happened
  • working together, saving lives, reducing harm

Gathering information and intelligence

The first stage of the JDM helps commanders gather all known information – or situational awareness – about the emergency. Commanders should ask:

  • What is happening?
  • What are the impacts?
  • What are the risks?
  • What might happen?
  • What is being done about it?

Shared situational awareness is achieved by sharing information and understanding between the involved organisations to build a stronger, multi-dimensional understanding of events, their implications, associated risks and potential outcomes. Responders cannot assume that other emergency service personnel see things or say things in the same way. A sustained effort is required to reach a common view and understanding of events, risks and their implications. JESIP has instigated the use of a common model, METHANE, to help all those involved in emergency response with the consistent and effective way of sharing incident information.

Assess risks and develop a working strategy

The second stage of the JDM prompts commanders to ensure that they have reviewed and understood all risks, so that appropriate control measures can be put in place. Understanding risk is central to emergency response. One of the major challenges in successful joint emergency response is for responders to build and maintain a common understanding of the full range of risks, and the way that those risks may be increased or controlled by decisions made and actions taken by the emergency responders.

Consider powers, policies and procedures

The third stage of the JDM aims to ensure that commanders have considered the following when planning their joint response:

  • Which relevant laws, standard operating procedures and policies apply?
  • How do these influence joint decisions?
  • How do they constrain joint decisions?

In the context of a joint response, a common understanding of any relevant powers, policies and procedures is essential, so that the activities of one service complement, and do not compromise, the approach of the other services. This may also include considering all the capabilities that services can provide to find the most appropriate for the incident.

Identify options and contingencies

The fourth step of the JDM reminds commanders to consider all potential options when planning the joint response. For every potential option or contingency, commanders should consider the:

  • suitability
  • feasibility
  • acceptability

There will almost always be more than one option for achieving the desired end-state, and it is good practice that a range of options is identified and rigorously evaluated by commanders. Whichever option is chosen, it is essential that responders are clear about what they are required to carry out. Where the option is time-critical, there should be clearly agreed procedures for communicating any decision to defer, abort or initiate a specific tactic.

Take action and review what happened

The fifth step of the JDM is about reviewing what has taken place and, if required, re-evaluating and amending plans. Building situational awareness, setting direction and evaluating options all lead to taking the actions that are judged to be the most effective and efficient in resolving an emergency. As the JDM is a continuous loop, it is essential that the results of agreed actions are fed back into the first box of the model – gather information and intelligence – which establishes shared situational awareness. This will, in turn, shape any revision to the direction of work and risk assessment as the cycle continues. The JDM can be used in any multi-agency response environment. It is designed to be used in fast-moving, dynamic situations but can equally be applied to pre-planning activity or more slowly evolving situations. JESIP e-learning packages are available to help staff learn more and test their knowledge. At the end of each package, a completion confirmation can be produced and either printed or saved and emailed for reference. Staff should check with their employer about how completion of JESIP e-learning is collated in their own organisation if they wish to have it considered as part of their CPD.

Working together, saving lives, reducing harm

Joint decisions must be made with reference to the overarching or primary aim of any response to an emergency: to save lives and reduce harm. This is achieved through a coordinated, multi-agency response. Decision-makers should have this uppermost in their minds throughout the decision-making process.

The mission of policing is to prevent crime and protect the public. The objectives of saving lives and reducing harm are, therefore, entirely consistent with the police mission and the Code of Ethics.

In working towards the JESIP objectives, police personnel are expected to act with the principles and standards of professional behaviour outlined in the Code of Ethics, such as integrity, honesty, respect, fairness and selflessness.

Decisions involving sharing information

Decision-making in the context of an emergency, including decisions involving the sharing of information, does not remove the statutory obligations of agencies or individuals, but it is recognised that such decisions are made against an overriding priority to save life and reduce harm.

Personal data and sensitive personal data (including police intelligence) requires further consideration before it is shared across agencies. The JDM can be used as a tool to guide decision-making on what to release and to whom.

In particular, in considering the legal and policy implications, the following are relevant:

  • A legal framework to share information is required – in an emergency situation, this generally comes from common law (the saving of life/property), the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 or the CCA.
  • Formal information sharing agreements (ISAs) may exist between some or all responding agencies, but their existence does not prohibit the sharing of information outside these ISAs.
  • There should be a specific purpose for sharing information.
  • The information shared needs to be proportionate to the purpose and no more than necessary.
  • The need to inform the recipient if any of the information is potentially unreliable or inaccurate.
  • The need to ensure that the information is shared safely and securely. It must comply with the Government Security Classifications if appropriate.
  • The following should be recorded:
    • which information is shared
    • when
    • with whom
    • why

METHANE situation report

The METHANE mnemonic should be used when passing information between emergency responders and control rooms, to enable the establishment of shared situational awareness. This information sharing forms the basis of the principles outlined by JESIP.

METHANE should be used for a series of dynamic situation reports as and when additional information becomes available. The first situation report could be brief, but subsequent reports may be more detailed.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) provides scientific and technical advice to support government decision makers during emergencies. SAGE is responsible for ensuring that timely and coordinated scientific advice is made available to decision makers to support UK cross-government decisions in COBR. The advice provided by SAGE does not represent official government policy.

Scientific and technical advice cell

A STAC provides an SCG with unambiguous and timely information about potential and actual scientific, technical and public health implications of an emergency or major incident.

A STAC is normally chaired by a senior public health professional (such as director of public health). Its composition and function is determined by the nature and scale of the incident and local requirements. The STAC chair normally sits on the SCG to represent all agencies in the STAC.

Where the incident is related to a cyber event, then a cyber technical advice cell (CTAC) will be formed with representation from the National Security Cyber Centre (NSCC).

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