Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Response and recovery

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
19 mins read

Response and recovery arrangements should follow a common set of underlying principles, but should also be flexible and able to be tailored to reflect individual circumstances.

This common framework contributes to a cohesive multi-agency response and good shared situational awareness.

For further information see Cabinet Office guidance on Emergency Response and Recovery.

Response and recovery objectives

The response to and recovery from any emergency or major incident needs to be managed flexibly depending on the circumstances. Emergency Response and Recovery guidance outlines eight principles that underpin this response and recovery process.

The principles apply across tiers at all levels.

The response and recovery process consists of the following phases:


This is the first phase of the response process. Key activities for the reaction phase include:

  • completing a METHANE report
  • coordinating initial reports
  • declaring a major incident, when appropriate
  • activating the response framework and/or local emergency plans
  • activating notification cascades to relevant people
  • establishing a command and control structure (multi-agency, where appropriate) for the incident
  • establishing an Airwave communications interoperability plan
  • activating command support functions
  • identifying and deploying resources
  • identifying safe and suitable rendezvous points
  • considering initial health and safety guidance for responding personnel
  • declaring a mobilisation
  • containing measures to prevent escalation of the incident
  • implementing business continuity management plans, if required
  • consideration of public health advice and establishing a scientific and technical advice cell (STAC)

Police control room

This is likely to be the initial point of contact when an emergency or major incident occurs.

On initial contact, the control room should:

  • facilitate the deployment of first responders
  • gather information about the incident using the METHANE mnemonic
  • advise and support first responders where necessary
  • declare a major incident or determine whether one has been declared
  • advise partner agencies that a major incident has been declared
  • if appropriate, establish a three-way conference call with the fire and ambulance control rooms to ensure shared situational awareness
  • activate force response framework or local emergency plans
  • establish contact with the initial tactical commander
  • facilitate a forward command post
  • facilitate a command structure
  • maintain a communications log that includes event information, as well as health and safety risk assessments
  • consider the possibility of the incident involving hazardous or CBRN materials

Initial responders

On arrival at the scene, initial responders should:


The priorities in this phase are:

  • for the emergency services to rescue casualties and survivors
  • to ensure that appropriate medical attention is given as soon as possible

The police retain responsibility within the inner cordon for CBRN or counterterrorism incidents. In other incidents, the fire and rescue service may assume responsibility for operations within an inner cordon. The police service and the fire and rescue service should be jointly responsible for the scene access control point and maintenance of the inner cordon.

Key actions for this phase may include:

  • rescuing all casualties and survivors
  • decontaminating casualties and survivors (if required)
  • implementing cordon control arrangements
  • providing triage, treatment, stabilisation and transportation of casualties to receiving hospitals
  • establishing a survivors reception centre
  • establishing a media reception point
  • facilitating access for responding partner agencies

The police become responsible for the area within an inner cordon once the rescue is concluded and the area is deemed safe.

Retrieval and investigation

Key actions for this phase may include:

  • early integration within the existing scene command structure to ensure shared situational awareness
  • implementing the forensic strategy for the scene, which is provided by the senior investigating officer in consultation with the senior identification manager
  • recovering deceased people and human remains in accordance with disaster victim identification (DVI) principles
  • establishing a victim audit area (VAA) or areas, as required
  • retrieving personal effects
  • securing and retrieving evidence from the scene
  • ensuring involvement of key personnel, such as the coroner
  • compiling an ongoing community impact assessment
  • preparing for the handover of lead coordinating agency responsibility

Victim audit area

The victim audit area (VAA) should be in a discrete location, near the scene of the incident, where deceased people can be taken prior to removal to a mortuary. The deceased can be taken to a VAA where audit and quality control processes can be completed. The VAA should be staffed by appropriately trained personnel.


The recovery phase is usually coordinated by local authorities. Actions taken during the early stages of the response can significantly influence the recovery process. It is advisable to consider the recovery phase at an early stage.

A recovery working group (RWG), generally chaired by an executive member of the local authority, is established during the response process. The chair of the RWG is expected to sit on the strategic coordinating group (SCG).

During the response process, the SCG should determine the criteria for establishing when the lead coordinating authority passes from the lead agency to the local authority. There should be a formal handover from the lead agency to the local authority to clearly mark the change of responsibility. This occurs at a time agreed by the SCG.

At this time, the SCG becomes the recovery coordinating group (RCG), absorbing the role of the RWG. The police should be represented at the RCG. Police officers and staff can be deployed to support the work of the RCG where appropriate.

The recovery process consists of the:

Lead coordinating authority

Local authorities lead the coordination of the recovery process, including chairing and providing the secretariat of the RCG. The RCG links into the regional or national organisations required to support the recovery process. The procedures to transfer the role of lead coordinating authority from the police to the local authority should be agreed by the SCG prior to it evolving into the RCG.

Before handing over lead coordination agency responsibility, the SCG should be satisfied that:

  • there is no known further risk to life
  • there are no serious public disorder or crime prevention issues that may have an impact on the overall strategic coordination of the incident
  • the fire and rescue service and ambulance service are operating at a level that does not require the police service to coordinate and facilitate their activity
  • circumstances dictate that it is more appropriate for the responsibility to rest with the local authority
  • the focus of the strategic command, control and coordination is on recovery rather than response
  • the local authority is confident in assuming the role
  • the local authority is satisfied that they have the infrastructure and processes ready to assume the role

Relief phase

The priority of the relief phase is to provide initial relief to those people directly affected by the emergency or major incident. It commences early during the incident, and can run concurrently with the rescue phase during the response process.

Although the overall coordination of the incident is led by the police, local authorities and supporting agencies are responsible for the relief phase.

Key actions of this phase include:

  • assessing the needs of survivors and evacuees
  • providing rest centres
  • providing water, food, clothing and shelter
  • establishing a family and friends reception centre
  • providing public health advice
  • providing information to the public and businesses
  • assessing community cohesion issue

Remediation phase

Local authorities usually coordinate this phase. The key elements are:

  • providing medium-term and long-term support to survivors and evacuees
  • making good the area affected

The remediation phase may involve:

  • establishing a humanitarian assistance centre
  • developing an action plan for handing back buildings or areas within cordons to the appropriate owners
  • site clearance
  • restoring public services
  • holding public meetings with those affected by the incident
  • coordinating action by insurers to facilitate recovery

Regeneration phase

This phase addresses the long-term consequences of the emergency or major incident. Measures to prevent or reduce the likelihood or impact of such an event occurring again should be considered, with a view to improving the area affected beyond a level that existed prior to the incident. Local authorities usually coordinate this phase.

This may involve:

  • consulting on regeneration matters
  • identifying measures to promote economic regeneration
  • monitoring long-term health
  • rebuilding affected areas where required
  • considering memorials

Securing the scene

Securing the scene is a primary role of the police in an emergency or major incident. Responsibilities include:

Scene management example

Scene management example

Forward command post

The forward command post (FCP) is the management post for the incident officer (officer in charge at that time) and the central point of contact for all emergency and support services engaged at the scene.

When establishing an FCP, consider the following criteria:

  • it should be in a safe location – ascertain all present and potential hazards
  • ideally, it should be adjacent to the approach route from the marshalling areas, with parking for other emergency services command and support vehicles
  • it should be close enough to the scene to maintain control but divorced from actual working teams
  • it should be prominently signed and easy to find (it is recommended that the only blue flashing lights illuminated are those of the emergency services command vehicles)
  • it should be secure from the media and any possible terrorist or other criminal activity
  • liaise with the fire incident officer to determine the location


Cordons should be put in place as soon as possible following consultation with the commanders of other emergency services. The fire and rescue service silver commander is able to advise on the extent of the cordons relative to hazards and health and safety.

The purpose of a cordon is to:

  • assist in protecting the scene, the public and those working at the scene
  • control unauthorised access
  • prevent unauthorised interference with the scene
  • facilitate emergency services operations
  • ensure the integrity of the scene is maintained for any investigation

Cordon distances and staff requirements for specific locations or high-risk areas may be determined in advance and incorporated into plans. These may be adjusted depending on the event. Personnel deployed on cordons must be briefed on their role and ongoing developments.

Resources from other agencies and private contractors can be used to provide cordoning services to police forces. Private contractors have no statutory authority and they have to rely on a police officer – or police community support officer (PCSO) at a terrorist-related incident – to exercise any powers.

In the event of other agencies or private contractors being deployed, a risk assessment of the scene must be conducted and the information regarding cordon management requirements should be given to the force incident manager (FIM) and contractor or agency.

Inner cordon

The inner cordon encloses the scene of an incident and contains any area of hazard or contamination. During the rescue phase, the fire and rescue service working in cooperation with medical personnel may be responsible for the inner cordon area.

Red-and-white tape designates the inner cordon. The size of the inner cordon is determined by the incident. The normal recommended minimum distances for a bomb scene are:

  • 100 metres for a minor explosive risk
  • 200 metres for a moderate explosive risk
  • 400 metres for a serious explosive risk

If in doubt, cordon off a large area and seek advice from the military explosives ordnance disposal (EOD) experts. Requests for EOD resources should be made to the Joint Services EOD Operations Centre (for which standing ministerial approval also applies).

Details of all personnel entering and exiting an inner cordon must be recorded for forensic reasons and to ensure that everyone can be accounted for in the event of an evacuation.

When the rescue phase is complete, the police have responsibility for the area enclosed within an inner cordon in order to:

Outer cordon

The outer cordon creates a safe working area for the emergency services and responding agencies. The radius of the cordoned area depends on the type and scope of the incident, the availability of resources and the needs of the community. The tactical commander determines this in consultation with other emergency services.

An outer cordon is designated by blue-and-white tape, preferably clearly marked with the word 'police'. The scene access control point and exit point must be staffed. Staff must be made aware of who will be arriving, in addition to the emergency services and other specialist and support personnel. People seeking access must be questioned about their identity and why they require access. Within an outer cordon, the use of blue lights should be restricted to ambulances collecting or conveying patients, as well as designated command vehicles.

Personnel staffing the outer cordon must be alert to the possibility of people trying to gain unauthorised access, particularly through more remote sections of the boundary. Briefings should clearly identify who is permitted through which cordons and rendezvous points, such as the family and friends reception centre and survivor reception centre.

In certain circumstances, other agencies’ personnel may require urgent access and, therefore, a police escort. For example:

To assist with managing the media, a media briefing centre should be set up and regular briefings should be arranged. The nominated media spokesperson should talk for all the agencies and deliver messages agreed by the SCG.

Traffic cordon

A traffic cordon needs to be established to restrict vehicle access to the area surrounding the scene.

Diversions should be used to divert all non-essential traffic from roads leading to or from the incident to prevent congestion and secure free passage of emergency traffic around the scene.

Wherever possible, a one-way system with defined access and exit routes should be implemented. Emergency routes to and from designated hospitals should be determined in advance.

Statutory provisions that allow the police to impose and enforce a cordon are contained in the Terrorism Act 2000:

  • section 33 defines a cordoned area
  • section 34 gives the power to designate a cordoned area
  • section 35 explains the duration of a cordon
  • section 36 defines the police powers in respect of enforcement of a cordoned area by a constable in uniform

PCSOs are authorised to enforce a cordon under the Terrorism Act 2000 as one of their standard powers if designated by their chief constable. This power is only applicable in their own force area. In non-terrorism cases, the authority for the police to set up and regulate a cordon is governed by common law (PCSOs have no power under common law). The police are justified in cordoning off an area for the following reasons:

  • to protect public safety
  • to prevent an actual or anticipated breach of the peace
  • to protect a crime scene
  • at the request, and with the consent of, the landowner

Any person failing to comply with the directions of a police officer deployed to enforce a cordon may be committing an offence under section 89(2) of the Police Act 1996, namely resisting or wilfully obstructing a police officer in the execution of their duty. The powers of arrest under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 apply where appropriate. Firefighters also have some legal powers under section 44 of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 that may be useful in an emergency or major incident.

Access control points

The police service and fire and rescue service should jointly establish and manage access control points for both inner and outer cordons.

Control should be exercised early in an emergency or major incident to ensure that only personnel with a justifiable reason are allowed access.

Generally, there should only be one entry and exit point to the inner cordon, known as the scene access control point. Access through the outer cordon should be via access control points. Providing separate entrance and exit points assists traffic flow in and between cordoned areas.

Staff at the scene access control point are responsible for:

  • documenting the details of people entering the inner cordon, the entry and exit times, and the reason for access (documenting access to the outer cordon is unlikely to be necessary)
  • preparing the document and audit trail for the retrieval of the deceased and human remains from the scene (records are disclosable and should be made available to the senior investigating officer)

Each emergency service has a responsibility to ensure that their personnel have the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) when entering the inner cordon and that they are given an adequate health and safety briefing.

Traffic management

An emergency or major incident is likely to have an impact on transport networks, especially road and rail. Traffic management can, therefore, be pre-identified as an operational (bronze) specialist function and activated at any incident where traffic management is required.

Traffic management includes establishing:

Information on traffic diversions should be passed to the media for public broadcast. Local authorities, Highways England (or devolved equivalents) and motoring organisations may be able to assist with suitable signage.

Free passage of emergency traffic to and from the site is essential. Wherever possible, a one-way system with defined access and exit routes should be implemented to avoid congestion in the area surrounding the scene. Emergency routes to and from designated hospitals should be determined in advance.

Rendezvous point

The RVP is a location to which all police and emergency services personnel attending an incident should be directed. This ensures that the scene of the incident does not become inundated with resources, and that personnel can be deployed in an orderly fashion. A designated RVP should be a location suitable for marshalling, briefing and deploying resources. An RVP manager should be appointed to coordinate the RVP and these resources.

The type and number of emergency resources that are to be deployed and used during an incident depends on the nature of the event. It is likely to include a range of emergency resources, responders and other agencies. It is, therefore, important that partners are involved in identifying potential locations. This ensures that resources from the police and other agencies are not competing for limited space. It may be appropriate for the fire and rescue service and ambulance service to have different RVPs.

Where there is one RVP, the police are responsible for the logging and deployment of other specialist and voluntary services attending (with the exception of the fire and rescue service and the ambulance service). All personnel attending the scene should be directed to the RVP.

The location of an RVP should be secure and safe for emergency services personnel to use and it should be searched prior to use. If an RVP is being established in response to a suspected terrorist incident, it is preferable that it is not in an obvious, predetermined location.

When identifying an area and establishing an RVP, it is important to consider:

  • space needed to accommodate all responding organisations
  • suitable hardstanding for vehicles
  • adequate lighting
  • access for large vehicles
  • how easy the location is to find
  • accommodation available for the personnel deployed there
  • safety and security of vehicles left there
  • location in relation to the marshalling area on the outer cordon

Marshalling areas

A marshalling area, suitable for accommodating large numbers of vehicles, should be identified to hold resources not immediately required at the scene. Liaison officers should be available at the marshalling areas. Vehicles should not be allowed to remain at the incident site unnecessarily.

Although RVPs can provide an impromptu area, a number of other locations may have been predetermined by forces and are commonly referred to as tactical holding areas (THAs). If the incident is of a large scale, strategic holding areas (SHAs) may also be required.

The terms THA and SHA are normally only used in relation to a police national public order mobilisation plan (PNPOMP) event. The predesignated THAs and SHAs may be used as marshalling areas in response to a major incident, depending upon the location of the incident.

Tactical holding area

This is the location where staff receive tactical briefings prior to being operationally deployed in an incident. It may also be the location in which personnel and equipment are held on standby if they are not required immediately. The tactical holding area (THA) is for holding resources once they have been assigned to a tactical commander.

A THA manager should be appointed to:

  • supervise the THA
  • maintain a log of incoming police resources
  • inform the forward command post and the tactical (silver) control of their availability
  • brief incoming officers attending the scene
  • direct resources to a marshalling area until deployed to the scene
Strategic holding area

A strategic holding area (SHA) is a location providing sufficient staff and facilities for the reception and coordination of mutual aid and other supporting resources at major incidents. It may be required to accommodate any combination of the three main emergency services and partner agencies, depending on the nature and type of incident. An SHA is normally identified beforehand and is able to provide sufficient space to allow command support and operational logistics capabilities to operate across four functional areas:

  • communications
  • capabilities and resources
  • logistical support
  • welfare

At this location, staff are given a strategic overview of the event they are attending. If necessary, police public order resources may be brigaded into larger units such as a basic mobilisation unit (BMU).

The requirement for an SHA is based on various factors that include the:

  • nature and complexity of the incident
  • time required to return to normality
  • size of the incident
  • location of the incident, including whether the incident is made up of a number of smaller incidents
  • quantity and size of likely resources to deal with the incident – in a terrorism incident, any identified RVP, THA and SHA should be searched prior to use in case of secondary incidents

For further information see APP on mobilisation.

Traffic control

A multi-agency approach is essential for the effective coordination of a managed traffic control response. Key individuals within the transport sector should be identified at the earliest opportunity. They assist with the development and implementation of a robust plan that maintains the operational efficiency of the road and transport networks. Measures to implement cordons, road closures or diversions in the first instance fall within the statutory powers of the police. Additional support is provided by the local authority or other agencies to reinforce measures once a plan has been agreed. A local authority traffic manager (a requirement under the provisions of the Traffic Management Act 2004) can provide an overview of the road network. The RVP manager, police operational (bronze) traffic commander and local authority traffic manager consult closely to:

  • identify and maintain the integrity of emergency service routes, taking implemented cordons into account
  • maintain access to and from marshalling areas
  • ensure priority and diversionary routes are accessible
  • ensure that all non-essential traffic is diverted away from the incident

The operational (bronze) traffic commander maintains primary responsibility for command and control of any secure or priority route. Local authorities, along with Highways England (and other motoring organisation), may assist with suitable signage to provide advance warning of road closures and diversions.

An effective communications strategy with the media is essential, in order to ensure that the general public are fully apprised of the impact on their travel plans.

Highways England (and devolved equivalents)

Highways England is an executive agency of the Department for Transport. It is responsible for operating, maintaining and improving the strategic road network in England. Most motorways and some all-purpose trunk roads are part of the strategic road network and the responsibility of the Highways England. All other public roads are the responsibility of local authority highway departments. Highways England’s primary responsibilities are:

  • implementing emergency road closures
  • maintaining and improving traffic movement
  • removing obstructions

The joint operational aims for the police and Highways England can be summarised as:

  • improving road safety
  • reducing incident-related congestion
  • freeing up police resources

Highways England has regional control centres that coordinate its operational resources, and it is the primary contact in the event of an emergency or major incident.

Was this page useful?

Do not provide personal information such as your name or email address in the feedback form. Read our privacy policy for more information on how we use this data

What is the reason for your answer?
I couldn't find what I was looking for
The information wasn't relevant to me
The information is too complicated