Select Committee on Defence Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Ian Jordan on Emergency Planning in Scotland (March 2002)

  The events of 11 September 2001 have had a significant impact on the profile of emergency planning and emergency planners. Whilst this is not unwelcome it diminishes the work the progress made over recent years and suggests that government views of emergency planning remain rooted in the cold war.

  Dumfries and Galloway has had to deal with the devastating effects of an act of terrorism designed to take lives. The lessons learned in responding to the Lockerbie Air Disaster have influenced preparation for emergencies in Dumfries and Galloway. The arrangements made, and the management philosophy adopted, have been proved effective in a number of significant incidents since 1988. This paper will provide a brief outline of preparation and response to emergencies by local authorities and examine how that is done through Dumfries and Galloway's Major Emergency Scheme.


  Major emergencies are low probability events that may have wide ranging consequences. A large number of organisations may be involved. Each has specific roles and responsibilities and each performs different tasks, none can cope alone.

  How then is the response to a major emergency to be managed? The emergency services have a lead role at the site of emergencies but which organisation has responsibility for co-ordinating the activity of the non-emergency services (local authorities health services, public agencies and utilities and voluntary organisations)?

  The local authority takes the lead role in the non-emergency services in preparation and response to emergencies. Because:

    —  Councils have an important part to play in the life of their communities. They provide a range of services directly or through third parties. They build a sense of direction for the community and Councillors are the `voice' of the locality. In an emergency all of these activities become vital.

    —  Local authorities have a number of statutory duties and powers related to emergency planning and response. Whilst no general statutory duty exists for the local authority to plan for all emergencies it is believed that a Council owes a `general duty of care' for those it represents.

    —  The absence of a general statutory duty does not absolve a Council from responsibility for using its powers to deal with emergencies in an adequate or effective manner.

    —  Government guidance on a wide range of topics, expects local authorities to prepare emergency arrangements.

  They act as a focal point in the development, administration, testing and review of emergency management arrangements.

  They assist Council Departments and other organisations in preparing their own operational arrangements and integrating them within overall co-ordinating arrangements. Arrangements are also made to respond to identified hazards for which it is either prudent, or for which there is a statutory duty, to plan.

  They develop and maintain emergency facilities, systems and equipment.

  Finally, they seek to promote effective emergency planning.

  In order to fulfil their role emergency planners need a broad knowledge of the activities and responsibilities of all organisations in their area, the services they provide, their organisation, management systems and procedures.

  Emergency Planning is a standard local authority function. In a wide range of matters local authorities bring together disparate groups and agree arrangements for joint action. This is carried out when building roads and bridges, arranging for care in the community or economic development. Emergency Planning is no different. It is many years since emergency planners sat in bunkers writing war plans!

  At times of crisis emergency planners play a significant role in supporting those involved in managing a response, and assist the Chief Executive in discharging the authority's responsibilities.


  The structures of life in Britain are complex. Communities have relationship with central government, devolved government, Europe, unitary Councils and Community Councils (in Scotland).

  The Council deals with central Government Departments, their Scottish counterparts, executive agencies and arm's lengths bodies established by Government. It deals with gas companies that provide electricity, electricity companies that provide gas and may have dealings with railway companies that provide mobile phones.

  The Council has contractual agreements with commercial organisations to provide services. It deals, for example, with consultants that maintain trunk roads, consortia that dispose of waste and organisations providing care for vulnerable people.

  We are fortunate that in Dumfries and Galloway we have co-terminous Police Force, Fire Brigade and Health Board. We also work closely with the voluntary sector through international, national and local organisations.

  In wide area emergencies, we might have to work with Government Departments. For example when foot and mouth outbreak affected the region we had to work with DEFRA based in London, SEERAD based in Edinburgh, the State Veterinary Service (based in Ayr, Stranraer and Dumfries) and the Army.

  The role of the local authority emergency planner is to make local arrangements that simplify the complexity outlined above. The aim of the emergency planner is to enable those who would be involved to work effectively in difficult circumstances. We do that in Dumfries and Galloway through our Major Emergency Scheme (MES).

  The Major Emergency Scheme has two key components—simple arrangements and good people. The Scheme is based on an inclusive management philosophy. The Scheme is not a traditional emergency plan. As stated above it is a dynamic and evolving entity built around a management process that is owned by its partners.

  The MES arose from a project sponsored by the Scottish Office and Home Office that examined Local Authorities Management of Emergencies and was influenced by the recommendations of the Chief Executive's report on the Lockerbie Air Disaster. A copy of the Project's Report will be provided for background. In principle the Scheme remains as outlined in the report, however, some changes have been made in the documentation that is now provided for teams and not for individuals.

  Through the MES the Council takes the lead in the non-emergency services preparations, working closely with all other organisations with a role to play. The Emergency Co-ordinating Group leads the management of preparation and response. The Group has responsibility for ensuring that arrangements are in place that can both cover all reasonably foreseeable local hazards and enable the initial response to all other unforeseen emergency events.

  The MES provides a framework for co-ordination of effort through a management philosophy that has come to be called Integrated Emergency Management (IEM).

  The IEM philosophy embraces a number of concepts that are embodied in the MES. Those arrangements:

    —  are simple and adaptable to all emergency situations.

    —  emphasise the management of response to the effects of an emergency and not its cause.

    —  are applicable to all organisations involved and make clear their roles and responsibilities.

    —  address the overall management and co-ordination of activity in response.

  The MES has "earned its spurs" on a number of occasions since it was established:

    —  In 1993 it dealt with the effects of a high pressure gas pipeline rupture as its first major test.

    —  In early 1996 severe snow falls trapped some 2,500 travellers in vehicles on trunk roads and motorways. Those trapped were rescued and placed in emergency rest centres where they were cared for over three-four days until travelling conditions improved. At the same time emergency services had to be maintained for vulnerable people throughout Dumfries and Galloway trapped in their homes without power in many cases. The Police and Council called for military assistance, to save lives, in the most difficult of conditions.

    —  The MES showed its flexibility, strength in depth and resourcefulness in an event where its managers were also victims of the emergency being trapped in their own homes or places of work.

    —  On Boxing Day, 1998 hurricane force winds caused extensive damage in the region. Many tens of thousands of people were without electricity for up to 12 days when the weather was poor and particularly cold. Arrangements were made across Dumfries and Galloway to protect vulnerable people and engage with communities to ensure that no one in difficulty was overlooked.

    —  Preparations for the Millennium were very simple for the MES partners. Contingency plans took a few minutes to arrange at each of the Scheme's Team meetings. The MES was able to cope easily with the uncertainties surrounding the Millennium.

    —  In January 2000 the trawler Solway Harvester was lost. The loss of seven young lives had a devastating affect on the local community and MES teams set up in the background to provide discreet support services. Advice and support were given to those wishing to establish an appeal fund and a Trust to administer the fund.

    —  During the remainder of 2000 there was an unprecedented series of emergencies, including the fuel crises, that required the initiation of the MES. They included evacuations due to flooding and unexploded bombs, train and military aircraft crashes, chemical leaks and problems with water supplies.

    —  In February 2001 the Scheme was initiated to deal with severe snow in the east of the region. Once again, vulnerable people were identified and helicopters used to evacuate difficult cases. Scottish Power allowed West of Scotland Water to use its helicopter to ferry workers to a remote water treatment plant to prevent disruption to water supplies, another example of partnership in action. The MES stood down at midday on 28 February only to be recalled one hour later, when . . .

    —  Foot and mouth disease was identified in Dumfries and Galloway. The Council's report to the Royal Society of Edinburgh outlining the response to foot and mouth disease will be available as a background paper.

  Many of those involved in the response to emergencies in Dumfries and Galloway have worked together in crises since the Lockerbie Disaster, they pass on their experience to new generations of managers in the hope that it can be used for the benefit of those affected by future emergencies. In view of the number of real emergencies experienced in recent years training for MES Teams has, generally, been restricted to table top exercises and training in specific contingencies, for example, nuclear weapons accidents. Most of the Teams' meetings relate to keeping abreast of changing circumstances. One of the few constant features in emergency planning is the discontinuous change taking place within a majority of organisations.


  The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 had an impact on emergency planning nationally. There was a good deal of concern that existing plans could not cope with indiscriminate acts of terrorism.

  Dumfries and Galloway's MES is designed to allow a response to any emergency. In the event of terrorism our approach, locally, would be similar in all events. However, there would be significant differences in the way in which Government would respond to a terrorist attack compared with "civil" emergencies. The MES managers need to know how we would manage within the national arrangements that would move into place. The national arrangements that would be put in place following a terrorist attack can be accommodated if an IEM approach and management philosophy is adopted. The role of the non-emergency services remaining supportive of the key players and community. I see no difficulty in accommodating the necessary changes whilst working within the MES.

  The nature of terrorism means that the potential effects could be relatively small, or of national significance. Emergency planners need to be realistic in what can be done locally to mitigate the effects of terrorist attacks.

  In a small scale event the part played locally would probably be significant. The issue for planners in preparation is knowing what the potential effects of an attack might be. It is unrealistic to expect all the effects of all attacks to be made available. Preparations can work on broad principles, but easy access to authoritative sources of information is vital if an attack occurs.

  Much attention is focussed on chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear terrorism. Emergencies caused by chemical or biological agents, caused by accidents or nature, are dealt with daily by the emergency services, health services and Councils. Significant outbreaks of e-coli, salmonella, winter vomiting virus and other diseases are dealt with effectively throughout Britain and outbreak plans are tested and exercised regularly. National and local arrangements are in place to deal with nuclear or radiological accidents. The scale of a terrorist CBRN attack may be much greater than envisaged for a "normal" CBRN event but the underlying principles remain the same.

  In the event of a national level attack, or one with wide spread consequences, the national management arrangements that we have in the UK would reduce the effectiveness of response.

  Recent experience of preparations for the Millennium, the fuel crisis and foot and mouth disease have highlighted a need to review national arrangements.

  The Governments' "lead Department" philosophy is fundamentally flawed. In the event of a major incident the Department that has a particular expertise, for example, DTI for the fuel crisis and DEFRA/SEERAD for foot and mouth disease, is expected to lead for government. However, general issues, such as a "radiation" emergency, are not so easy to allocate to a Department.

  The lead Department's role encompasses co-ordinating the activities of central government, co-ordinating the collection of information for the purposes of briefing Ministers and informing parliament and providing information for the public and media.

  It is expected to do these things whilst dealing with the possibly devastating effects of an emergency! There appears to be no co-ordination of support for the Department most affected, by those not directly involved. When a lead Department is nominated other Departments concentrate on their specific responsibilities with what appears to be very little cross-departmental liaison.

  During the foot and mouth outbreak the MES was initiated to support those fighting the disease. The MES allowed people to do what they did best whilst the burden of administrative and other arrangements was carried by others. This role appears not to be replicated in government.

  In considering national response to terrorist events account should be taken of the principle that the first response is at local level (Dealing with Disasters Together—Scottish Office). In doing so national arrangements should allow local authorities to make arrangements that suit their management structures and local partnerships, the key features for assimilation being simple and appropriate mechanisms for communication and co-ordination.

  It is inappropriate to develop separate national arrangements specifically related to terrorism. Arrangements should build on current mechanisms and obviate identified problems for co-ordination. Imposing a "plan" or planning philosophy that does not build on current arrangements, unilaterally, would replicate the arcane civil defence planning of the post war years.

  In Scotland, we have the Scottish Emergency Co-ordinating Committee and the Scottish Executive Emergency Room. These are established means of co-ordinating activity and gathering/disseminating information. In a major emergency the local authority emergency planner's first contact is invariably with the Executive's Emergency Planning Division in the Justice Department. Communication and awareness of each other's roles is good. The strengths of the Scottish model should be reinforced by national arrangements.

  The government philosophy of IEM should be adopted by central government Departments. There is currently little integration between the centre and local agencies.

  Efforts should be made to raise awareness of emergency roles and responsibilities of all agencies. Recent documentation on the response to CBRN attacks makes statements about Councils' roles related to road closures. The paper was written by a central Department. In Scotland Councils no longer have responsibility for major roads. Planning and preparation needs to be realistic, based on experience and involve the people who will implement arrangements.

  Whilst emergency planning is still supported by specific grant in England and Wales, in Scotland funding is provided through normal Council funding mechanisms. A number of Councils, particularly those with experience of emergencies, fund the task appropriately. The pressure on Council budgets has had an effect on the funding and status of emergency planning in a number of Councils.

  Relationships with the military are generally good. Dumfries and Galloway has had good cause to be grateful to the Army over recent years. Call out arrangements are simple and the Army always tries to help.

  The loss of many TA units has affected local response and any strengthening of the TA, and its role, should re-examine the vital local links that have been lost in recent years.


  In Scotland, most Councils have arrangements in place to respond to most emergencies.

  Relationships between the Scottish Executive and Council Emergency Planners are good. Reporting lines are well established.

  Contemporary terrorism presents a new risk. Preparations for responding to hazards need to be appropriate and clear, and simple to assimilate into existing arrangements.

  Local authorities are best placed to lead local response. In large-scale events the role of the local authority has to be assessed realistically. Councils no longer provide many of the more traditional public services.

  Integrated Emergency Management requires to be adopted at all levels to ensure the effectiveness demonstrated in response to local emergencies can be replicated in wide area emergencies.

  Emergency Planning is normal business for all organisations. To see it as a discrete task will undermine its effectiveness.

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