Individuals and communities


Preparedness advice

Information on this page is included for organisations that might have a role in communicating preparedness information to members of the public or to employees.

There are a number of actions individuals can take to prepare for and respond to risks. It is important for people to consider these in the context of their own specific circumstances and daily routines, as well as the risks they may face when living or working in certain locations.

1. Understand the risks

Individuals can be better prepared if they are aware of and informed about the risks that are most likely to affect them by:

2. Take steps to prepare 

There are a number of activities that individuals could undertake to prepare for, prevent, and mitigate the impacts of risks. Many of these activities can be helpful across a range of different risks. It is important to note that not everyone will be able to undertake all of these, for a variety of reasons, including financial. 

Some examples of actions that could be suggested to individuals include:

  • signing up for first aid training – courses can provide useful, potentially lifesaving skills that can be helpful in a variety of emergency situations.
  • teaching children about how and when to call the emergency services.
  • speaking to their child’s school to find out their procedures in the event of different emergency scenarios.
  • storing important documents (for example, insurance documents and key contact numbers) and important items (for example, medication and identification) in an easily accessible location in case of emergency or an evacuation at short notice (and not attempting to retrieve these items if it becomes dangerous to do so).
  • keeping some basic supplies at home such as bottled water, a torch and batteries (which is safer than candles), and a wind-up radio to get updates during a power cut.
  • knowing how to turn off gas, water and electricity in the home.
  • checking the right insurance is in place for home or business (for example, flood insurance) or travel insurance when planning a trip.
  • finding out about evacuation procedures in the workplace.
  • reading official advice on what to do in a marauding terrorist attack or how to report suspicious packages or behaviour.
  • reading advice about on how to stay secure online.
  • joining a community group or social club that is active in emergency preparedness.
  • signing up to the local authority or local utilities provider’s vulnerable customer schemes and priority services (if eligible). 
  • being aware of the UK Government’s Emergency Alerts service and being prepared to inform others in their local area who may not have received or seen an emergency alert, in the event one is sent.

Depending on local risk assessments, individual circumstances or current events, more specific activities may be appropriate.

3. Know how to respond 

If people know in advance what to do and what to expect from responding agencies during an incident, it could lead to a more effective response and reduce physical harm, stress and anxiety for those involved. In the event of an emergency, the public can play a vital role by alerting the emergency services (dialling 999) and by providing first aid, comfort and support while waiting for the emergency services to arrive. 

Depending on the nature of the incident, those affected may be asked to ‘go in, stay in and tune in’ to local radio stations or check official sources of information online. Unless there is an obvious risk to the building, going inside and seeking further information is often the safest thing to do. People should always be guided by what they can see going on around them – for example, it is never safe to return to a building that is on fire. 

In some situations, people may need to evacuate for their own safety. It is important for people not to delay evacuating properties, buildings or general locality if asked to by the responding authorities. Delaying or refusing to evacuate may put individuals’ own lives at risk, as well as putting emergency responders in danger if they later have to return to properties to deliver the evacuation request again. 

Depending on the incident, those impacted may be alerted to a risk via the new Emergency Alerts public information system. The system was developed to alert citizens to emergencies, both nationwide and in their local area, that represent an immediate threat to life. The technology used allows a message to be broadcast to a defined area, meaning any compatible device in or entering that area will immediately receive the message, detailing the emergency and actions people need to take to ensure their safety. A loud, siren-like sound and vibration will accompany the message to raise awareness of the hazard or threat. Alerts may also include a URL where further information is contained, and/or a helpline. Alerts will always be replicated on, allowing the public to recover information they contain and validate their origin.

4. Help with recovery 

Recovery is a complex process, beginning at the earliest opportunity and running in tandem with the emergency response. Recovery from a serious incident can last months, years or even decades. If it is safe to do so, members of affected communities are encouraged to participate in the recovery process and should be involved in determining how recovery is best achieved in their community. 

In the recovery phase of an incident, members of the public who wish to help should look out for calls for support from a local authority or national and local charities, to assist with the clean-up or to help others in their community get back on their feet. As well as providing practical assistance with community recovery, members of the public can also provide support to other individuals affected by an incident, for example by listening to those who want to talk about their experiences. 

It is important to look out for persistent signs of distress in trauma exposed individuals, and if symptoms do not resolve with informal support, to point the affected individuals towards professional help. See the NHS England website and Scotland’s NHS Inform website for more information. 

Supporting communities and volunteering

The information included here is for emergency responders to support their engagement and collaboration with non-statutory partners, such as the voluntary sector or wider communities. It can also help public and private organisations to appreciate the challenges that an emergency can bring and to make appropriate preparations.

For communities, a ‘whole-of-society’ approach to resilience means that where possible, communities recognise their role in, take responsibility and contribute to the UK’s resilience.

Successful community resilience approaches are often based on connection and relationships. Deepened partnerships between statutory responders and the communities they serve can provide benefits and positive outcomes during emergencies, such as an increased understanding of needs in the community, public confidence and motivation to act, and better coordination and integration of collective capabilities to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies.

Responders should develop a broad understanding of their communities, including the health, social, financial and environmental impacts that could occur from the materialisation of risks, and the capacity and capabilities that exist within the community to support official preparedness, response and recovery activity, where appropriate.

Responders should seek ways to build community resilience so that individuals and groups are better able to deal with emergencies when they occur. This in turn can help to reduce the pressures on emergency services who can then focus their resources on vulnerable groups and those most in need.

Guidance for responding organisations

The UK Government published the Community Resilience Development Framework and guidance on planning the co-ordination of spontaneous volunteers in 2019.

The Community Resilience Development Framework is a reference tool for the delivery of strategic approaches to community resilience development, at the local level in collaboration with non-statutory partners, such as voluntary, community and faith organisations, and businesses. It provides a framework for the development of community resilience activity that aims to reduce the impact of emergencies by ensuring that:

  • Individuals, businesses, community networks and voluntary organisations are empowered to prepare, respond to, and recover from emergencies.
  • Emergency responders understand, enable and integrate the capabilities of the public into emergency planning, response and recovery activity. 

The framework contains a wide-ranging, but non-exhaustive, list of organisations that could contribute their capabilities to emergency management on a voluntary basis. The Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership (a voluntary sector-led partnership) exists to bring together member organisations to deliver a more coordinated response to emergencies.

When emergencies happen, people often feel compelled to help. Professionals and volunteers train for emergencies, but other members of the community can also be involved through acts of good neighbourliness and spontaneous volunteering. Bringing people and organisations together to form effective networks is key to building community resilience, preparing for emergencies, and making the best use of all available resources.

If the worst happens, members of the public can often rally their skills and resources to help their community. No matter who wants to help, what abilities they have, or whether they have volunteered previously, there may be ways for them to help. 

Guidance on planning the coordination of spontaneous volunteers is designed for emergency planners and responders to assist in the planning and management of spontaneous offers of support from the public during an emergency.

Additionally, guidance is available from the Scottish Government on the topic of Building Resilient Communities. This guidance recommends that responders consider best practice, in order to maximise the effectiveness of their work with individuals, community groups, private sector businesses and voluntary sector organisations, to help make themselves more resilient. In line with other Preparing Scotland guidance, it is drawn from existing good practice in Scottish communities.

Community volunteering and resilience building

There are numerous opportunities to volunteer across the UK. Individuals can also find out how to get involved with their community before, during and after an emergency by visiting a local volunteer centre or searching online. 

Even if people feel motivated and able to help, in many cases it is best not to just turn up at the scene of an emergency and begin working. This could be dangerous and overwhelm the emergency services. Instead, it is best to get involved via the structures that have been established in the local area, so everyone can work safely for the benefit of those who need help. This means looking out for calls for support from a local authority, or national and local charities, and most importantly, performing essential acts of good neighbourliness. 

Before an emergency, members of the public, community organisations and local businesses can help to build the resilience of: 

  • individuals, by raising awareness of risks and preparedness actions, for example, through social media 
  • households, by advising on property refurbishment such as property flood defence measures 
  • communities, by identifying vulnerable people and helping them access support
  • organisations, by supporting business continuity planning 
  • systems and networks, by building trusting relationships between different local and community organisations

During an emergency or crisis, the public can help – if it’s safe to do so – by checking on neighbours and vulnerable people in the community to see if they need any help or assistance. 

After the emergency, the public can also offer their help to clean up, help others to get back on their feet, or help their community to come to terms with the situation. Opportunities to volunteer might be available through one of the thousands of local organisations that already work at the heart of communities. Members of the public can find out how to help their community with an emergency by visiting a local volunteer centre or searching online.

Mental health needs in emergencies and crises

The information included here is for organisations who have a role to play in supporting individuals or communities involved in emergencies and crises, including organisations whose staff may be impacted. 

In the immediate aftermath of a major incident or crisis, it is important to consider the mental health needs of those who may have been affected. This includes people who were directly involved, such as those present at the scene of an emergency or those who became ill during an infectious disease outbreak. It also includes emergency responders, volunteers and healthcare staff caring for people involved in the incident. It’s also crucial to consider people who were indirectly involved, such as relatives of the injured, sick or deceased and anyone who may feel responsible for the incident or some aspect of the response. 

There is good evidence that people who have been exposed to a traumatic event, and who experience other significantly stressful circumstances (such as financial issues or problems related to children) find it more difficult to cope in the aftermath of a traumatic event. The secondary stressors that often follow crises can persist for long periods of time. They do not end when the emergency service response concludes, but can continue well into the recovery phase of an event. However, it is important to recognise that while many people feel upset and distressed in the days and weeks after a traumatic experience, most short-term distress responses resolve without the need for professional help. Most trauma-exposed people benefit from informal support such as sharing feelings with others with similar experiences, speaking with people they trust, having a supportive line manager and colleagues, sticking to a routine and paying attention to healthy living (trying to get enough sleep, exercise and regular meals). A period of ‘watchful waiting’ - monitoring symptoms to see if they resolve without treatment - may be advised by a GP. All of these approaches may be beneficial to someone’s mental health, but if adverse symptoms do persist a person should always seek further help from their GP. 

There is good evidence that providing psychologically-focused debriefing, or trauma counselling, in the immediate post-incident period is not only ineffective but may cause additional harm. Instead, it is a good idea to actively monitor those who have been directly or indirectly affected for a few months after a traumatic event. If their difficulties do not appear to be resolving, then they should be advised to speak to a healthcare professional who can assess whether or not they need formal mental health treatment. 

Below is a list of useful resources to direct people to in the aftermath of a traumatic event if feeling upset or distressed: 

More general advice and support related to mental health and wellbeing can be found on the NHS Every Mind Matters website.

Identifying people who could be vulnerable in emergencies and crises

It is important for organisations to be aware of which individuals might require more support in relation to emergencies and crises.

The UK is faced with a wide range of risks that could have a disproportionate impact on specific individuals and at risk groups.Individuals within these groups are likely to experience higher levels of morbidity and mortality in comparison to the general population. They are also more likely to suffer financial hardship either as a direct or indirect consequence of a risk materialising. Individuals can have multiple vulnerabilities in the context of an emergency or crisis, which can have a compounding effect on their ability to respond to and recover from the event. 

There are a broad range of social, financial, health and environmental determinants that can impact the ability of an individual, a household or a community, to mitigate risks and respond in emergencies.

For example, across the world we have seen previous events place an inequitable burden on individuals such as: 

  • those with pre-existing mental or physical health conditions or disabilities (whether living in the community or in long-term care facilities)
  • older adults
  • pregnant women 
  • individuals from certain ethnic backgrounds 
  • healthcare and other frontline workers 
  • informal or self-employed workers 
  • those in lower socio-economic groups or who are financially insecure
  • individuals exposed to abuse or violence 
  • tourists 
  • migrants 
  • those who are socially isolated
  • individuals with less knowledge and experience related to specific risks 

This list is not exhaustive, and different agencies and organisations have different definitions of vulnerability but it illustrates the wide range of individuals who could be considered (or could become) vulnerable in certain emergencies or crises.

Vulnerability is complex and vulnerable groups are non-static. The impacts of an emergency change over time and are influenced by other wider concurrent and contextual factors. Individuals who might be considered vulnerable in the context of one risk might not be for another. For example, older adults might be considered more vulnerable in some virus outbreaks, however could potentially have higher levels of preparedness for a significant power outage, having more experience of these types of events.

The risks could result in unequal impacts for individuals, and also for communities. Every scenario is different but when planning for and responding to these risks, planners from national government, local government and community groups all have an important role to play in mitigating the disproportionate impacts on these individuals and communities. Within public bodies, the Public Sector Equality Duty requires a consideration of the potential effects of policies, functions and service delivery on groups with protected characteristics, and the inclusion of reasonable mitigations where negative impacts may be anticipated. For emergency planners, it is important to consider the role that non-statutory partners, such as voluntary, community and faith organisations can play in providing routes to engagement with vulnerable and at-risk groups.