Preparing Scotland: Scottish Guidance on Preparing for Emergencies


05 Communicating with the Public


Communicating with the public about emergencies is a key part of local civil protection.

The Act requires Category 1 responders to:

  • increase public awareness by publishing risk assessments and emergency plans;
  • make arrangements to warn and inform the public when an emergency happens; and
  • make arrangements to provide information about the progress of an emergency and to provide advice on actions to take.

In addition, the Regulations require:

  • care to be taken to avoid alarming the public unnecessarily; and
  • the protection of information which is sensitive in terms of security, public safety, commercial confidentiality or personal data protection.

All Category 1 organisations have responsibilities for communicating with the public.

All Category 1 responders must agree which of them will take the lead in delivering messages about particular types of emergency.

In some instances, Category 2 responders, such as utilities and organisations to which these duties do not apply will have a prime role in communicating with the public.

Plans to communicate with the public must provide for training and exercising.

Communicating with the public

5.1 Two aspects of planning for emergencies are of such importance that they have been identified specifically in the Act. The first is that the public should be made aware of the risks of emergencies in order that they may know what to do before they occur. 1 The second is that people should be warned at the time of an emergency and provided with information and advice, as necessary, as it progresses. 2

5.2 The duties to publish plans and assessments and to maintain plans to warn, inform and advise the public, require Category 1 responders to avoid alarming the public unnecessarily.

Alarming the public unnecessarily

5.3 When performing its duties to communicate with the public the Regulations require Category 1 responders to have regard to the need not to alarm the public unnecessarily. 3 Comprehensive guidance is available to inform responders on how best to communicate risk without causing disproportionate concern and they should become familiar with its recommendations. 4 The principal expectations relate to openness, transparency and engagement with the public that is proportional to the level of protection required.

Publication of plans and assessments

5.8 The duties to assess risks and to maintain plans are followed by a further duty on Category 1 responders to arrange for the publication of all or part of risk assessments and plans they have made, where publication is necessary or desirable to prevent, reduce, control, mitigate or take other action in connection with an emergency.

5.9 Category 1 responders do not necessarily have to publish documents themselves but they must arrange for their publication.

5.10 The duty is not to arrange to publish the whole of a risk assessment or a complete plan but only those parts which it is necessary or desirable to publish. What is necessary or desirable is determined by whether publication will assist in dealing with an emergency. It is assumed that if the public is better informed and educated about the risks and the actions to be taken in the event of an emergency their resilience and the effectiveness of emergency response will be improved.

5.11 Information should be easily obtained by those who are interested.

Sensitive information

5.12 Where risk assessments or plans contain sensitive information only edited or summary versions should be published, as necessary or desirable, as outlined above. More information on the use of sensitive information is contained in Chapter 7 of this Section of Preparing Scotland.

Maintenance of arrangements to warn, inform and provide advice for the public

5.13 Category 1 responders are required to maintain arrangements to warn the public if an emergency is likely to occur or has occurred. In addition to warning they must also have arrangements to provide information and advice for the public before, during and after an emergency has occurred.

5.14 The Act does not place a duty on Category 1 responders to warn but to maintain arrangements to warn. This allows the local responders themselves to take the decision about when to issue warnings. It is expected that the arrangements to warn will be utilised where an emergency has occurred that makes it necessary or desirable for the responder to take action.

Duty to have regard to emergency plans

5.15 Warning, informing and advising the public is not a stand-alone duty. A Category 1 responder in carrying out its duties to communicate with the public must have regard to its emergency plans. 5

5.16 As with any other part of planning for response to an emergency, communication, either direct with the public or through the media, should be fully integrated into the responder's emergency plans.

General and specific arrangements to warn, inform and provide advice for the public

5.17 With regard to emergency planning the Regulations distinguish between generic and specific plans. Similarly, the Regulations recognise that arrangements to warn, inform and advise the public may also be generic or specific. 6 Which arrangements are chosen will depend on the type of emergency being planned for and the particular circumstances in a locality. There would be benefit if specific plans for warning and informing the public were based on generic arrangements that established a basis for providing information regardless of the emergency. Generic arrangements for warning, informing and advising the public should be integrated with the generic plans outlined in Chapter 4 of this guidance.

Training and exercises

5.18 The maintenance of plans for warning, informing and advising the public must include provision for training and exercising in the same way as that required for emergency plans as described in Chapter 4 of this guidance. 7

Identification of a lead responder

5.19 The duty to maintain arrangements to warn, inform and advise the public applies to all Category 1 responders whose functions are likely seriously to be obstructed by an emergency and would require a redeployment of resources or additional resources to do so.

5.20 Confusion would be caused, however, if more than one Category 1 responder was to plan to warn the public about the same risk, at the same time, for the same event. To avoid duplication, Category 1 responders whose functions are affected by an emergency must, by agreement, identify one of their number to take lead responsibility for maintaining arrangements to warn in regard to that particular emergency. 8

5.21 If agreement cannot be reached, each of them must maintain arrangements separately.

5.22 Regulations envisage three ways in which a lead responder for warning, informing and advising the public may be chosen: 9

  • by identification before an emergency;
  • by adopting a procedure to be followed at the time of emergency; or
  • by adopting a procedure to be followed during an emergency, including the longer term recovery, as the functional response develops and the lead may change from one Category 1 responder to another.

5.23 The agreed procedure to be adopted by which a lead responder is identified must record which of the three options has been chosen in relation to any emergency or to a particular emergency.

5.24 Arrangements must ensure that the Category 1 responder which has accepted the lead responsibility for warning, informing and advising the public: 10

  • is able to contact the other Category 1 responders whose functions are related to that emergency;
  • will inform those Category 1 responders of the actions it is taking; and
  • is able to collaborate with other Category responders in performing the duty.

5.25 The Regulations require the lead responder to collaborate with its partners in fulfilling its role. 11 There is no question of the lead responder assuming sole responsibility for carrying out the task. The Regulations place a reciprocal responsibility on non-lead Category 1 responders. 12 They must maintain arrangements to:

  • consult with the lead responder in relation to the arrangements on a regular basis; and
  • inform the lead responder of the actions which they are taking and proposing to take in relation to warning, informing and advising the public within the arrangements.

Advice provided by other responders and other bodies

5.26 Category 1 responders are not the only responders likely to be involved in arrangements to warn, inform and advise the public.

5.27 The Regulations recognise that some Category 2 responders, such as utilities, have a duty under their own regulatory regime to provide warning, information and advice in certain circumstances when their services are interrupted. Similarly, other bodies maintain their own arrangements. Accordingly, the Regulations require that Category 1 responders in performing their duty to warn, inform and advise: 13

  • should have regard to these arrangements; and
  • need not duplicate them.