Publication - Advice and guidance

Preparing Scotland: resilience guidance

"Core" guidance on resilience, covering resilience philosophy, principles, structures and regulatory duties

90 page PDF

3.1 MB

90 page PDF

3.1 MB

Preparing Scotland: resilience guidance

90 page PDF

3.1 MB


Response to every emergency requires to be tailored to its particular circumstances. These circumstances will dictate the appropriate level of management required. The following gives guidance on the structures involved.

The management of emergency response is based upon a framework of one or more of three ascending levels, namely Operational, Tactical and Strategic. It is important to note that not all tiers, single or multi-agency, will necessarily be convened for all emergencies.

Operational, Tactical and Strategic are sometimes referred to as Bronze, Silver and Gold. 8

The framework is based around the concepts of command, control and co-ordination 9 . The meaning of these terms is as follows:

  • Command is the authority for a responder to direct the actions of its own personnel and equipment
  • Control is the application of command to direct operations in order to complete an assigned function
  • Co-ordination is the organisation of the activity of responders to enable effective joint working in response to and recovery from an emergency.

Operational, Tactical and Strategic tiers are based upon function not status. The status of personnel involved in the group does not necessarily indicate the "status" of the group. For instance a tactical group can be chaired by a police officer of ACPOS 10 rank (normally a strategic commander); the group, however, remains at the tactical level.

The procedures for mobilising the structures described will be flexible and adapted to the circumstances. In some emergencies the process will be sequential, reflecting decisions taken during the response. In others, the structures may be put in place simultaneously at all levels, reflecting the nature of the emergency.


Operational is the level at which the management of immediate "hands-on" work is undertaken at the site(s) of the emergency or other affected areas.

First responders will act on delegated responsibility from their parent organisation until higher levels of management are established.

Personnel first on the scene will take immediate steps to assess the nature and extent of the problem. Operational commanders will concentrate their effort and resources on the specific tasks within their areas of responsibility, for example, the police may concentrate on establishing cordons, traffic control and evidence gathering whilst ambulance personnel may undertake immediate triage and treatment of the injured. In most, but not all, instances, the police will co-ordinate the operational response at an identifiable scene and each agency must strive to ensure an integrated effort.

Under some circumstances the temporary transfer of one organisation's personnel or assets to the control of another organisation may be appropriate. In these circumstances, individual agencies retain command over their own resources and personnel deployed at the scene.

Having control carries with it the responsibility for the co-ordination of the required health and safety arrangements.

These arrangements will usually be adequate to deal with most events or situations. If, however, events demand greater planning, co-ordination or resources, an additional tier of management may be necessary. A key function of an operational manager or commander will be to consider whether circumstances warrant a tactical level of management and to advise accordingly.

If tactical management is required, operational managers become responsible for implementing the tactical plan within their geographical and/or functional area of responsibility. To discharge this successfully, operational managers need to have a clear understanding of the tactical manager/commander's intent and plan, their tasks, and any restrictions on their freedom of action, on which they in turn can brief their staff.

More information on this can be found in the Preparing Scotland, Responding to Emergencies Guidance ( Preparing Scotland: Responding to Emergencies in Scotland ).


The purpose of tactical management is to ensure that actions taken at the operational level are co-ordinated, coherent and integrated in order to maximise effectiveness and efficiency.

Where the responding agencies involved appoint tactical commanders or managers, consideration must be given to how they and their personnel will communicate and co‑ordinate with each other.

When an emergency requires a tactical level of management, a Tactical Co-ordinating Group ( TCG) should be established. The TCG is the forum at which the tactical plan is agreed and implemented, with an agreed common aim and objectives. During a spontaneous incident this group may meet close to the scene at an Incident Control Post ( ICP). It is sound practice to identify an alternative location as back-up, circumstances permitting.

In a slower onset emergency or at a spontaneous incident where time allows, the TCG is likely to be based at a site remote from the emergency, for instance an emergency control centre or similar. This should be at the most appropriate location to carry out the function required of the TCG, allowing where possible the convenient attendance of all appropriate responder representatives.

In the event that co-location of tactical commanders is not possible, appropriate communications or representation to ensure a co-ordinated response at the tactical level is essential.

When an emergency occurs without a specific scene (e.g. disruption to the fuel supply or an overseas emergency with domestic effects), a TCG may still be required to deliver effective multi-agency co-ordination 11 .

Working in co-ordination, the responder agencies' tactical commanders or managers will:

  • determine priorities for allocating available resources
  • plan and co-ordinate how and when tasks will be undertaken
  • obtain additional resources if required
  • assess significant risks and use this to inform tasking of operational commanders
  • mitigate risks to the health and safety of the public and personnel.

Although each of the most senior officers at the tactical level will have specific service or agency responsibilities, together they must deliver jointly the overall tactical multi‑agency management of the incident and ensure that operational commanders have the means, direction and co-ordination required to deliver successful outcomes. Unless there is an obvious and urgent need for intervention, they should not become directly involved in the detailed operational tasks being discharged by the operational level.

The chair of the group must create time for regular briefing, consultation and tasking meetings with counterparts and key liaison officers. To support the chair and other members in these functions responders may consider the creation of a support group to assist with administration.

Whilst the chair may be a strategic level officer/official from the lead agency (usually, but not always, the police) the group itself remains at a tactical level.

The tactical level response can be complex and involve a wide range of agencies from across an SCG area and may include national agencies. Many emergencies can be managed successfully by this level of support without the need for recourse to a strategic level of management. An appropriate level of SCG response can, therefore, be achieved without strategic involvement.

Where a Strategic Co-ordinating Group has not been established, a TCG can be used to co-ordinate the work of other groups, such as the Care for People Group and/or the Public Communications Group. This is a matter for responders to decide.

If a strategic group has yet to meet or is not required due to the scale of the emergency, then generally the tactical group will adopt a generic strategy based upon the following:

  • protect human life
  • protect property and the environment
  • minimise the harmful effects of the emergency
  • support the local community and its part in the response and/or recovery
  • promote a swift return to normality or a state as close to normality as is practicable.

In those cases where it becomes clear that the complexity or scale of an emergency requires resources, expertise or co-ordination beyond the capacity of the tactical level (e.g. where there is more than one scene or incident), it may be necessary to invoke the strategic level of management to take overall command and set the strategic direction. Once this occurs, tactical commanders will direct operations within the context of any direction or parameters set by the strategic group.


The purpose of the strategic level is:

  • to consider the emergency in its wider context
  • determine longer-term and wider impacts and risks with strategic implications
  • define and communicate the overarching strategy and objectives for the emergency response
  • establish the framework, policy and parameters for lower-level tiers
  • monitor risks, impacts and progress towards defined objectives.

It may be necessary to convene a multi-agency co-ordinating group at the strategic level where an emergency or incident has:

  • an especially significant impact
  • substantial resource implications
  • involves a large number of organisations
  • lasts for an extended duration.

Meetings at the strategic level must comprise representatives of appropriate seniority and authority who are empowered to make executive decisions in respect of their organisation's resources. In a long-running emergency, the need for personnel to hand over to colleagues will undoubtedly arise. This underlines the necessity for each organisation to select, train and exercise sufficient senior individuals who are capable of fulfilling this role.

Lessons identified from emergencies show that establishing the strategic level at an early stage on a precautionary basis can be helpful in ensuring local responders are ready if a situation suddenly worsens. Precautionary strategic management need not physically convene at the outset but can instead use other appropriate means to share and assess information on the extent of the emergency.

Emergencies can place considerable demands on the resources of responding agencies and can pose significant challenges in terms of business continuity management. Furthermore, they may have long-term implications for communities, economies and the environment. These require the attention of top-level management.

The strategic group will take overall responsibility for the multi-agency management of the emergency and to establish the policy and strategic framework within which lower-tier command and co-ordinating groups will work. It will:

  • determine and promulgate a clear strategic aim and objectives and review them regularly
  • establish any parameters within which any tactical groups are to operate in the management of the event or situation
  • prioritise the requirements of the tactical tier and allocate personnel and resources accordingly
  • formulate and implement media-handling and public communication plans, potentially delegating this to one responding agency
  • assess the need to adjust normal business priorities in the light of competing resource demands created by the emergency
  • direct planning and operations beyond the immediate response in order to facilitate the recovery process.

The requirement for strategic management may not apply to all responding agencies owing to differing levels of demand. This may also vary at different stages of the response and/or recovery. However, emergencies almost always require multi-agency co-ordination and rarely remain entirely within the ambit of a single agency. It may, therefore, be appropriate for an agency not involved at a strategic level to send liaison officers to meetings of the group. Should it become apparent that strategic involvement is required of an agency, representatives empowered to make executive decisions for their organisations will need to replace liaison officers.

Strategic meetings of the SCG should be based at an appropriate location away from the scene. Some types of emergency will require the formation of a Strategic Co-ordination Centre ( SCC) to support the SCG strategic meetings in particular and the response to the emergency in general. Usually, but not always, this will be at the headquarters of the lead service or organisation (e.g. police headquarters). The location of meetings may shift if another agency takes the lead, for instance in the recovery phase. In the preparation phase, arrangements should be put in place suitable for a range of scenarios and alternative locations should be identified for business continuity purposes.

It will normally, but not always, be the role of the police to co-ordinate other organisations and therefore to chair an SCG strategic meeting. The police are particularly likely to field an SCG chair where there is:

  • an immediate threat to human life
  • a possibility that the emergency was a result of criminal activity
  • a significant public order implication.

Under these circumstances the same person may be the Police Strategic Commander and the SCG Chair. These two roles, however, should be clearly distinguished. In other types of emergency, for instance some health emergencies, an agency other than the police may initiate and lead the SCG. As recovery becomes the focus, strategic leadership may shift to a more appropriate responder agency, most likely a Local Authority.

The strategic group will, in almost all circumstances, authorise a number of supporting groups to address various issues, for instance, public communications. These tactical groups can be added or removed as the circumstances of the emergency dictate (for example a Mass Fatalities Group addressing issues around emergency mortuary provision).

Normally there will be only one strategic group. In an incident involving terrorism however, there is likely to be an ongoing counter-terrorism operation alongside the consequence management/recovery issues pertaining to the incident. The counter-terrorist operation will require a strategic level of command, aspects of which will run alongside consequence management/recovery issues 12 .

Care must be taken to ensure that decisions made in one aspect do not adversely affect the other and there should be clarity around spans of responsibility and associated decision-making. In such circumstances protocols may be required regarding the sharing of information, delineation of responsibilities and a process by which any issues involving both groups can be resolved.