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Guide to emergency planning for community groups

Introduction: Why plan for emergencies?

Scotland is a relatively safe country, but we regularly experience emergencies and disruption caused by issues like severe winter weather and flooding, and from issues such as fuel shortages, animal diseases, and pandemic viruses.

Challenges like these can affect us all in our daily lives, but when communities organise themselves to prepare for emergencies, it can make a big difference.

Dumfries & Galloway has endured many and various weather related incidents over the years which have resulted in a high proportion of communities working with D&G Council in developing Community Resilience arrangements to enhance their levels of resilience. 

In the winter of 2015/16 multiple successive storms caused significant flooding in several areas, resulting in damage to homes and businesses, and the need for evacuations.

Established community group assisted police on the ground with door knocking when flooding became imminent, they distributed donations where they were most needed, and set up local rest centres.

Temp flood defences at Newton Stewart

Temp flood defences at Newton Stewart

CC Copyright Jim Barton

There are over 300 community emergency groups around Scotland and many more community groups have come together to support residents through recent coronavirus challenges.

Scotland has a network of organisations who work together to respond to and recover from emergencies. These organisations are called “emergency responders” in this guide. They include what people think of as the “emergency services”: police, fire and ambulance, but also other organisations like local authorities and the NHS. Voluntary groups such as mountain rescue teams, British Red Cross, RAYNET and 4X4 vehicle groups also assist the responder agencies.

These organisations come together as Resilience Partnerships which enable them to prepare for and respond to emergencies in a joined up way.

However, the emergency responders can’t be everywhere at once. They will always have to prioritise people in greatest need, especially where lives are at risk.

Voluntary sector groups regularly work alongside the emergency responders. Both say that this works best where they have an established relationship and don’t have to start from scratch when an emergency occurs. It helps that they know who to talk to and have planned in advance what to do.

Having a Community Emergency Plan doesn’t mean that your group replaces the emergency responders.

It is important to remember that you should never do anything which puts you or anyone else in your community at risk.

At the heart of how communities get through emergencies is down to their “resilience” – this means using their strengths to:

prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies.

More resilient communities:

  • Are aware of risks that may affect them and how vulnerable they are to those risks.
  • Use their existing skills, knowledge and resources to prepare for, and deal with, the consequences of emergencies.
  • Work together to complement the work of the local emergency responders before, during and after an emergency.

A Community Emergency Plan is one way in which your group can help your community become more resilient. It can help your community cope until the emergency responders arrive and help it recover in the long term.

Past incidents have shown that people already support and help each other during times of need. Simple activities, like getting together to clear snow and ice from paths or offering a helping hand to neighbours who might become vulnerable in an emergency, can make all the difference.

This document sets out a ‘step by step’ guide, from getting started, to practising your plan. It is not, however, an instruction manual that must be followed to the letter.

Your community group is best placed to decide on what will work best for you.

The document is available for groups to use now, but the Scottish Government is open to feedback on its contents and will update it periodically. If you have any comments or suggestions on how we could improve the guide, please forward to :


Post: Ready Scotland Team, St. Andrew's House Regent Road, Edinburgh, EH1 3DG

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