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October 2017

Spontaneous Incidents

Spontaneous Incidents

For spontaneous incidents Category 1 and 2 responders must rely on their own internal arrangements and relevant multi-agency and/or site specific plans. This will guide the level and type of response required.

It is not possible to be definitive in terms of escalation points, however, the undernoted would indicate a need to activate multi-agency coordination:

  • Significant number of casualties/fatalities reported
  • Significant level of public assistance calls related to an incident
  • Significant level of assets deployed to an incident
  • Significant disruption to transport or infrastructure due to an incident
  • Need to coordinate response to more than one incident or scene or a wide area emergency
  • A deteriorating situation.

During a spontaneous emergency, initial multi-agency coordination at the scene will normally be led by the Police Incident Officer3 and will involve other responders’ Operational Commanders or Incident Officers.

Managing the scene of a spontaneous emergency

The scale and nature of most major incident or emergency sites requires them to be properly secured and managed. Although rescue and the saving of life is the primary focus, such sites need to be treated both as a source of health and safety concerns for emergency responders and, potentially, major crime scenes. Responders should follow established health and safety protocols and procedures for dealing with major crimes. The preservation of evidence, whilst vital, must never outweigh the preservation of life.

Proper cordons and controlled access to the scene should be established as soon as practicable. The co-operation of all personnel is required in properly reporting their own arrival and departure. Responders should challenge anyone who is seeking to or has gained unauthorised access that could jeopardise both the rescue effort and the investigation process.

In a situation where hazardous sites have prepared site-specific plans, it may be that locations for cordons, rendezvous points (RVPs), marshalling areas and the forward control point have been pre-determined. Site specific plans, where relevant, should always be consulted. The actual locations used, however, may have to be adjusted in light of changed circumstances and dynamic risk assessment.

Major Incident Site

The following diagram gives an indication of the scene layout of a ‘Spontaneous’ major incident or emergency.

scene layout of a ‘Spontaneous’ major incident
Scene layout of a ‘Spontaneous’ major incident

Actions by First Responders at Scene

The initial actions of the first responders from the emergency services to arrive at the scene of an emergency are of great importance. The immediate responsibility is to assume interim command and ensure that the other emergency services are informed if they are not already in attendance.

The first emergency services responder on scene has a duty to ensure that appropriate information is passed back to their respective control room for action and further distribution.

‘METHANE’ is the nationally recognised mnemonic devised to help first responders on the scene to record and report a comprehensive initial assessment to their control room.

Major Incident declared

Exact Location

Type of Incident

Hazards present or suspected

Access routes that are safe to use

Numbers, type and severity of casualties

Emergency services present and those required

The respective officers should then:

  • decide whether to declare a major incident;
  • take interim charge until relieved by a more senior officer;
  • maintain contact with their control room.


Cordons are established around any emergency scene for the following reasons:

  • secure the scene
  • protect the public
  • facilitate the safe operations of the emergency services and other agencies
  • control onlookers
  • prevent unauthorised interference with the investigation
  • protect the integrity of any evidence that may be there.

All cordons will be placed according to circumstances and may need to be re- positioned during the course of a Major Incident or Emergency. Up to three cordons may be established as described on the next two pages. This will be done by the police in consultation with other agencies, although an interim cordon may be established by the first responder on scene if police are not the first to arrive. The importance of managing cordons, once established, cannot be over emphasised.

Appropriate health and safety management arrangements should be introduced and enforced. The responsibility for health and safety of staff at an incident rests with each agency. Employees of responder agencies have a legal responsibility to follow their employer’s guidance and to look after their own and others safety under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 Section 7.

Some Major Incident or Emergency scenes can have a range of potential hazards including substances that are flammable, reactive, explosive or toxic. Technical advice should be sought whenever necessary and can be provided by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Environmental Health Officers, Public Health Consultants and other specialist responders represented at the Scientific and Technical Advice Cell (STAC).

In terrorist incidents or suspected terrorist incidents, it is a criminal offence to cross a police cordon without authority after having been previously warned.

Inner Cordon

When cordons are set only authorised personnel who have a role, are suitably briefed and are wearing appropriate protective clothing will be permitted entry. Briefing should include information on hazards and any evacuation signal.

Police Scotland will control all access and egress to the inner cordon through a control point at the outer cordon.

SFRS will log and verify their own service personnel and other agency staff entering the inner cordon. In addition, Police Scotland and Scottish Ambulance Service, working in conjunction with SFRS, will also log and verify their own service personnel entering the inner cordon. Police Scotland will also log representatives from the utilities and other investigators.

SFRS is responsible for safety management of all personnel within the inner cordon. An inner cordon may well be in place for a prolonged period however, the boundaries could be redefined once the emergency response has been terminated and search for evidence has been completed. The immediate area however may be out of bounds for days or, in some instances, longer.

In some circumstances, particularly in the absence of SFRS, other agencies may have specific skills to resolve the situation; responders should act on advice given by them.

In the event of a coastal rope rescue situation, the officer in charge from Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) will set up a cordon in the vicinity of the cliff edge and advice given must be acted upon by all responders.

Outer Cordon

Police Scotland will control all access and egress points to the outer cordon. The identity of all responders requiring access through the outer cordon will be checked at the RVP prior to attending the access point.

The command/control vehicles of the emergency services should be positioned between the inner and outer cordons as should the RVP and marshalling area.

Cordon Removal

During a prolonged incident the redefining of cordon areas will be continually reassessed.

Police Scotland will aim to keep drawing in the outer cordon so that, at any time, only areas that have yet to be cleared for safety are within it. As premises are progressively freed from the cordon, occupiers will need to be on hand to secure their premises as soon as they are released.

Police Scotland assisted by the Local Authority, Housing Association etc. should ensure that occupiers likely to be affected are given sufficient advance notice of the movement of the cordon boundaries.

Traffic Cordon

A traffic cordon may be established to restrict vehicle access to the area surrounding the scene.

Immediate action must be taken to ensure the free passage of emergency traffic to and from the scene of the incident and to prevent congestion at and around the scene.

Cordons will be placed according to circumstances and may need to be moved during the course of an event.

Rendezvous Point (RVP)

An RVP under the control of a police officer will be established in suitable proximity to the scene. Emergency vehicles attending an incident should arrive at the RVP in the first instance, have their attendance recorded and await deployment either directly to the scene or to the marshalling area for holding until required.

Marshalling Area

A marshalling area under the control of an officer from each emergency service should be identified and established between the RVP and the scene. Vehicles requiring access to the scene should be held in this area. The police would normally assist in marshalling vehicles belonging to a local authority and/or other organisations.

This area is for resources not immediately required at the scene or which, having served their purpose, are being held for future use. It should therefore be an area suitable for accommodating large numbers of vehicles.

The marshalling area officers should inform their respective controls of the arrival of any resources so that they may be deployed by their controllers. Marshalling areas may also be used to provide briefing/debriefing areas and recuperation for personnel involved in arduous work at the scene.

As the event moves from a response focus, utilities companies and other contractors may need to maintain the marshalling area during recovery work.

Forward Control Point (FCP)

The FCP is the initial focal point from which the operational level of management “at scene” will be co-ordinated by the Police Incident Officer (PIO), in consultation with the incident officers/managers of the other services. The importance of the consultation process should not be underestimated. Experience has demonstrated the benefits of establishing close contact between the emergency services and others involved in the management of emergencies.

The Incident Commander/Officers from the respective emergency response agencies will jointly exercise their authority from this point in a co-ordinated manner. These individuals can be identified by the distinctive tabards they must wear.

Ideally the FCP should be located at, or near to, the perimeter of the inner cordon and provide a single access to the emergency site. The location should be chosen carefully as relocation may prove extremely difficult once established. There should be sufficient space to accommodate the command vehicles of all the emergency services. The site should be clear of all hazards associated with the emergency but close enough to maintain control. Matters such as wind direction should be considered and relocation should not be ruled out if safety is compromised.

Incident Control Post (ICP)

The ICP is the place from which tactical commanders/managers from the emergency services and other appropriate organisations can manage and direct their services' initial response to a land-based emergency while liaising with counterparts close to the scene. Once ICP arrangements are in place, handover for tactical level co- ordination at the scene from a control room to ICP should be implemented to ensure proper demarcation between respective functions during an emergency.

The actual location of the ICP will be determined by the police in consultation with the other emergency services, either making use of an appropriate building or possibly set up on hard standing if available. It is important that key organisations are represented to enable the ICP to function effectively relatively close to the scene as the focal point for tactical level co-ordination of response activities.

The ICP should afford facilities from which key representatives can both meet and work. Provision is needed for meeting space, adequate for the full complement of agency representatives and separate from ongoing work areas, to allow the Tactical Commander an environment in which effective meetings can be conducted. The Tactical Commander should ensure that someone is responsible for maintaining a rolling log/status board of key response information.

Pre-planning may have identified specific locations from where Tactical Management should be exercised i.e. a Control Centre, Incident Management Suite or some other suitable venue.

Mobile Command Vehicles

Police Scotland, SFRS and Scottish Ambulance Service each have bespoke mobile centres that can be sent to an incident site from which they can direct their own operations. However, with agreement, one of these can be opened up for use on a multi-agency basis to support an ICP or a Forward Control Post To aid identification, the blue, red or green identifying lights on each of the above vehicles will be switched on. The emergency flashing lights of all other vehicles must be switched off, except during incidents on open motorways, or unless deemed to be necessary for reasons of safety.


Casualty and fatality handling involves a number of centres of activity including the following:

  • Casualty Clearing Station
  • Ambulance Loading Points
  • Receiving Hospitals
  • Body Holding Area(s)
  • Temporary Mortuary
  • Rest Centres
  • Survivor Reception Centres.

(Note that in the event of a maritime incident, the term ‘casualty’ may refer to a vessel in distress. Recovery may also refer to a phase following response or salvage of a vessel.)

Air Support

Situations may arise where the use of helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft for rescue or casualty clearance is of value. In considering this option, Incident Officers should ensure appropriate liaison with air support providers on:

  • the differing types of aircraft and any limitations placed on their use by weather or other conditions
  • the normal location of the aircraft
  • response times
  • correct safety protocols to be used when loading/unloading casualties
  • the role of Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) in coordination
  • the role of National Maritime Operations Centre (NMOC) Fareham in coordination4
  • MCA assistance with ground to air communications and setting up of landing sites
  • emergency flying restrictions.


Some incidents (notably those where a criminal offence may have occurred) may require an investigation to be undertaken.

Depending upon the nature of the incident, several different agencies may undertake their own investigation. They may all attend the scene with video / photography teams and technical experts.

These agencies may include:

  • Police Scotland
  • Scottish Police Authority (SPA) Forensic Services
  • SFRS Incident Research & Investigation Section (IRIS)
  • The Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB)
  • The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB)
  • Railway Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB)
  • Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
  • Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
  • MCA Enforcement Branch.

The above list of investigative agencies is not exhaustive and the type of incident will dictate the agencies involved.

The investigation should not interfere with the saving of life but where appropriate any scene(s) must be secured as soon as possible and anything which can be reasonably anticipated to be required as evidence should be preserved and not damaged, moved or disposed of without reference to the lead investigator.

Evidence gathering may delay other secondary activity. For example, an incident on the transport system may necessitate the closure of a stretch of road or rail network. Evidence collection from any scene may delay a return to normality for ordinary residents or businesses. Investigators are aware of the potential for disruption and will look to keep partners informed of investigative activity. This can be built into consequence management efforts allowing public confidence to be maintained.

3 Incidents of a particularly specialist nature may be led by other agencies, for instance, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency may lead in the sudden sinking of a vessel.

4 The ARCC became a function of MCA in 2016

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