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What is a Major Emergency?

A major emergency is an incident, which, usually with little or no warning, causes or threatens, death or injury, serious disruption of essential services or damage to property, the environment or infrastructure beyond the normal capabilities of the principal emergency services (An Garda Síochána, the Ambulance Service and the Fire Service) in the area in which the event occurs.

Major emergencies require the implementation of special arrangements and the mobilisation of additional resources by the principal response agencies (An Garda Síochána, the HSE and the local authorities) to ensure an effective, co-ordinated response.

Who are the Principal Emergency Services (PES)?

The principal emergency services are the blue light services that respond to normal emergencies in Ireland, namely An Garda Síochána, the Ambulance Service and the Fire Service.  A fourth principal emergency service, the Irish Coast Guard, is responsible for the initiation, control and co-ordination of maritime emergencies in the Irish territorial waters, harbours and coastline. The principal emergency services would be the first services to respond to most major emergencies.

Who are the Principal Response Agencies (PRA)?

The principal response agencies are the agencies designated by the Government to respond to Major Emergencies i.e. An Garda Síochána, the Health Service Executive and the Local Authorities.  Each principal emergency service is part of a larger principal response agency e.g. the Fire Service is a Local Authority service.  Due to the nature and complexity of Major Emergencies the staff and resources of the wider agency is required to support the work of the emergency services.

Who may declare a major emergency?

Any one of the principal response agencies may declare a major emergency. The highest-ranking member of each of the first emergency teams to arrive on site carries out a situation appraisal. It is the task of these individuals to survey the site and accumulate all available information that may be used to arrive at a decision.  Each principal response agency has personnel authorised and trained in the procedures for declaring a major emergency.

What agencies respond to major emergency situations?

An Garda Siochána, the Health Service Executive and the Local Authorities are the agencies charged with managing the response to emergency situations. They provide and operate Ireland’s principal emergency services that respond to emergencies on a daily basis.

Depending on the nature of the emergency, agencies other than the principal response agencies e.g. the Defence Forces or the Voluntary Emergency Services may also be required. In these situations the relevant arrangements outlined in the Major Emergency Plans will be invoked.

No third party should respond to the site of a major emergency unless mobilised by one of the principal response agencies through the agreed procedure.

What is the Local Authority Major Emergency Plan?

Major emergencies require special arrangements to ensure co-ordinated and effective response.  Each Local Authority has a Major Emergency Plan that sets out the specific arrangements for that authority in the event of a major emergency.  Similar plans are in place in An Garda Síochána and the Health Service Executive.  Current plans are based on the 1984 “Framework for Co-ordinated Response to Major Emergencies”.  Major Emergency Plans are reviewed on a regular basis and exercises are carried out, including joint exercises with the An Garda Síochána and the HSE.

How do these agencies work together?

The principal emergency services have protocols and procedures in place to support their work at a range of events, from small routine occurrences to major emergencies. 


What is “ A Framework For Major Emergency Management”?

It is an agreed Framework approved by Government enabling An Garda Siochána, the Health Service Executive and Local Authorities to prepare for and make a co-ordinated response to major emergencies resulting from events such as fires, transport accidents, hazardous substances incidents and severe weather.

This document replaces the Framework for Co-ordinated Response to Major Emergency, which has underpinned major emergency preparedness and response capability since 1984. The new Major Emergency Management arrangements in this document build on current strengths and make full use of the core competencies and organisational strengths of the principal response agencies as the basis of any response.

Why do we need a new Framework?

Recent years have seen changes in the international approach to the preparation for and response to major emergencies.  The new Framework incorporates current international best practice and builds on the good work that has been ongoing in the principal response agencies since 1984.

What does the new Framework actually do?

The Framework sets out arrangements which will facilitate the principal emergency services in scaling-up the response required, so as to utilise the full resources of the principal response agencies, and to work together in the management of large-scale incidents.

The Framework sets out arrangements by which other services such as the Defence Forces, voluntary emergency services, utilities, transport companies, industrial and other participants, and not least the communities affected, can support and work with the principal response agencies in reacting to and managing major emergencies.

How does the Framework serve the public?

The Framework is designed primarily to provide for the protection, support and welfare of the public in times of emergency.  Effective arrangements to ensure public safety in times of emergency also have the benefit of helping to safeguard the environment, the economy, infrastructure and property.

The Framework aims to ensure we are able to respond to emergencies at the national, regional and local level, and to make sure that the essential services (food, water, transport, health, financial services etc.) keep operating.

Are the new Framework arrangements in place?

As part of its decision to approve the new Framework, Government also approved a two-year development programme referred to as the Major Emergency Development Programme (2006-2008) or MEDP.  The purpose of this programme is to allow for the structured migration from current arrangements to an enhanced level of preparedness via the new emergency management process.

The development and preparation of the new Major Emergency Management regime was undertaken in the first year of the programme.  This entailed such tasks as putting staff and resources in place, initial training, putting structures in place, writing up individual agency development programmes, undertaking risk assessment and writing revised format Major Emergency Plans.  In this, the second year of the programme, the emphasis is on training and exercising. 
Current plans continue to operate until all the principal response agencies are instructed to change to the new arrangements at the end of September 2008.

Who oversees the roll-out of the Framework?

The Framework defines emergency management structures at Local, Regional and National Level.  At a Local level each principal response agency is responsible for undertaking the requirements set out in the Framework e.g. having a Major Emergency Plan. 

At Regional Level the principal response agencies have formed Regional Steering Groups to co-ordinate the inter-agency aspects of major emergency preparedness and management.

At National Level the National Steering Group is assigned responsibility for promulgating and promoting the Framework and ensuring its timely and consistent implementation.  The National Steering Group has also formed a National Working Group to undertake implementation tasks and produce additional guidance in the area of Major Emergency Management



The Office of Public Works have developed two websites - Flooding website (external link)  and Flooding Maps website (external link)  to provide practical help to homes or businesses that may be at risk from flooding. The Flooding website contains detailed information on how to prepare for flooding, how to minimise its effects and it also gives generally safety advice to be applied in case of flooding.  The floodmaps website shows details of historical data on flooding in Ireland, this website advises on historical risk of flooding for each area of the country.

Local Authorities for whom flooding is an issue have detailed plans for response to these events.  The advice in relation to climate change would suggest that flooding will continue to be an issue in this country and indeed its prevalence may increase.  With this in mind the National Working Group has worked with the Office of Public Works to produce information and guidance for the principal response agencies and particularly the Local Authorities on preparing for flood response.  This guidance is available on the Department’s website.

Chemical Spills

Local Authority Fire Services respond to chemical spills in co-ordination with their colleagues in the other principal emergency services.  The fire service is trained and equipped to deal with what they refer to as ‘Hazardous Material’ or ‘Hazmat’ incidents. 
Chemical spills can pose a threat to human health and the environment and the best advice to the public is as set out in the Government’s Handbook i.e. stay away form the scene (preferably up hill and up wind of the incident) and call the emergency services.


Fire incidents can range from small fires that can be extinguished by a trained person using a fire extinguisher to large fires that require the attendance of the fire service.This Department provides the planning and legislative framework for the enforcement of fire safety and the operation of the fire service through the Fire Services Act 1981 and the 2003 amendments. Local authorities provide fire services either directly themselves or through a mutual aid agreement with another authority.

Financial assistance is provided to fire authorities via grants towards the cost of fire stations, the purchase of fire appliances and fire service equipment, including communications equipment.
Fire safety advice is provided by this Department to fire authorities and persons in charge of premises in response to queries and requests.
Practical advice for the public on fire safety is also available from the Department’s Fire Services and Emergency Planning Section.  This advice is available in leaflet form or can be downloaded directly from the website. 

The advice leaflets cover the following topics:



National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents FAQs
Environmental Radiation

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