What is a major incident?

The likelihood is that most of us will never face a major incident during our lifetime but incidents do happen and therefore we must be prepared. Every day the emergency services are called to deal with circumstances which require the use of their knowledge and skills to safeguard life and property. Any emergency situation that has the potential to cause major disruption, affects large numbers of people, causes a substantial amount of damage and/or creates a strain on resources is referred to as a ‘major incident’. This is a phrase which all the above agencies will use to trigger the activation of their emergency plans.

It is any emergency that requires the implementation of special arrangements by one or more of the Emergency Services, the NHS or the local authority, for:

  • the initial treatment, rescue and transport of a large number of casualties;
  • the involvement either directly or indirectly of large numbers of people;
  • the handling of a large number of enquiries likely to be generated both from the public and the news media, usually to the police
  • the need for the large scale combined resources of two or more of the emergency services
  • the mobilisation and organisation of the emergency services and supporting organisations, for example a local authority, to cater for the threat of death, serious injury or homelessness to a large number of people.

Causes of major incidents can be either


  • Severe weather
  • Flooding
  • Landslides
  • Earthquakes
  • Epidemics
  • Heatwaves


  • Air, rail, waterways and road accidents
  • Escape of dangerous chemicals
  • Explosions
  • Radiation incidents
  • Terrorist acts
  • Crowd related incidents
  • Oil pollution
  • Fire and building collapse

Who should I contact about a 'major incident'?

Members of the public should always use the emergency services 999 system

Updated: 6 March 2013