Emergency or critical incident plan: guidance and examples

Prepare for emergencies by making sure your school has an emergency or critical incident plan detailing how you'll respond to various significant incidents.

Last reviewed on 3 November 2023See updates
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  1. All schools should plan for emergencies
  2. What incidents should your emergency plan cover?
  3. Prepare your initial response to emergencies
  4. Your plans should aim to minimise disruption to education
  5. Plan what you will do after the emergency
  6. See a template plan and guidance from an LA
  7. See school examples

All schools should plan for emergencies

The aim of the plan (also called a critical incident plan) is to help you and your staff plan for and respond effectively to an emergency on site or during an educational visit.

As you’d expect, safeguarding and promoting the welfare of your pupils is paramount. You must:

  • Continue to follow any statutory safeguarding guidance that applies to you and your setting
  • Comply with legal requirements, including health and safety law

This is explained in the DfE’s non-statutory emergency planning and response guidance.

Make sure you consult members of staff, management boards and governors when developing your emergency plan.

How is it different to a business continuity plan?

If you have a business continuity plan, you'll already have plans in place to minimise disruption to critical school activities in the event of disruptive incidents. 

Make sure your emergency plans also include your initial response to an incident – this will usually involve either evacuating the school or 'invacuating' everyone into the school for protection (more about this below). This is not covered by business continuity plans.

Some schools combine emergency plans and business continuity plans, as they're often needed in similar types of situations. See the school examples further down this article to see how this can work.

Use resources from your LA or MAT

Check with your local authority (LA) or multi-academy trust (MAT) to see if it has produced guidance on managing critical incidents. Your own plan should reflect this as closely as possible.

Academies and independent schools can establish relationships with their LAs to use their critical incident services. Details of this could be included in the school's critical incident plan.

What incidents should your emergency plan cover?

Your plan should be generic enough to cover various potential incidents, including:

  • Public health incidents (e.g. a significant infectious disease incident)
  • Severe weather (e.g. extreme heat, flooding, storms or snow)
  • Serious injury to a pupil or member of staff
  • Fire risk and any hazards
  • Significant damage to building (e.g. incident requiring temporary structural supports to the building or closure)
  • Criminal activity (e.g. a bomb threat)
  • Loss of power or telecommunications
  • Disruption to normal services
  • Cyber incident or data breach
  • Impact and lasting effects of a disaster in the local community

 It should cover incidents that might happen:

  • On the school site – including any accommodation, conference centres, or room/buildings you rent out
  • Off-site – e.g. on a school trip
  • During normal working hours
  • Outside normal working hours, including weekends and holidays

It should also include emergency procedures for: 

  • Extended services, such as breakfast clubs, after-school clubs and holiday activities
  • Open days, transition days and taster days
  • Live performances with an audience

Include your response to emergency alerts

The government's emergency alerts system sends alerts to all compatible 4G and 5G devices in England if there’s a danger to life nearby.

Review your emergency plans to make sure they include processes you'll follow in case of an emergency alert in your area.

Prepare your initial response to emergencies

Your first priority when an emergency occurs should be ensuring the safety of your pupils and staff. Depending on the incident, this might involve:

  • Evacuation – getting everyone out of the building safely
  • Shelter (invacuation) – getting everyone inside the building
  • Lockdown – getting everyone inside and locking them in to protect against dangerous intruders

The DfE's school security guidance contains template procedures you can follow for each of these situations. Use our template and guidance on security lockdown procedures.

Test and practise your procedures

Train staff in your procedures, and run exercises and drills, so that staff and pupils know what to do.

It's unlikely you will have time to refer to these documents when an emergency occurs, so it's important that staff are aware and appropriately trained in how to respond.

Have an emergency 'grab bag'

To make sure you have everything you might need in an emergency, prepare a 'grab bag' and keep it in an easily-accessible place. This should contain essentials you might need in different situations:

  • Hard copies of emergency/business continuity plans
  • First aid kit
  • Armband/high-visibility tabards
  • Torches
  • 2-way radios
  • Batteries
  • Whistles
  • A loud hailer
  • Emergency foil blankets

Depending on the size of your school, you might need more than 1 grab bag in different locations.

Your plans should aim to minimise disruption to education

Once you've made sure your pupils and staff are safe, you'll need plans to manage the ongoing situation. For example, if you can no longer use the school buildings due to damage, you should have arrangements in place to either use alternative premises or for remote learning.

This part of emergency planning is often referred to as 'business continuity' or 'disaster recovery'. You might already have business continuity plans, but if not, you can use our template business continuity plan.

The DfE's emergency planning and response guidance, linked above, recommends you include the following in your plan:

  • Roles and responsibilities
  • When to get advice, and who to ask
  • Details of the steps you might take in an emergency and how you'd enact them quickly
  • A list of key contacts
  • How you'd make sure every pupil received the same level of education and care they’re normally entitled to (including through remote education where appropriate)
  • How you'd communicate any changes to pupils, parents/carers and staff
  • How to respond if your advice is not accepted

You might include other details in your plan's appendices, such as:

  • Contact information for emergency services
  • Details of counsellors
  • Providers of temporary buildings
  • A plan of the school
  • Details of the appropriate emergency contact at the LA if it has a service that supports schools during critical incidents

As mentioned above, a lot of schools combine their emergency plans with business continuity plans (see the examples below). 

Plan what you will do after the emergency

Once the emergency is over, it's important to review what happened and decide if anything could be done differently. You can use the DfE's debrief and lessons learned template.

Make sure you provide ongoing support to any pupils or staff who are affected by the incident. For example, they might suffer from stress or anxiety as a result. The DfE provides a post-incident support checklist that you can access via the same link above.

Get more help from our articles on monitoring pupils' mental health and wellbeing and how to run welfare checks for school staff.

See a template plan and guidance from an LA

Note: the resources below were developed before the most recent updates to the DfE's emergency planning and response guidance, linked above, and may not include all the recommended information. 

Nottinghamshire County Council has produced a set of resources for schools, including a template emergency plan, accompanying guidance, and supporting materials such as staff training exercises and risk assessments.

See school examples

Most schools include their emergency plans within a critical incident policy.

Note: the examples below were published before the most recent updates to the DfE's emergency planning and response guidance, linked above, and may not include all the recommended information. 

Sutton C of E Primary School in Cambridgeshire has a critical incidents management plan (find this under 'Procedural policies') that outlines its:

  • Critical incident team
  • Critical incident response – immediate, short-term and long-term
  • Procedures for school closures

Harewood Primary School in Stockton-on-Tees has an emergency planning policy that covers:

  • Contact details for a variety of different situations
  • The contents of its emergency grab bags
  • Checklists of actions for different incidents

The Ravensbourne School in Bromley has a critical incident response policy including lockdown procedures (find it under 'school policies') that includes:

  • Lockdown procedures
  • Procedures for communicating with parents/carers and the media
  • A plan for critical incidents on a school trip/out of hours activity

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