People power in emergencies

How government bodies and local groups can work together to support their communities before, during and after emergencies

After serious floods in Yorkshire and the East Midlands, people evacuated from their homes stand with British Red Cross volunteers in a church with emergency relief supplies.

Our report, People power in emergencies: An assessment of voluntary and community sector engagement and human-centred approaches to emergency planning, explores how local resilience forums and community groups can best work together. The goal is to make the most of the knowledge, skills and capacities of individuals, the community and voluntary sector for effective emergency response.

Download the People power in emergencies report (PDF)

We explore how far local planning bodies make the most of the needs, knowledge, skills and capacities of the community and voluntary sector, who play a role in ensuring a human-centred response.

Better collaboration needed

Our report shows that the amount and effectiveness of collaboration between the voluntary and community groups and local resilience forums can vary.

Where it is lowest, the result is emergency planning and responses that focus mainly on statutory agencies and ‘command and control’ mechanisms. This misses opportunities to mobilise people power so that communities can build their resilience and support their own recovery from within.

The research also finds that people’s very different needs are not always considered, and looks at how those needs can best be met at times of crisis.

For example, though 85 per cent of local emergency plans contain plans for providing food, only 44 per cent considered dietary requirements. Almost all plans included plans for longer-term mental health support, but most plans lacked provision for short-term psychosocial and emotions support during and immediately after a crisis.

Key recommendations

Our report’s key recommendation is for an urgent review of the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act. The British Red Cross is calling for the government to enshrine in law the role of the voluntary and community sector in emergencies. This will give individuals and communities more say in how they are treated and the support they get in an emergency. Other recommendations include:

  • Improved ‘human centred’ guidance for local resilience forums. Government to amend the Civil Contingencies Act, Regulations and Guidance to require local resilience forums, in partnership with the voluntary and community sector, to ensure that the plans formulated by local resilience forums fully meet the humanitarian needs of their communities.
  • Developing, building and sharing best practice. Government to deliver on its commitment to community engagement in emergencies. This includes the outlined Community Resilience Development Framework, and local resilience forums adopting a ‘people at the heart of planning’ checklist
  • We believe that closer collaboration across agencies and with people and communities themselves will enhance the response provided during and following incidents such as a fire or flood, wherever and wherever that emergency happens.

We would welcome your endorsement, adoption and delivery of these recommendations. To take these forward to ensure a community centred approach to emergencies and for more information on the report please contact

Download the People power in emergencies report (PDF)

Download the People at the heart of planning checklist (PDF)