Major emergencies


A major emergency is an incident beyond the normal capabilities of the principal emergency services, which causes or threatens:

  • Death or injury
  • Serious disruption of essential services


  • Damage to property, the environment or infrastructure

Such events include explosions, train crashes, incidents involving hazardous substances and forms of severe weather such as flooding and storms.

A major emergency requires the mobilisation of additional resources by the principal response agencies to ensure an effective response.

Principal emergency services

The principal emergency services are the first services to respond to most major emergencies. They are the blue light services that respond to normal emergencies, that is, the Garda Síochána, the Ambulance Service and the Fire Service. A fourth principal emergency service, the Irish Coast Guard, is responsible for handling maritime emergencies in Ireland's territorial waters, harbours and coastline.

Principal response agencies

Principal response agencies (PRAs) are the agencies that have been designated by Government to respond to major emergencies. They are the Garda Síochána, the Health Service Executive and the local authorities. Each principal emergency service is part of a larger PRA. For example, the Fire Service is a local authority service. Due to the nature and complexity of major emergencies, the staff and resources of the wider PRA are required to manage the consequences of the major emergency event and to co-ordinate its response with the other PRAs .

Depending on the nature of the emergency, agencies other than the PRAs - such as the Defence Forces or the voluntary emergency services - may also be required.

Major emergency management

Major emergencies require special arrangements to ensure a co-ordinated and effective response by the PRAs.

Framework for Major Emergency Management

The Framework for Major Emergency Management is a framework of policies, structures and arrangements for preparedness and response to major emergencies at the local and regional levels. The purpose of the Framework is to enable divisions of the Garda Síochána, regions of the Health Service Executive and local authorities to prepare for and make a co-ordinated response to any major emergency that occurs in their area.

The Framework sets out arrangements for other services such as the Defence Forces, voluntary emergency services, utilities, transport companies, industrial and other participants, and the affected communities to support and work with the PRAs in reacting to and managing major emergencies.

Each PRA has a major emergency plan that sets out the detail of its response, as well as its contribution to the combined response of all of the agencies.

Office of Emergency Planning

The Office of Emergency Planning is responsible to the Minister for Defence for the co-ordination and oversight of planning for emergencies. It also provides a support role to the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning. It has published a handbook entitled Preparing for Major Emergencies (pdf).

Policy and direction is provided by the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, which is chaired by the Minister for Defence. It co-ordinates and oversees the emergency planning activities of all government departments and public authorities. It also promotes the best possible use of resources and compatibility across different planning requirements.

The Office of Emergency Planning chairs the Inter-Departmental Working Group on Emergency Planning (IDWG) which carries out specific studies and develops particular aspects of emergency planning. The IDWG is the means by which expertise is shared between government departments and public authorities on emergency planning.

The lead responsibility for specific emergency planning functions remains with the relevant government departments. When an emergency occurs, the appropriate emergency plan is set into operation with the relevant department taking the lead in its implementation.

Severe weather

Following severe weather events in the winters of 2009/2010 and 2010/2011, which involved flooding and severe cold, the Government launched an information campaign to provide advice and information to help the public to be better prepared to deal with a period of severe weather.

The Office of Emergency Planning has a booklet Be Winter-Ready (pdf) and a website to provide practical advice and contact details of the main services that can provide help in extreme weather-related emergencies.

This guide for severe weather (pdf) includes advice on travel during severe weather,as well as contact details for local authorities, bus operators, rail operators, ferry operators, airports and airlines.

This guide for businesses on preparing for severe weather (pdf) includes a practical checklist to provide businesses with a basic template, which could help identify weaknesses in their business continuity plans in the case of a severe weather event.

Page edited: 7 September 2017