The Police service can deal with major and critical incidents. These can often happen without warning and require a carefully co-ordinated approach. It requires leaders and staff to be objective and work calmly in often difficult situations.

Major incidents are often complex and difficult incidents. It needs someone who can be calm and ready to make quick decisions.

Major incidents

An event or situation with a range of serious consequences which requires special arrangements to be implemented by one or more emergency responder agency.


  • 2016 Croydon train derailment
  • 2019 London Bridge terror attack
  • 2020 floods in England and Wales

Critical Incidents

Any incident where the effectiveness of the police response is likely to have significant impact on the confidence of the victim, their family and/or the community.


  • 1993 Murder and investigation of black teenager Stephen Lawrence
  • 2011 Undercover police case against environmental activists

In major incidents, there is a command structure that everyone involved responds to.

Gold (Strategic)

The strategic commander is a senior officer who has overall responsibility for the incident. They delegate tasks to both the silver and bronze commanders.

Silver (Tactical)

The tactical commander is responsible for co-ordinating multi-agency response and for directing police resources at the scene and elsewhere. They do not get involved in the tasks themselves, but task bronze commanders to assist them

Bronze (Operational)

Operational commanders have a specific geographic area. They have specific tasks such as establishing cordons, maintaining security and managing traffic

In this next section, we look at the priorities we need to deal with.

1. Saving Lives

The first priority is to work with other emergency services to save lives, reduce harm and prevent any further injuries or loss of life.

2. Health and Safety

We are responsible for the safety of the public and to prevent the incident from escelating. We need to make quick risk assessments and share them with other services (fire, emulance etc.). We must also make sure that all personnel at the incident are kept safe too.

3. Multi-agency co-ordination

We are responsible for co-ordinating all of the people involved (ambulance, fire, local authority etc.). This means telling the other services what to do.

4. Identifying agency leads

We need to identify who is the lead for each service at the incident and work with them to achieve the best result.

Every emergency lead should have a tabard that shows who they are.

5. Cordons and Traffic

We are responsible for cordons and traffic management. We will work with the highways authorities to identify new routes for traffic to avoid the incident.

6. Protect the scene

Because this may also be a crime scene, we are responsible for securing and preserving evidence unless life is at risk.

Taking a call

This video explains how the control room receives information about an incident and how resources are allocated.


The second video explains how the METHANE mnemonic is useful in supporting the lead officer to deal with an incident.

Joint Decision Model

Having established a major incident, senior leads from each service will co-locate at a forward command post. At this point they will adopt the Joint Decision Model (JDM) to determine their priority actions.


Find out how each service lead determines their own priorities using the IIMARCH mnemonic.


After any major incident is complete, it is reviewed by all services involved to see what worked well and what learning can be taken from it to improve response to future incidents.