Major Emergency Framework

A new Framework for Major Emergency Management has been in place since 2006. This Framework sets out arrangements for mobilising a coordinated response by the emergency services and other agencies in the event of a major emergency in Ireland. It replaces the earlier arrangements in place since 1984.

The new Framework brings major emergency preparedness and management into the 21st century. It is also designed to equip the Government, the emergency services and other agencies to meet the new challenges that Ireland could potentially face in the future – including major radiological emergencies.

What do we mean by a 'major emergency'?

An emergency is generally defined as "an unexpected and potentially dangerous situation that requires immediate action."

Emergencies occur every day - road accidents, fires, severe weather, hazardous spillages and other such incidents. Most of these are routine, small-scale emergencies. They are dealt with by the main emergency services – An Garda Siochana, the Ambulance Service, the Fire Service and the Irish Coast Guard.

Very occasionally, a major emergency can erupt, often with little or no warning. To be classified as a major emergency, the incident would be potentially beyond the normal capabilities of the principal emergency services in the locality.

It could cause one or more of the following

  • Death or injury
  • Serious disruption to essential services
  • Damage to property, the environment or the infrastructure

Some historical examples of major emergencies

Fortunately, major emergencies are a rare occurrence. In recent decades, Ireland has witnessed no more than a handful of major emergencies.

These would include:

  • The 1979 Bettelgeuse disaster, when an oil tanker exploded in Bantry Bay
  • The 1980 Buttevant rail disaster, when a train crashed in County Cork
  • The 1981 Stardust night club fire in Dublin
  • The 1985 Air India explosion over the Irish Sea

What incidents might trigger a major radiological emergency?

Emergencies involving radioactive substances include fires, spills, transport accidents and the loss or theft of a radioactive source. Depending on the scale and nature of the incident, the response may be dealt with by the licensee or require the involvement of the emergency services. For a serious incident, a “Major Emergency” could be declared by the officer in charge.

Because Ireland has no nuclear installations, radiation accidents that occur inside the country should pose no serious problems for the emergency services.

What does the Framework aim to achieve?

The central aim of the Framework is to save lives.  Its purpose is first and foremost the protection, support and welfare of the public in times of emergency.

This concentration on protecting the public does not mean that the environment, the infrastructure, property or the economy will be neglected. A beneficial side-effect of ensuring public safety will be the safeguarding of these material assets.

Who oversees the Framework?

The National Steering Group is charged with developing, and where necessary updating, the Framework in the light of experience. It is chaired and led by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

It consists of representatives from

  • The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government
  • The Department of Health
  • The Department of Justice and Equality
  • The Department of Defence
  • The Local Authorities
  • The Health Service Executive
  • An Garda Síochána
  • The Defence Forces

For the purpose of dealing with major emergencies, Ireland is subdivided into eight Major Emergency Management regions.  In each of these regions, there is a Regional Steering Group on Major Emergency Management, comprising senior personnel from the principal response agencies within that region.

More information on major emergency management

The document, A Framework for Major Emergency Management, and a number of supporting guidance documents are available on the Major Emergency Management website.  As part of the Framework, a draft multi-agency protocol has been prepared to outline the response to a radiological or nuclear emergency.