Devon and Cornwall Police have just declared a ‘major incident’

Before we get to that Owl dares to ask the question: Who is in charge, who takes control? 

Clear Command and Control in emergency situations like this is essential to coordinate actions which are likely to be multi-agency  and resource constrained. 

We emerged from WWII with a strong, largely volunteer, civil defence organisation. Facing the prospect of major civil emergencies arising from nuclear war, contingency plans were developed. They were not widely publicised for obvious reasons. In the worst case scenario local administration (i.e.government) devolved to LA Chief Executives, who assumed absolute power, vested through the Home Office. [Think Mark Williams grabbing his chosen few, diving into the secret bunker built under Blackdown House  – No? Well in fact these plans pre-dated district councils so more likely County CE- the bunkers are still out there somewhere.]

For many years Counties used to have a formal emergency planning officer, often retired Army Officers, not taking charge but preparing contingency plans, but these look to be long gone. 

Owl finds a summary of the current situation in a  2017 House of Commons Briefing Paper, written after Grenfell Tower, it’s all very wooly: 


From (Page 10):

Who leads the emergency response? The emergency response is based around the concepts of command, control and cooperation and operates at three levels – operational, tactical and strategic. …….   

The structure for responding to any emergency will depend on the nature and circumstances of that emergency. Single agency groups will take command of their own personnel and assets, but a multi-agency Strategic Coordinating Group may be convened to provide coordination – but not control – across agencies:

“ 4.2.1. (…) No single responding agency has command authority over any other agencies‘ personnel or assets. Where multi-agency co-ordinating groups are established to define strategy and objectives, it is expected that all involved responder agencies will work in a directed and co-ordinated fashion in pursuit of those objectives.” ref.18

A major incident has been declared by Devon & Cornwall Police in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, (coronavirus).

Richard Booth

The declaration has been made to ensure that all agencies across the Devon & Cornwall Local Resilience Forum are co-ordinated and working as effectively as possible at a time of critical need.

It comes as Boris Johnson said the Government is telling pubs, cafes, nightclubs, bars, restaurants, theatres, leisure centres and gyms to close from tonight to fight coronavirus.

TACC Glen Mayhew, chair of the Devon and Cornwall LRF, said: “We are facing a critical public health situation nationwide and it is vital for blue light responders and partner organisations across our communities to work together and deal with the challenges which lie ahead over the coming days and weeks.

“Declaring this a major incident means we can put in place well-rehearsed structures and mechanisms for multi-agency working. Resilience plans already exist to help us protect and enable us to support our communities in the best way possible – keeping them informed and able to function.

“This has not been caused by a rise in cases of COVID-19, (coronavirus), in our region or because demand has meant agencies are unable to cope – it is a supportive measure to give strength to all agencies and partners and ensure we can assist each other at a time when we are all likely to see an effect on staffing and our respective agency’s resilience.”

Mr Mayhew added: “The public should not be alarmed, but continue to follow guidance from Public Health England and the Government around measures to reduce risk associated with COVID-19, (coronavirus), access to critical health services, social distancing and self-isolation.

“Whether it be police officers, those working in social care or some of the many hundreds of volunteers in our communities, we need to do our absolute utmost to protect and help the elderly and most vulnerable people in our communities.

“We know there are many strong and resilient communities across the peninsula and Isles of Scilly. It is now, at this time of most need, that we must come together as a partnership and support our communities as one.”