Working with military

Working with military

13. Information for military responders attending civil emergencies

This guidance is provided for the use of military responders. It clarifies and explains the ways of working used by civil responder agencies when they respond to incidents.

13.1 Introduction

Emergency responders need to be able to work with other agencies, including the armed forces. Military responders contribute in a supporting role, with civil responders having primacy throughout. 

Military responders should be aware of the JESIP principles for joint working and will be expected to adhere to them wherever possible. The principles for joint working are co-locationcommunicationco-ordination, a joint understanding of risk and shared situational awareness.

13.2 Command and control

Civil organisations use the terms ‘strategic’, ‘tactical’ and ‘operational’ to identify individual roles in the command and control structure. This differs from the strategic – operational – tactical structure found in UK and NATO military doctrine. The strategic commander has overall command of the incident and is part of the strategic co-ordinating group (SCG). Below this is the tactical command level, which functions through a tactical co-ordinating group (TCG). The operational commander will work at or very near the scene.

13.2.1 Co-location

Co-locating commanders is essential. When commanders are co-located, they can perform the functions of command, control and co-ordination face-to-face. They should work from a single jointly agreed location known as the Forward Command Post (FCP). They use the JESIP joint decision model along with joint decision logs to record their actions and decisions. Military log keepers must be aware of this, so that they can ensure any military logs and records are consistent.

13.2.2 Communication

At multi-agency incidents, civil commanders use interoperability ‘talk groups’, which are held by the emergency services to ensure all responders have a shared understanding. Military responders should be included if possible.

Civil responders report and share information about the incident over their communications networks using the mnemonic M/ETHANE (insert cross ref to METHANE section here?) , which stands for:

  • Major incident declared?
  • Exact location
  • Type of incident
  • Hazards present or suspected
  • Access – routes that are safe to use
  • Number of casualties
  • Emergency services present and those required

Military units will also be expected to use M/ETHANE to convey information about the incident in the situation reports they give to civil agencies. Information shared should be free of acronyms and terms used by only one agency. This ensures that the information shared is clear and unambiguous.

13.2.3 Co-ordination

Depending on the nature of the incident, one of the civil emergency services (or an appropriate responder) generally takes the lead role at an incident to ensure an effective response, with military contribution in a supporting role. Military unit commanders are responsible for identifying themselves at the forward command post, or any other location that they have been asked to attend. They should establish effective co-ordination with the lead civilian responder to ensure tasks are allocated appropriately.

13.2.4 Joint Understanding of Risk

Commanders of civilian responder agencies will share their respective risk assessments and establish a joint understanding of risks to ensure the safety of responders. This will include any military assets where they are under the control of civilian agencies. However, this does not absolve military commanders from their own assessment of the risks and, where necessary, military commanders must decide for themselves whether the risks their personnel are exposed to are tolerable and as low as reasonably practicable. If there is disagreement between the military and the civilian commander, the military commander must inform the military chain of command as soon as possible.

13.2.5 Shared Situational Awareness

A common understanding of the circumstances and immediate consequences of an emergency, together with an appreciation of available resources and the capabilities of responder agencies, is critical to success. Using the mnemonic M/ETHANE allows incident information to be shared in a way that is easily understood. As incidents develop, the briefing tool, IIMARCH should be used by civilian agencies, with information briefed against each heading in the IIMARCH mnemonic (Information, Intent, Method, Administration, Risk assessment, Communications, Humanitarian issues). However, in the early stages, a briefing can be delivered quickly around the content of the joint decision model.

13.2.6 Joint Organisational Learning – miliary contributions

Military units are encouraged to contribute to post-incident de-briefs and to ensure that interoperability lessons are captured in the joint organisational learning application on the ResilienceDirect website.

13.2.7 Joint training and exercising

If military units and personnel are likely to assist civilian emergency services in their area, they are encouraged to take part in joint learning opportunities to enhance their awareness of the JESIP principles and ways of working. 

The Army’s Regional Point of Command (RPOC) brigades will co-ordinate this, usually through the network of joint regional liaison officers (JRLOs).

13.3 Information for civil responders where military involvement is key

This section gives responder agencies information on working with the military. It does not cover in depth the process for requesting assistance, or the capabilities and assets available.

13.3.1 Command authority

Military personnel deployed to assist with civilian responders remain under the military chain of command at all times. This means that they may be withdrawn at any time should the chain decide that they are required for higher priority tasks. Military commanders are also authorised to refuse tasks if they believe they are inappropriate, beyond the scope of the original request for assistance, or they put their personnel at undue risk. In these circumstances, the military commander will report the incident to a higher authority as soon as possible.

13.3.2 Command and Control

Military command and control structure differs from that used by civilian agencies. The military strategic level of command is executed through the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The operational level of command will be taken by MoD Headquarters Standing Joint Commander (UK) based in Andover, whilst the tactical level of command is usually held by the Army’s Regional Point of Command (RPOC) brigade commanders. 

The Army’s RPOC brigade commanders are usually appointed as joint military commanders for an operation to support UK civil authorities and in this capacity they may base themselves at the Strategic Co-ordinating Group. More military liaison officers will be deployed to the strategic co-ordinating group/s and tactical co-ordinating group/s (TCG/s) appropriate to the operation.

13.3.3 Defence Fire and Rescue Management Organisation

The Defence Fire and Rescue Management Organisation (DFRMO) has limited numbers of personnel and equipment at a number of MoD establishments.

Should the incident escalate to involve other fire and rescue services and responders, DFRMO incident command policy presents a building block approach for a robust incident management process.

DFRMO policy is that the fire officer from the primary authority takes charge of the incident. If the incident takes place at a military establishment, this will be the DFRMO incident commander. 

At incidents where there are special risks, such as those involving military aircraft or submarines, the civil fire and rescue service fire officer will assume the role of overall incident commander at the incident, but will work closely with the senior DFRMO fire officer present, who may assume the role of tactical adviser, sharing risk-critical information.

13.3.4 Joint Regional Liaison Officer

The Joint Regional Liaison Officer (JRLO) is the MoD’s primary focus for integrating regional UK military operations with civil authorities. The regions are based on the geographic boundaries of the Army’s Regional Point of Command (RPOC) brigades.

During routine periods they represent the MoD at local resilience forums and attend all relevant training and exercising events. When a crisis occurs, they may represent the Regional Point of Command (RPOC) brigade commander at the strategic co-ordinating group.  But if the crisis covers a number of local resilience forum areas and a representative from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is needed in a number of areas, another military liaison officer may assume the role. They will be nominated by the MoD and will usually be drawn from military establishments or units in the region involved.

Single-service liaison officers from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force complement the capability and capacity of the joint regional liaison officer and provide specialist, single-service advice. The joint regional liaison officer can provide advice on the military capability available in an emergency situation and how to submit a request.

13.3.5 Requests for military assistance

If the assistance or support of the armed forces is required at an incident, a ‘military aid to the civil authority’ (MACA) request is usually made through the strategic co-ordinating group to the relevant lead government department. If the lead responder on the ground is the police or the fire and rescue service, the lead government department will be the Home Office. For the ambulance service it will be the Department of Health.

Where the local authority is the lead responder, the lead government department is the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Slightly different arrangements exist in the devolved areas, although the lead government departments are still the London-based Wales Office, Northern Ireland Office and Scotland Office. In circumstances where the formal command structure for a civil emergency response has not been established, police headquarters will be able to supply the contact details for the joint regional liaison officer (JRLO) for each area.

13.3.6 Emergency assistance

If an exceptional emergency situation develops and an urgent response from military units is needed to save life, local commanders are authorised under standing arrangements to deploy without seeking approval from a higher authority.

The Defence Council approves the use of Ministry of Defence (MoD) service personnel on tasks that are assessed as:

“Being urgent work of national importance, such work as is considered by a local commander, at the time when the work needs to be performed, to be urgently necessary for the purposes of the alleviation of distress and preservation and safeguarding of lives and property in the time of disaster…”

In very exceptional circumstances, therefore, where there is a grave and sudden emergency, military commanders have a duty to act on their own responsibility without a request by the civil authority. The commander must consider that the situation demands an immediate intervention to protect life or property.

13.4 Further Information

More details of the role of the armed forces in supporting the civil authorities can be found in the following documents:

Operations in the UK: The Defence Contribution to Resilience – Joint Doctrine Publication (JDP) 02:

Operations in the UK: A Guide for Civil Responders

Complete a M/ETHANE report on the JESIP App

Access essential information including the JESIP Principles, Joint Decision Model, generate a M/ETHANE report and much more. Available for your desktop, Android and iOS devices.

Sign up for the JESIP Newsletter

Get the latest news from JESIP delivered straight to your inbox.