Civil emergencies

National and international arrangements

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has a worldwide network of embassies and consulates, employing over 14,000 people in nearly 270 diplomatic offices. The FCO works with international organisations to promote UK interests and global security, including:

  • the EU
  • NATO
  • the United Nations
  • the UN Security Council
  • the Commonwealth.

One of the responsibilities of the FCO is to support British nationals around the world through consular services.

The FCO assists all British nationals abroad, including:

  • British overseas citizens
  • British nationals (overseas)
  • British subjects
  • British protected persons.

It may also provide assistance to citizens of Commonwealth nations and the EU where their own country does not have diplomatic representation.

Consular crisis group

In the event of a crisis overseas, the consular crisis group (CCG) department in the FCO’s consular directorate takes the lead. The CCG will decide the best way to provide effective and timely consular assistance to British nationals affected by the crisis. The CCG can expand into an FCO emergency response team. This team can open up a facility for the public to telephone the FCO with relevant concerns regarding the crisis. The CCG can also send a rapid deployment team (RDT) to the country or area affected by the crisis. The RDT will support the work of consular staff in situ. Following a mass fatality incident, national disaster victim identification (UK DVI) assessors may deploy alongside the RDT.

If the crisis results from a terrorist incident, hostage taking or kidnap, the FCO Counter Terrorism Policy Department takes the lead.


The National Disaster Victim Identification (UK DVI) Unit is a small national policing unit funded by the Home Office and FCO, with responsibility to coordinate the national disaster victim identification (DVI) capability. The unit works to ensure that there is a national capability to deal with mass fatality incidents at home. If requested by the government, it will also respond to mass fatality incidents that occur outside the UK. This is usually where it is suspected that British citizens may be involved.

The unit sits alongside the National Police Coordination Centre (NPoCC). The unit also provides operational support to investigations that are led by Counter Terrorism Command. The unit reports to the national policing lead for DVI.

Police regions

Each UK police force has its own DVI capability and each of the police regions across the UK has a regionally coordinated capability. The capability from across the police regions, including cadres of trained police officers and police forensic staff, form the police national DVI capability.

The nine police regions that cover England, Wales & Northern Ireland contribute to an FCO on-call rota. Each region in turn is on call for a five-week period to supply operational support when requested to the FCO in the event of a crisis involving UK citizens overseas.

The police regions receive a specific briefing prior to their FCO on-call period. They are required to have in place a designated chief officer as gold commander, a senior identification manager (SIM), a senior investigating officer (SIO) and the capability to activate the casualty bureau (CB). The region may also be required to embed liaison officers within the FCO.

While Police Scotland does not take part in the FCO on-call arrangements, police resources for mutual aid can be requested from Police Scotland. Police Scotland will also assist with enquiries in relation to persons normally resident in Scotland. Police Scotland is represented at all national steering group meetings and working groups in relation to DVI.

Forensic specialists

The National DVI Unit also coordinates a cadre of forensic specialists from across the UK who are not normally employed by the police. These specialists have appropriate skills and have volunteered to be part of the national DVI capability. They include:

  • forensic odontologists
  • forensic pathologists
  • forensic anthropologists
  • radiographers
  • anatomical pathology technologists (APTs).

Other forensic specialists are sourced through existing forensic provider contractors to the police service. Collectively the police and wider forensic capability is referred to as UKDVI.

Any mass fatality incident, whether the result of a criminal act, negligence, accident or natural disaster will require a major missing person investigation.

Activating specific investigative elements

The FCO may request via UK DVI that only some of the investigative elements are activated in response to an incident. This may occur, for example, in cases where a smaller number of fatalities have occurred or the authorities within the country concerned have the confidence of the FCO and UK DVI. Under these circumstances there may be a request for only gathering antemortem information and forensic material to assist identification. Gathering antemortem material would typically be performed by family liaison officers (FLOs) under the direction of the senior identification manager (SIM).

If human remains are repatriated to England or Wales, however, there may be an inquest requiring competent presentation of evidence.

The national policing lead for DVI may direct that a specified police force or region, rather than the on-call police region, should provide support to an incident. This may occur when an early assessment identifies that the victims of an incident involving fatalities are predominantly from a specific place in the UK. Reasonable costs are recoverable by the police from the FCO. This is detailed in the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between National Police Chiefs’ Council and the FCO.

UK DVI can also support humanitarian assistance or advice to another country when requested by the government, bi-laterally or via INTERPOL.

Mass fatalities and non-UK nationals

A mass fatality incident occurring in the UK may involve nationals from outside the UK. Many other countries that are members of INTERPOL have DVI response capabilities. Requests are likely to be received by the UK government for deploying foreign national DVI teams in support of the UK response. Foreign national DVI responders will also be concerned with repatriating the deceased to their home country.

All requests for deploying DVI teams into the UK should be referred to the FCO. The UK government determines whether any request is appropriate.

The UK DVI national coordinator should liaise with INTERPOL about the scale and nature of the requested deployments.

National Police Coordination Centre

NPoCC operates a 24/7 service. It:

  • assesses national capacity and contribution in relation to the strategic policing requirement and national policing requirement
  • establishes and coordinates continuous testing and exercising regimes to ensure effective capability and mobilisation of national assets when required
  • facilitates mutual aid in a steady state and provides a fit-for-purpose coordination facility in times of crisis
  • ensures effective reporting mechanisms with the Home Office and central government crisis management structures.

NPoCC works closely with UK DVI and supports the unit where national or international mutual aid is required.

Page last accessed 16 October 2021