Disaster management and response

Common disasters in the UK including fires, travel disruption and terror attacks

There are a wide range of disasters that can strike across the UK. Building fires and travel disruptions are perhaps the most common incidents that happen across the country, yet other incidents such as terror attacks, riots and other large criminal incidents are increasing concerns particularly for remote or travelling employees.

Building fires

Building fires are a common occurrence and can affect premises across all industries. Figures from the Home Office show that in 2017/18, ­Fire and Rescue services attended 15,577 primary fires in non-dwelling buildings, the equivalent to nearly 300 fires a week. The incidents resulted in 20 fatalities and 994 non-fatal casualties.

Industrial premises saw a high number of fires likely due to the nature of their work, yet a large number of fires occurred in buildings across all industries.

Primary Fire Statistics – 2017/18

Building Type Total Accidental Deliberate
Total 15,577 11,141 4,436
Offices and call centres 551 450 101
Retail premises 1,706 1,365 341
Industrial premises 2,039 1,843 197
Agricultural premises 553 368 185
Hospitals and medical care 579 430 149
Education premises 682 540 142
Food and drink premises 1,638 1,451 187
Entertainment, culture and sport 556 375 181
Hotels, boarding houses, hostels etc. 670 527 143
Communal living 1,285 1,133 152
Private non-residential 3,233 2,108 1,125
Other public buildings 1,821 447 1,374
Unspecified 264 105 159


Terrorist attacks

The current threat level in the UK from international terrorism is set as ‘severe’ meaning that a terrorist attack is highly likely.

The number of terrorist attacks across Europe has risen in recent years with data revealing that there were 30 attacks in Western Europe in 2016 compared to 23 in 2015, 2 in 2014 and 5 in 2013.

The unpredictability and rising frequency of terrorist attacks can cause fear amongst staff especially those working in cities, buildings likely to be targeted or those travelling for work. The very nature of terrorism is that attacks take us by surprise and therefore can cause unprecedented periods of panic and downtime for businesses and their workforce.

Travel disruptions

Travel disruptions can cause major delays for employees which in turn has an effect on an organisation’s productivity. Major travel disruptions often occur in the UK due to accidents, bad weather and even trespassers or protestors. Road accidents can cause major roads to be closed while public transport disruptions cause major delays and uncomfortable conditions for passengers.


The last major riot happened in London and across other major UK cities in 2011. The riots caused damage to hundreds of businesses across the country and affected everything from large corporations to small family run businesses. At least 100 homes were destroyed in the arson and looting, and it was estimated that retailers lost at least 30,000 hours of trading. The cost of damages as a result of the riots was estimated at over £200 million.

Hundreds of people were caught up in the riots as they were carrying out their daily lives and many were even attacked and robbed. 5 lost their lives during the riots including 3 men involved in a hit and run while attempting to protect their neighbourhood and a 68-year-old man who was attacked while attempting to put out a fire

Smaller riots have taken place since such as the riot in Hackney, North London in 2017 and Riots in Oldham, Manchester just last month.

Riots are highly unpredictable, can be triggered by a sudden event and hold the risk of growing exponentially in a short space of time.

What natural disasters happen in the UK?

While natural disasters such as earthquakes and tornados are uncommon in the UK, other naturally occurring disasters such as wildfires, floods and extreme storms affect the country each year and cause disruption, damage and even fatalities.


The most common natural disaster is flooding with the UK experiencing at least one major flood a year. Climate change and the continued paving over of green spaces means that the threat of severe floods is increasing.

The winter of 2015/16 was one of the most extreme and severe hydrological events the UK had seen over the last century. The scale and duration of flooding over several months caused considerable impact on homes, businesses, industry and transport. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, roads and train lines were closed, buildings and structures were destroyed, and many were left without power. Sadly, several people lost their lives due to the floods.


As well as contributing to the risk of flooding, storms and hurricanes cause additional damage due to strong winds. During the Autumn of 2017, Ireland the UK were hit by Hurricane Ophelia. 3 people lost their lives in Ireland due to fallen trees and more died from injuries while clearing up the damage left behind by the hurricane. Hundreds of thousands were also left without power and damage was caused to businesses and homes.


Wildfires are another increasing risk in the UK. The summer of 2018 saw a record-breaking series of wildfires across the country. The two largest incidents were declared major incidents and burned over 7 square miles each. The fire’s proximity to populated areas saw evacuations across different parts of the country.

As a result of the warmest winter day on record, more wildfires broke out on 26 February 2019. Although not as severe, February wildfires are extremely rare and raise attention to their unpredictability due to climate change.

Workforce disaster management – how to effectively protect your workers

Disasters such as the ones discussed above are incredibly unpredictable and can strike at any time. Hundreds and even thousands of individuals can get caught up in such incidents, many of whom are likely to be working at the time. Employers have a responsibility to prevent their employees from coming to harm during an incident whether operating in fixed work premises or remotely.

It is important that businesses have a disaster management plan in place, including a way to communicate quickly and effectively with employees during an incident. When an incident occurs, identifying which employees have been caught up in the incident and getting them out of harm’s way should also be a top priority.

What are the different types of disaster management?

Disaster management refers to the protection and management of resources and people in order to lessen the impact of a disaster or large incidents. There are different types of disaster management that an organisation can plan and prepare for;

Disaster preparedness

Disaster preparedness refers to the measures taken to reduce the effects of a disaster.

Businesses can prepare for disasters by carrying out a risk assessment to identify any particular risks to their staff such as terrorism, natural disasters, chemical accidents, fires or active shooters. The risks identified will depend on the location and nature of fixed premises and the environments in which remote employees operate in.

Businesses can then put measures in place to prevent or reduce the risks. Some examples of measures that can be taken include;

  • Implementing evacuation and shut down procedures
  • Ensuring there are emergency alarms on work premises
  • Provide staff training on responding in emergency situations
  • Ensure there are effective measures in place to locate and communicate with employees

Disaster relief

Disaster relief refers to the actions taken during an incident to prevent further harm to employees and property. This will involve putting planned measures into place such as the ones discussed above. If an employee is involved in an incident, sending emergency help is a form of disaster relief.

Disaster recovery

Disaster recovery refers to the actions taken following an incident to ensure the organisation returns to normal as quickly as possible. This could include communicating instructions to your employees on what is expected of them following the incident and when they should expect to return to work. Employees may also require additional support such as counselling if they have been involved in an incident.

Finding employees during disasters

When an incident happens at a place of work or in an area where remote or travelling employees can be caught up, finding and ensuring the safety of your workforce is crucial in the disaster response and recovery phases.

As all employers have a duty of care to protect their workers from potential threats, it is important to have a quick and effective method of locating employees in place before an incident occurs. Knowing that they will be alerted and protected if an incident does occur, can also help your employees feel more at ease and cared for by the company. Employees are likely to feel less concerned if asked to work in high-risk areas as they know they will be alerted of an incident and therefore able to avoid the area.

Disaster response with IncidentEye

IncidentEye is an easy to use tech-based solution that allows organisations to communicate with and locate employees in or near an incident zone.

Comprised of an app and online hub, IncidentEye allows organisations to immediately identify who is in the vicinity of an incident and prompt employees to specify whether they are safe or in danger.

Communications can then be sent to employees depending on their location or safety status, advising them on what to do or updating them on the situation. Employee safety status can be viewed in real time so that you can answer the question, are our people safe?

To find out more contact our team or request a demo. 

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