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Developed and maintained
by the NFCC

Search and rescue responsibilities

The police are responsible for co-ordinating search and rescue (SAR) on land and on inland waters. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), through HM Coastguard (HMCG), responds to rescues at sea, on the coastline, in tidal waters and in certain delegated inland waters.

HMCG's SAR teams have the following capabilities:

  • Search
  • Water rescue
  • Mud rescue
  • Rope rescue

HMCG and the police are able to call on various SAR assets, for example, fire and rescue services, lifeboats, helicopters, ambulance, cave rescue, mountain rescue, lowland SAR, etc. Fire and rescue services will often provide an initial and/or backup response in HMCG's statutory area of responsibility.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the lead government department for major flooding in England and Wales. However, responding agencies report to a range of government departments, requiring co-ordination in the event of flooding over a wide area.

Departments include:

  • Pan-government co-ordination: Cabinet Office Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS)
  • Fire and rescue and local government resilience: Department for Communities and Local Government (transfers to Home office on 1 April 2016)
  • HM Coastguard: Department for Transport (DfT), as parent department for the MCA
  • Police: Home Office (HO)
  • Ambulance service: Department of Health (DoH)
  • Forecasting: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), as parent department for the Meteorological Office
  • Military aid to the civil community: Ministry of Defence (MoD)

The ambulance service is responsible for the clinical care of casualties in the pre-hospital environment. It has a unique legal duty of care towards individual casualties from search and rescue activities that is not shared by other responding agencies. Hazardous area response teams (HART) have skills and equipment that enable them to work with rescue agencies and gain access to patients in the hazard zone. However, sometimes ensuring the safety of the ambulance crews (including HART) mean it would be safer for the patient to be brought to the ambulance service by other specialist providers. In these circumstances communication between the provider and the HART/ambulance crew should be maintained.