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by the NFCC

Control measure
Establish control zones

Control measure knowledge

In simple water rescues from known, low hazard waterways and/or shallow, still water, it may not be necessary to establish control zones. They are also unlikely to be appropriate for wide area flooding or where localised flooding has taken place, where the activity will be more focused on protecting property, for example sites of special scientific interest, heritage sites or buildings. However, any decisions to not implement control zones must be regularly reviewed.

In some circumstances, such as fast moving water, poor visibility and/or unstable ground, control zones are used as an effective method of controlling resources and maintaining safety on the incident ground. Noise from flowing water or from surrounding sources can also be a significant distraction and should therefore be considered when implementing control zones. There are three zones used when responding to incidents: the hot zone, the warm zone and the cold zone.

The hot zone is the area covered by water. This is a high-hazard zone where rescues will be carried out and should only be entered by rescuers with the appropriate training and PPE.

The warm zone is the working area adjacent to the water. There is still significant risk here from uncontrolled entry into the water. The area is usually three metres across, but may be extended or reduced depending on the level of risk. In low risk situations, such as still, safe and known bodies of water, a warm zone may not be needed. Personnel working in the area should be suitably trained, equipped and briefed to carry out specific tasks.

The cold zone is the safe area located outside the hazard zones. Equipment dumps, rescue personnel and casualty reception/holding areas and marshalling areas should all be located in this area.

It is important that control zones are established, effectively implemented and communicated to all emergency responders as early as possible to maintain safe working areas and to assist in defining role responsibilities and objectives.

Depending on the levels of risk associated with numbers of personnel, amount of equipment and appliances, weather conditions, noise and geographical nature of the incident ground, personnel may be required to monitor control zones. In such circumstances nominated personnel will need to receive a full brief regarding their role and the associated hazards.

For further information see National Operational Guidance: Operations and Incident command.

A forward control point (FCP) should be established on land as near to the scene of operations as reasonably practicable.


River right/river left, upstream and downstream terminology


Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Collaborate with other emergency responders and multi-agency partners regarding the compatibility of control zones at operational incidents
  • Refer to incident command protocols

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Designate and communicate specific areas for personnel including; multi-agency personnel, equipment, appliances and casualties
  • Implement inner cordon controls to maintain a safe working area
  • Establish and communicate hot, warm and cold zones to all emergency response personnel
  • Consider noise within environments and implement appropriate control zones and additional control measures to limit the effect, for example: positioning of zones/personnel/appliances/equipment, use of loud hailer, recognised hand, light and whistle signals
  • Consider the possibility of rising waters and increasing flow rates from tides and/or inundation/flooding