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Thursday, 6 January 2011

Emergencies overseas

If you know, or are worried that a friend or relative has been involved in an emergency abroad, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is a key source of information on what you can do and who to contact. There's other help and support available too.

The role of the Foreign Office

The FCO provides information to next of kin on incidents and emergencies overseas, although if the incident involves an airline or other official body, they would be expected to play a role in providing information. If large numbers of British nationals are believed to be affected, the FCO may issue an emergency telephone number in the UK for the incident. The number would be featured on television and radio news bulletins and in the press, and would be available on the FCO website (homepage linked below).

The FCO may also open a special 'LOCATE' area on its website for you to register online the details of any family members you think may be affected by an incident overseas. FCO staff will use these details to try to find and help affected people, and let you know they are safe.

Although you may strongly feel that you want to go to the country concerned to be with your friend or relative, it may not be safe for you to do so. For advice on whether or not it is safe to travel to specific places, use the 'Country travel advice' link below.

Help for British Nationals abroad

The FCO offers assistance to British nationals affected by emergencies abroad through its consular staff based overseas and its crisis management team, based in London.  The FCO works closely with the Police in the UK, and the British Red Cross, in fulfilling this role. 

When an emergency affecting British Nationals occurs overseas, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster, the FCO's London-based Consular Crisis Group takes the lead in providing fast assistance to those British nationals affected. They may send a Rapid Deployment Team (RDT) to help or open the Emergency Response Unit to provide a call-handling facility.

RDTs contain specially selected and trained FCO staff, the majority of whom are consular officers. Teams will also include a press officer, technical officer and representatives from the British Red Cross to provide practical and emotional support to families and victims. International SOS medical assessors may also investigate whether the medical facilities in the affected area are able to cope with the scale of the incident. They can also give this information to travel insurance companies providing cover for affected persons.

More information about what the FCO can do to help is available in their 'Support for British Nationals Abroad: A Guide'.

Fatalities abroad

In an incident overseas where there have been large numbers of fatalities, specialist Disaster Victim Identification police teams may form part of an FCO RDT to assist in the identification process.

Such teams ensure that the identification of bodies is carried out to the correct standards for the British Coroner, but may only operate with the authorisation of the government of the country where the incident has taken place. Police Family Liaison Officers will also be involved in the UK to ensure that families and friends are kept informed of procedures and to help collect evidence for identification.

You can find out more about when someone dies abroad using the link below, although the information does relate to cases of individual deaths overseas as well as to mass casualty incidents.

Support for friends and families back in the UK

Access to counselling is available through your local GP.

NHS Direct health advice is available through the 24 hour helpline on 0845 4647. It is likely that they will be aware of major incidents. The NHS Choices website has online health advice.

British Red Cross has trained volunteers on standby to offer practical support and comfort to people affected by tragedies. Its UK switchboard is 0870 170 7000.

Disaster Action is a charity set up and run by survivors and bereaved from UK and overseas disasters. It provides an independent advocacy and advisory service. Its website offers support, information and advice that has arisen from the personal experiences of bereaved and survivors, including an article about travelling abroad to trace relatives after an emergency incident.

Disaster Action does not run a 24 hour phone line, but there is an answering service on 01483 799 066.

Financial support

When a terrorist incident occurs overseas, the FCO may activate Exceptional Assistance Measures. In these circumstances, the FCO meets immediate financial costs, such as repatriation and immediate medical costs, but only if there are no other sources available (such as insurance, an employer scheme, the airline or tour operator, the government of the country in which the incident has occurred). These measures would only be available as a last resort, and would not be available to those who had travelled against FCO travel advice or without travel insurance.

The British Red Cross Relief Fund for UK Victims of Terrorism Abroad will provide financial assistance to people who have been seriously injured or bereaved by such incidents. The grants are not compensation for what victims have suffered.

If you require additional financial support your Local Authority Social Services can provide advice on benefits that you may be entitled to. You can find contact details for your Local Authority by following the link below.

You may also find the link to the ‘Beginner’s guide to benefits’ helpful.

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