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Responding to a terrorist incident

In a terrorist attack, the Home Secretary leads the government response to the incident as the Minister responsible for counter-terrorism in England, Wales and Scotland.

Effective command and control is essential to successfully manage a counter-terrorist incident. The UK’s approach to emergency response and recovery is founded on an approach in which operations and decisions are made at the lowest appropriate level.

Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism

In the event of a terrorist incident the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) is responsible for activating and coordinating the Home Office response. We provide a crisis response 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.

We would liaise with the Cabinet Office and a decision would be taken whether to activate central government’s crisis management arrangements (the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms, or COBR). The aim of COBR is to provide effective decision-making and rapid coordination of the central government response.

Depending on the emergency, the government can support the people responding locally by providing:

  • direction
  • coordination
  • people
  • expertise
  • specialised equipment
  • advice
  • financial support

The arrangements for the government’s response to all kinds of emergencies, including terrorism, are set out in the Central Government Arrangements for Responding to an Emergency – Concept of Operations.

Northern Ireland

There are separate arrangements for dealing with Northern Ireland related terrorism in Northern Ireland, where the Northern Ireland Office will take the lead, with support from the UK government if needed.

However, in the event of an attack by an international terrorist organisation in Northern Ireland, the Home Office would still be the lead department, working closely with the Northern Ireland Office.

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