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UK Scientific Advisory Group in Emergencies

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Practice provided by

Gavin Lofthouse
004420 7276 5060

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Type of organisation: Civil Contingencies Secretariat

Country: United Kingdom

Level of government: Central government

Type of practice: Process

Type of hazard or threat:

Risk management theme: Crisis management & preparedness

The UK Scientific Advisory Group in Emergencies (SAGE) is an independent support group that provides science-based expertise for the management of complex and unprecedented crises for the UK cabinet. SAGE convenes in situations that require cross government co-ordination, notably when the Cabinet Office, in consultation with the Prime Minister, decides to activate the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR). The SAGE provides scientific and technical advice on the development of a crisis, and on potential scenarios and their impacts. Under the authority of the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, SAGE includes experts from all sectors and disciplines to analyze data, to assess existing research, or to commission new research. To inform UK cross-government decision-making during the emergency response and the recovery phases, the SAGE submits policy option papers which outline scientific and technical solutions, their pros and cons and response scenario papers. At all stages, SAGE representatives attend the COBR to explain scientific issues.

Why the good practice was developed

As in many OECD countries, crises affecting the UK have become more complex as a result of increased interconnectedness of our modern societies, the emergence of new threats, and the evolution of several risk factors. SAGE has been set up to meet the needs of Cabinet Office strategic crisis managers when confronted with complex crises. The understanding of this complex risk landscape requires thinking across sectors, identifying potential cascading impacts and evaluating uncertainties. Having access to the best available advice in a timely fashion is key to effective crisis management decision-making. To ensure a full range of issues are considered, advice needs to stem from a range of disciplines, including scientific, technical, economic and legal. Thus, it is crucial to set up a specific group which can quickly mobilise and peer-review multidisciplinary scientific expertise during crises.


  • To provide decision-making advice on the scientific concepts key to understanding the emergency

  • To give advice on how the emergency might develop, outline its potential implications and evaluate related uncertainties

  • To present potential scientific solutions and options to improve assessment and monitoring



Service quality


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  • During the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, SAGE informed the development of a vaccination and anti-viral strategy, the surge capacity planning, and the planning for the management of excess deaths.

  • During the 2010 volcanic ash cloud, SAGE provided the scientific basis to air transport regulation measures.

    When the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Fukushima nuclear accident occured, SAGE analysis was instrumental for the development of the public communication strategy, contingency planning, and technical briefings.

Lessons Learned


  • SAGE’s flexibility and scalability are helpful to adapt to the specific nature of each disaster and its unforeseen developments.
  • SAGE representatives’ attendance during ministerial and official group meetings is to communicate about scientific and technical issues with leaders.


  • Peer-reviews undertaken by the SAGE committee help ensure the quality of advice.