The British Red Cross is calling for a change in the law to ensure voluntary and community organisations have a clearer role in responding to local emergencies such as flood, fire or terror attacks.
The charity has today published a report that calls for legislation used to respond to emergencies to be amended to beef up the role of voluntary sector organisations.
The report calls on the government to review the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to "ensure the legislation is fit for the changing nature of crisis response in the UK and outlines a clearer role for the voluntary sector".
It says the crisis response sector has learnt important lessons from national crises, including the Manchester Arena and London Bridge terror attacks and the Grenfell fire, and the legislation should be updated to reflect this.
The report calls for a "human-centred approach" in any emergency response, which recognises that people involved have the best idea of the support they most need.
It says that local resilience forums, community bodies that prepare for emergency situations, are made up of agencies including the emergency services, local authorities and the NHS, supported by local business and voluntary sector organisations.
The local infrastructure body Navca surveyed 45 of its member charities on how well these resilience forums, of which there are 38 in England, engage the broader voluntary sector in emergency situations.
The research found although most resilience forums had voluntary sector representatives and 85 per cent had voluntary and community sector subgroups, the impact of these subgroups was often "limited", the report says.
"They met in formal meetings or in exercises, quarterly or even less frequently, which prevented regular opportunities to build relationships or to get properly involved with preparation work," it says.
"The review also found that only some local resilience forums involved the voluntary and community sector in broader structures and planning, for example by having voluntary sector representation on other subgroups of the local resilience forum, not just the voluntary sector subgroup."
The report says voluntary groups have insights into the experiences and needs of the community and can make sure response plans are human-centred.
It says: "Enshrining a clearer role for the voluntary sector would also ensure that voluntary and community organisations were consistently and thoroughly embedded within local resilience forums, improving their ability to plan a human-centred approach to emergencies."
Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said people and communities knew best what their needs were and how they wanted them addressed.
"They are the experts in who might be seriously ill, have a disability or mobility issue, or face difficulties because of language barriers, poverty, immigration status or anything else," he said.
"By listening harder and tapping into that resource, people will have the best possible chance of survival and recovery.
"By updating the law so that statutory agencies work more with communities and the voluntary sector, people’s immediate needs will be met more easily, in the most appropriate way."