Emergency buying What is emergency buying?

Defining an emergency

Clarify when emergency conditions apply to ensure that procedures can be used appropriately

Why it's important

It is important to distinguish between genuine emergencies – sudden, unforeseen events requiring an immediate response – and urgent situations created through a lack of planning.

Without a clear distinction, buyers and suppliers will not know when emergency buying procedures are appropriate or legal.

What this means

Contracting authorities should clarify when emergency buying conditions apply. For example, during:

  • natural disasters: such as earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, flooding, fires or contamination
  • health emergencies: such as a pandemic or food safety incident
  • failures of critical infrastructure or equipment
  • political emergencies: such as a war, coup, or civil insurrection
  • terrorist attacks, serious crime or a major cyber security emergency

In these cases a state of emergency will usually be declared by national or international governing bodies.

Emergencies do not include:

  • recessions or economic downturns
  • a sudden change in market prices
  • a contract running out without a replacement supplier being found

Emergencies usually happen in 3 phases, during which different buying procedures may be used:

  1. Rapid response: emergency buying is required to prevent loss of life or damage to critical infrastructure - for example, sourcing food and housing for displaced people.
  2. Relief: after the immediate threat to life or infrastructure has been addressed, accelerated buying may still be required, for example, sourcing laptops to allow remote learning while schools are closed.
  3. Recovery: once an emergency situation has stabilised, buyers should return to using routine procedures. However, accelerated buying and enhanced support for suppliers may still be appropriate.

During each phase, contracting authorities need to balance the need to act without delay (for example to save or preserve life, or safeguard buildings) against meeting their obligations to act lawfully, reasonably and with integrity.

Do’s and don’ts


  • provide clear guidance on when emergency buying conditions apply and when they don’t
  • clarify which buying procedures are appropriate during each phase of an emergency


  • do not use emergency buying procedures for situations caused by poor planning or risk management