The NEOC is the federal centre of expertise for incidents involving suspected or increased radioactivity that presents or could present a risk to the population and the environment. The spectrum of events is therefore very large, ranging from radiological industrial and transport accidents, to incidents in Swiss and foreign nuclear power plants to nuclear explosions or accidents. More recently, the NEOC has had to focus increasingly on nuclear terrorism in all its different forms.

In the event of such an accident, the NEOC provides the authorities with early warnings and alerts the population. Furthermore, in its role as competent authority, the NEOC is responsible for assessing radiological emergencies and deciding on the necessary protective measures. In cases of extreme urgency, it is also authorised to issue instructions.

The NEOC is the permanent core of a larger organisation, the Federal Emergency Organisation. It has access to a wide range of measuring equipment belonging to federal and cantonal partner organisations. Should an incident occur, the NEOC can deploy this equipment to assess the radiological situation.

The NEOC is also the contact point and competent authority for foreign organisations, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They keep the NEOC up-to-date with incidents abroad. Conversely, it must report incidents in Switzerland that could have an impact on other countries.