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Emergency management

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Emergency management (or disaster management) is the discipline which involves preparing, supporting, and rebuilding society in relation to natural or man-made disasters. Emergency management is the continuous process by which all individuals, groups, and communities manage hazards in an effort to avoid or ameliorate the impact of disasters resulting from the hazards. Actions taken depend in part on perceptions of risk of those exposed[1]. Effective emergency management relies on thorough integration of emergency plans at all levels of government and non-government involvement. Activities at each level (individual, group, community) affect the other levels. It is common to place the responsibility for governmental emergency management with the institutions for civil defense, civil protection, or within the conventional structure of the emergency services. In the private sector, emergency management is commonly referred to as business continuity management.


Phases of emergency management

The process of emergency management involves four phases: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.


A graphic representation of the four phases in emergency management.
A graphic representation of the four phases in emergency management.

Mitigation efforts attempt to prevent hazards from developing into disasters altogether, or to reduce the effects of disasters when they occur. Mitigative measures can be structural or non-structural. Structural measures use technological solutions, like flood levees. Non-structural measures include legislation, land-use planning, and insurance e.g. the designation of nonessential land like parks to be used as flood zones. Mitigation is the most cost-efficient method for reducing the impact of hazards. However, mitigation is not always suitable and structural mitigation in particular may have adverse effects on the ecosystem.


In the preparedness phase emergency managers develops plans of action for when the disaster strikes. Common preparedness measures include the proper maintenance and training of emergency services, the development and exercise of emergency population warning methods combined with emergency shelters and evacuation plans, the stockpiling of supplies and equipment, the development and practice of multi-agency coordination etc.

An efficient preparedness measure is an emergency operations center (EOC) combined with a practiced region-wide doctrine for managing emergencies. The purpose of the EOC is to coordinate the activities in the subsequent emergency response phase. Physically, the EOC may only be a couple of cabinets in a conference room combined with a significant group of professionals. The EOC should have reliable external communications as well as access to civil and amateur radio networks. Many cities also maintain community emergency response teams (CERT). These volunteer teams are trained in large numbers to provide better coverage of emergency support when large crises overwhelm the conventional emergency services.


The response phase includes the mobilization of the necessary emergency services and first responders in the disaster area, such as firefighters, police, volunteers, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the American Red Cross. A well rehearsed emergency plan developed as part of the preparedness phase enables efficient coordination of rescue efforts.[2] Emergency plan rehersal is essential to achieve optimal output with limited resources. In the response phase, medical assets will be used in accordance with the appropriate triage of the affected victims.

Where required, search and rescue efforts commence at an early stage. Depending on injuries sustained by the victim, outside temperature, and victim access to air and water, the vast majority of those affected by a disaster will die within 72 hours after impact[3].


In the recovery phase the aim is to restore the affected area to its previous state. An important aspect of the recovery phase is to take advantage of the 'window of opportunity' [4] for the implementation of otherwise unpopular or draconian mitigative measures. Citizen are more likely to accept mitigative changes when a recent disaster is in fresh memory.

Personal emergency management


Non-structural personal mitigation is mainly about knowing and avoiding unecessary risks. An example would be to avoid buying property that is exposed to hazards, e.g. in a flood plain, in areas of subsidence or landslides. Homeowners may not be aware of their home being exposed to a hazard until it strikes. Real-estate agents may not come forward with such information. However, specialists can be hired to conduct risk assessment surveys. Insurance covering the most prominent identifyed risks are a common measure.

Personal structural mitigation in earthquake prone areas include seismic retrofits of property and the securing of items inside the building like the mounting of furniture, refrigerators, water heaters and breakables to the walls. In flood prone areas houses can be built on poles, like in much of southern Asia. In areas prone to prolonged electricity black-outs a generator would be an example of an optimal structural mitigation measure. The construction of storm cellars and fallout shelters are further examples of personal mitigative actions.


See also hurricane preparedness and earthquake preparedness

On the contrary to mitigation activities which are aimed at preventing a disaster from occuring, personal preparedness are targeted on preparing activities to be taken when a disaster occurs, i.e. planning. Preparedness measures can take many forms. Examples include the construction of shelters, warning devices, back-up life-line services (e.g. power, water, sewage), and rehearsing an evacuation plan. Two simple measures prepares you for either sitting out the event or evacuating. For evacuation, a disaster bag or knapsack should be prepared and for sheltering purposes a stockpile of supplies. For the specific hazard of hurricanes, NOAA recommends that the 'disaster bag' includes [5]:

  • a flashlight with spare batteries;
  • a battery operated radio;
  • first aid kit;
  • prescription medicines;
  • cash;
  • a cell phone with a fully charged spare battery;
  • spare keys;
  • water;
  • high energy non-perishable food
  • change of clothing.


On a personal level the response can take the shape either of a home confinement or an evacuation. In a home confinement scenarion a family should be prepared to fend for themselves in their home for many days without any form of utside support. In an evacuation scenario, a family evacuates by car with the maximum amount of supplies, including a tent for shelter. The scenario could also include equipment for evacuation on foot with at least three days of supplies and rain-tight bedding a tarpaulin and a bedroll of blankets is the minimum.


The recovery phase starts when the immediate threat to human life has subsided. In the reconstruction it is recommended to reconsider the location or contruction material of the property.

In long term disasters the most extreme home confinement scenarios like war, famine and severe epidemics last up to a year. In this situation the recovery will take place inside the home. Planners for these usually buy bulk foods and appropriate storage and preparation equipment, and eat the food as part of normal life. A simple balanced diet can be constructed from vitamin pills, whole-meal wheat, beans, dried milk, corn, and cooking oil[6]. One should add vegetables, fruits, spices and meats, both prepared and fresh-gardened, when possible.

Risk assessment

Main article risk management

In risk assessment the various hazards (e.g. earthquakes, floods, riots) in the studied area are identified. Each hazard pose a risk to the the studied population[7]. The hazard-specific risk (Rh) combines both the probability and the level of impact of a specific hazard. The equation below gives that the hazard times the populations' vulnerability to that hazard produce a risk. The higher the risk, the more urgent that the hazard specific vulnerabilities are targeted by mitigation and preparedness efforts. However, if there is no vulnerability there will be no risk, e.g. a earthquake occuring in a desert where nobody lives.

\mathbf{R_h} = \mathbf{H} \times \mathbf{V_h} \,


Emergency managers are generally trained through a combination of education, experience, and certificate courses. There are several professional organizations that provide certification, including the 'International Association of Emergency Managers' and DRI International.

National organisations

United States

In the United States, most cities maintain at least one conference room, which becomes the an EOC when a large-scale disaster arise. The EOC then coordinates the emergency efforts of agencies from multiple jurisdictions. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is lead agency for emergency management.


Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC) is Canada's equivalent agency. Each state or province has an emergency management office and most local levels of government have a similar offices.

New Zealand

In New Zealand the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management has statutory authority for controlling any state of emergency declared by central government. Local government bodies such as city and regional councils have their own emergency management agencies to control localised states of emergency, but these all defer to the MCDEM in the event of a national state of emergency. The Wellington Emergency Management Office utilize a building that has been purpose built with its own water, electricity, communications and sewerage facilities to ensure operations in the event of an emergency or disaster.


  1.   Wisner et al, 2004
  2.   Alexander, 2002
  3.   Walker, 1991
  4.   Alexander, 2002
  5.  NOAA Hurricane preparedness website
  6.  FEMA website
  7.  Wisner et al, 2004


  • Alexander, D., 2002, Principles of Emergency planning and Management, Harpended: Terra publishing, ISBN 1-903544-10-6
  • Quarantelli, E.L., 1998, What is a disaster - Perspectives on the question, New York: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-17899-1
  • Walker, P, 1991, International Search and Rescue Teams, A League Discussion Paper, League of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, IFRC
  • Wisner, B., P. Blaikie, T. Cannon, and I. Davis, 2004, At Risk - Natural hazards, people's vulnerability and disasters, Wiltshire: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-25216-4

See also

External links

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