Principles of Emergency Management Programs

BEM Chapter 3 - Principles of Emergency Management

It is important that individuals who will have a key role in preparedness, response and recovery activities be actively involved throughout the process of developing the emergency management program and ultimately the disaster plan. This will ensure that the program and plan are known, accepted and understood by key stakeholders and by those who will activate the plan.

“Disaster preparedness is not synonymous with the formulation of written disaster plans. A more useful perspective is to envision planning as “a process” rather than to perceive of it as merely the production of a tangible product. Viewed this way, preparedness planning involves all of those activities, practices, interactions, relationships, and so forth, which over the short term or long run are intended to improve the response pattern at times of disaster impact. (Quarantelli, 1984, p. 24)

In other words, the plan is the product of all preparedness activities.

Experience has shown that the following principles contribute to an effective emergency management program.

1.      View planning as a continuous process rather than a product. The process is far more important than the plan. The process results in sharing information, new or stronger linkages; education of all stakeholders to each other's capabilities; resources and concerns; a transition from a focus of danger to a focus on actions, establishing credibility of the program process and players; validation of arrangements; communication of the need for an emergency management program. People and resources change over time and the emergency plans have to evolve to reflect this. Each exercise of the emergency plan and an actual response provides information that can be used to update the plan.

“Studies show that disaster preparedness planning is most effective when officials view the planning activities as an unending process” (Drabek)

2.     Use existing networks, structures, organizations and arrangements before creating new ones. Ad hoc arrangements tend to be less resilient and effective than existing ones. If new processes or structures are needed try to build on existing agencies or arrangements. For example use existing police and fire agency capabilities to facilitate evacuation.

“In communities where particular disaster related functions have been assigned to specific organizations as a result of the planning process, there is less post-impact confusion regarding responsibility and communication channels” (Drabek)

3.     Provide a means to manage and use the vastly increased flow of information that will occur. Contrary to perception, the problem will be too much information rather than too little. Coordination of this information is key to successful disaster management.

4.     Ensure that inter-organizational activities are coordinated. The act of coordination is a disaster management function. However, the plan must provide an environment and a structure within which this activity can occur. The planning process itself must provide for coordination of inter-organizational preparedness.

5.     Distinguish between disaster planning and disaster management. Planning deals with the strategies and structures required to facilitate management. Disaster management deals with tactics to address specific conditions. Keep the plan brief and simple to provide the strategic framework within which disaster management occurs. 

6.     Focus on adaptive action rather than emphasizing danger. The problem must be seen as solvable in order for the planning process to be usable. The quality of public response will increase where adaptive action is proposed. The more widespread a fatalistic attitude is in a community, the less chance there is for a program to be effective.

7.     Planning must be adjusted to realistic expectations of the citizens. The plan must meet the needs of the citizens.

8.     Effective arrangements provide for the most appropriate response rather than the fastest. Base planning on realistic expectations and valued knowledge of probable effects, consequences, resources and behavior. Provide a framework that is flexible to the needs of the event and within which managers have the flexibility to tailor collective response.

9.     Educate the public about the existence of the plans, what they can expect from collective response and what they will have to do for themselves.  An informed public will make more informed decisions.

10.  Incorporate training and education of partners into the planning process. Disaster management occurs in conditions of uncertainty, organizational interaction, complexity and escalating demands. Experienced decision makers can often successfully improvise in such conditions. However, experience in disaster management clearly demonstrates that the combination of experienced decision makers working in the context of an established plan is more effective. Disaster response demands a collective team response. Education and knowledge tend to evoke appropriate responses.

11.  Modest planning is a reasonable goal. A modest degree of planning is a reasonable expectation. This is why it is necessary to focus on principal activities and strategies rather than voluminous detail and intimidating complexity. 

12.  Keep plans general and avoid too much detail.

Detailed plans are less effective because no disaster turns out exactly as expected, much of the detail is inappropriate and only serves to hinder. A modular approach considerably aids flexibility, allowing the recovery strategy to be rapidly assembled and adjusted dynamically as new information emerges.” (Davies, 2001)

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