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close this bookCommunity Emergency Preparedness: A Manual for Managers and Policy-Makers (WHO, 1999, 141 p.)
close this folderChapter 4 Emergency planning
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentAn emergency planning process
View the documentPlanning group review
View the documentPotential problem analysis
View the documentResource analysis
View the documentRoles and responsibilities
View the documentManagement structure
View the documentStrategies and systems
View the documentContent of community emergency plans
View the documentSummary
View the documentReferences


What is an emergency plan?

An emergency plan is an agreed set of arrangements for responding to and recovering from emergencies; it describes responsibilities, management structures, strategies, and resources.

Why develop plans?

People who do not believe planning is necessary argue that:

- everybody knows what to do;
- emergencies are unpredictable and impossible to plan for;
- people do not follow plans in emergencies;
- developing emergency plans will worry the public.

These arguments are considered in the following paragraphs.

Everybody knows what to do

In a well prepared community or organization, all those involved in emergency management may be aware of their role, but that role may not have been considered in the overall context of what needs to be done. It is possible that the roles of some people may conflict with those of others.

Have all the tasks required for effective, efficient, and appropriate emergency response and recovery strategies been allocated? Without emergency planning, it is probable that many fundamental and necessary responsibilities will not have been allocated, and this may be realized only during or after the emergency event. While people may know their own role, they may be unaware of the responsibilities of others with whom they must interact. Without emergency planning and appropriate training, it is unlikely that people will understand how they should work with others.

Have all the management functions been decided and the potential problems solved? Without emergency planning, confusion will arise over management arrangements during an emergency and this may result in minor crises.

How are people newly appointed to a job going to be informed of their emergency management role? A written plan is the best way to begin their education.

Emergencies are unpredictable and planning for them is impossible

It is precisely because emergencies are difficult to predict and the effects are uncertain that vulnerability assessments are performed and emergency plans developed.

“The aim is to reduce uncertainty through anticipation of what the situation requires ... planning is not a cure-all. All emergencies present in some measure unanticipated contingencies and difficulties. In those cases, action has to become innovative and emergent. However, planning will clearly improve any organized response effort by identifying what in all probability must be done, how it should be done, and what resources will be needed. In this manner, organized response can be made more highly predictable and efficient.” (1)

People do not follow plans in emergencies

It is common for people not to refer to written emergency plans during the more critical moments of emergencies. However, if they have a basic understanding of the content and intent of a well prepared emergency plan, their actions are more likely to be appropriate. It is not just the written plan that is important - the planning process itself is important because it is a tool for problem-solving and education.

The development of emergency plans will unduly worry the public

The arousal of public anxiety is a common political objection to emergency planning. However, if there is a realistic threat to life and the environment, something must be done about it. The planning process is designed to achieve this end.

What can emergency plans do?

Emergency planning is about protecting life, property, and the environment. Evidence proves that planning increases this protection. Figure 18 illustrates one aspect of the value of emergency planning, that of effective warnings. The horizontal scale indicates the number of people at risk from a dam failure; the vertical scale indicates the number of actual deaths from recorded dam failures. The two curves on the graph represent the number of deaths due to dam failure for a given size of the population, with and without sufficient warning. The data for this graph come from actual events. The warnings were the result of emergency planning, and the graph clearly demonstrates that emergency planning reduces harm to people.

Fig. 18. Deaths due to dam failure and extreme flood events - with and without warning systemsa (WHO 97559)

aReproduced from reference 2 by permission of the publisher.

Fig. 19. Context of emergency plans for a community (WHO 97560)

Context of emergency plans

Emergency plans do not operate in a vacuum - they are linked to the culture and perception of risk of those developing the plans and of those for whom the plans are developed. They must be developed to suit the context in which they will operate, which is one of the reasons that adapting an existing plan to a different area does not work. Quite apart from their application to general emergency management, community emergency plans should be considered in the context of other emergency plans - plans at other administrative levels, those that operate at the same level, and any plans developed for specific hazards or by other organizations (see Fig. 19).

Community, provincial, and national emergency plans are multisectoral. They include communications, search and rescue, police and security, health, social welfare, and transport and lifelines sectors, and coordinate the emergency work at each administrative level. Sectoral plans (sometimes called “functional plans”) describe the management, resources, and strategies within one of these six sectors. Organization-specific plans are useful for members of a given organization, whether public or private, military, or nongovernmental. They describe in detail how that organization will fulfil its assigned roles and responsibilities. Hazard-specific plans may be developed for hazards such as flood, hazardous materials incidents, and epidemics.

Some principles of emergency planning

Emergency planning is based on certain principles (1) in order to facilitate decision-making. Planning:

- is a continuous process;
- attempts to reduce the unknowns in an emergency;
- aims to evoke appropriate actions;
- should be based on what is likely to happen;
- must be based on knowledge;
- should focus on principles;
- is partly an educational activity;
- always has to overcome resistance;
- should be simple enough to avoid confusion;
- should be flexible enough to adapt to any situation;
- can only define the starting point for response and recovery operations;
- should allow for the development of emergent strategies.

The prerequisites for planning are:

- recognition that hazards and vulnerability exist and that emergencies can occur;

- awareness among the community, government, and decision-makers of the need to plan and of the benefits of planning;

- appropriate legislation to guarantee implementation of the plan;

- a designated organization responsible for coordinating both planning and response and recovery in the event of an emergency.

The planning process will produce:

- an understanding of organizational roles in response and recovery;
- a strengthening of emergency management networks;
- improved community awareness and participation;
- effective response and recovery strategies and systems;
- a simple and flexible written plan.

The written plan itself is only one outcome of the planning process. Emergency planning does not require the creation of a new emergency management organization; it should make use of the abilities and resources of existing organizations.