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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

Potential problem analysis


The planning group should be briefed on the results of the vulnerability assessment, consider the recommendations of this assessment, and begin planning.

Potential problem analysis (4) is a technique for identifying preventive strategies and response and recovery strategies for problems that could arise in a given situation. Its value is that it systematically breaks down a problem into its components. Applied to emergency management, it can lead to innovative and effective strategies. The technique involves:

- identifying a hazard or hazardous situation;
- listing potential problems;
- determining causes;
- developing preventive strategies;
- developing response and recovery strategies, and trigger events for these strategies.

Preventive strategies are ways of reducing the probability of the problem, thereby reducing susceptibility. Response and recovery strategies are ways of reducing the seriousness of a problem that does occur, thereby increasing resilience.

At least two things are required to initiate a response or recovery strategy: a trigger event, and a person or organization responsible for initiating the strategy. The trigger event should indicate when the strategy is required; it could be an alarm, a warning, or the emergency itself. The responsible person or organization should be capable of initiating the strategy and the responsibility should be predetermined. To take a simple example, when flood water (hazard) reaches the 2-metre level at a particular bridge (trigger), a landowner (responsible person) contacts three neighbours so that they can move their animal stock to higher ground (response strategy).

A potential problem analysis can be performed by one person alone, but much better results will be obtained by a planning group. The planning group will also have a greater commitment to the strategies if it has been involved in their development.

How to perform a potential problem analysis

Consider a fire in a multistorey hospital as an example for a potential problem analysis. A vulnerability assessment on this hospital would reveal many of the potential problems that can be explored. Those that may be identified by a planning group might include:

- smoke, causing visibility problems;
- toxic smoke and fumes, causing lung damage to occupants;
- people trapped by smoke and flames;
- death due to smoke and flames;
- fire damage to property;
- water damage to equipment from sprinkler systems;
- threat of fire to adjacent buildings.

The results of a potential problem analysis can be recorded in tabular form (see Table 22).

Table 22. Sample potential problem analysisa

Hazard: ..........................................

Potential problem


Preventive strategies

Response and recovery strategies

Trigger events

aReproduced from reference 4 by permission of the publisher.

The next step is to consider causes in order to develop appropriate and effective preventive strategies and response and recovery strategies. The example can be extended with the potential problems relating to smoke. Some sources of smoke problems include:

- smoke caused by the ignition of garbage or other material that should have been removed;

- toxic smoke caused by burning of synthetic materials in furnishings;

- smoke caused by continued supply of oxygen to fire;

- smoke and fumes caused by applying an extinguishing agent inappropriate for the type of fire.

Listed below are some examples of preventive strategies for the smoke problem:

- reduce quantity of synthetic furnishings in the building (usually not cost-effective but worth considering);

- ensure appropriate housekeeping to reduce the amount of combustible material available (material that is not for immediate use in a given room should be stored in dedicated areas; garbage should be removed regularly);

- develop systems for reducing air flow to a fire (e.g. automatic or manual shut-off of air conditioning, closing of doors and windows);

- educate building occupants about the dangers of smoke and the best means to avoid it (e.g. staying close to the floor when leaving a building);

- train building occupants in the use of fire extinguishers.

Some possible response and recovery strategies include:

- shut off air conditioning as soon as fire is discovered (this may reduce the amount of oxygen that reaches the fire and the smoke produced);

- close all doors and windows;

- leave building in an organized manner;

- use fire extinguishers that are appropriate for the type of fire.

The trigger event and responsible person for setting in motion the response and recovery strategies must be determined by the planning group and documented.

Each of the other potential problems should then be considered in turn.

The technique of potential problem analysis is a powerful tool for developing emergency management strategies. It will produce the best results when used by a planning group because input comes from people with a variety of backgrounds and points of view. Members of the group will also inspire each other to develop new ideas. Equally important, since the group will be responsible for implementing the preventive and response and recovery strategies, is that group members should be involved in and committed to developing the strategies.

An interesting feature of potential problem analysis is that the same set of strategies for different potential problems will keep recurring. This is to be expected. The number of strategies for dealing with any complex set of problems is finite and many of them will be applicable to quite different problems.

Table 23. Using the outputs of a potential problem analysis



Possible preventive strategies

Add to existing prevention programmes

Possible response and recovery strategies

Determine whether existing resources will support a particular strategy

Ensure that responsibilities for strategies have been assigned

Develop further strategies for use in response and recovery

Trigger events

Ensure that trigger events are part of the alerting and warning system

Using the outputs of a potential problem analysis

The outputs of a potential problem analysis can be used in various ways (see Table 23), most of which are later steps in the planning process.