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close this bookCommunity Emergency Preparedness: A Manual for Managers and Policy-Makers (WHO, 1999, 141 p.)
close this folderChapter 2 Policy development
View the documentPolicy
View the documentEmergency preparedness policy
View the documentIssues in emergency management policy
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Policy is “the formal statement of a course of action”. Policy development is usually a “top-down” process, in that the central authority will prepare policy, and further decentralized policies may then be required. Policy is strategic in nature and performs the following functions:

- establishes long-term goals;
- assigns responsibilities for achieving goals;
- establishes recommended work practices;
- determines criteria for decision-making.

Policy is required to ensure that common goals are pursued within and across organizations, and that common practices are followed. Without agreed policies, efforts are fragmented, leading to lack of coordination and poor results.

While policies tend to be “top-down” (that is, authorized by higher levels), implementation of the strategies that arise from a policy tends to be “bottom-up”, with higher levels assisting lower levels. Policy may also be created at all administrative levels of an organization or country, and be developed in consultation with those who are required to implement it. This ensures that a policy is realistic and achievable, and gains the commitment of those responsible for its implementation. Policy must be monitored and evaluated, and possibly revised. Specific responsibility for this should be allocated and evaluation criteria established.

Emergency preparedness policy

Policy development in relation to emergency preparedness can be broken down into principles, form, content, and process.

The emergency preparedness policy principles recognize the following (1):

· the rights of individuals and collective rights;

· the nature of the hazards, community, and vulnerability in the geographical area covered by the policy;

· existing related policies, including development, health, and environmental policy;

· existing legislative and organizational responsibilities;

· resource limitations;

· accepted emergency management concepts, including:

- the comprehensive approach;
- the all-hazards approach;
- incorporating emergency preparedness into development planning;
- developing emergency management capabilities at the community level;
- community participation in emergency preparedness;
- building upon existing emergency capabilities;
- the multisectoral and intersectoral approach;
- public attitudes.

The form of emergency preparedness policy will vary both from country to country and between provinces in a given country. Policy may consist of community agreements, sectoral or intersectoral agreements, a provincial government decision, a national government executive decision, or legislation. The form should, however, maximize multisectoral participation. It is essential to emergency preparedness that all relevant organizations and levels are consulted to ensure joint commitment to community safety and well-being.

One process for emergency preparedness policy development is outlined below:

· A decision is made that policy is required and policy development is authorized.

· A qualified person (with a knowledge of policy development and emergency preparedness) is selected as the policy process manager.

· The policy process manager analyses the environment, culture, and administration of the area under his or her jurisdiction.

· A multisectoral team is selected to represent all of the organizations with an interest in emergency preparedness.

· The policy process manager and policy team consider the various emergency preparedness policy issues and document their decisions.

· The decisions on policy directions are publicized and debated in as many forums as possible.

· Final decisions on policy are made and formalized by the appropriate authorities (national legislature, national executive, provincial government, etc.).

· Policy is disseminated widely.

The next section, on emergency management policy, covers some of the options and questions on issues in emergency preparedness policy. It is suggested that the policy process manager does not give these lists of options and questions to the policy team. Rather, she or he should use them to prepare for policy development within the specific country context. The issues are summarized in the left-hand column of Table 1, with the recommended options shown in the right-hand column.

These policy issues may create considerable discussion and even disagreement among those responsible for emergency management, and countries and communities can choose any of numerous options to address them. The issues are detailed below, with options and discussion questions that can be used as a guide to policy and planning decision-making.

Issues in emergency management policy

The options and discussion questions below are meant only for the policy process manager to help him or her to be prepared for policy development meetings, and guide the process to reach the recommendation listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Policy issues and recommended options

Policy issue

Recommended option

1. Emergency preparedness and development planning

Emergency preparedness should be incorporated into all sustainable development objectives and projects.

2. National emergency law and other relevant enabling legislation

A national emergency law is required with references to emergency management in other laws. Definition of “emergency” should be broad, and the language of the law should be as simple as possible.

3. National emergency management organization

A national emergency management organization that is separate from other government agencies is preferable. Responsibility should also be decentralized to provincial government.

4. Responsibility and major mission of national emergency management organization

The mandate of the national organization, and its provincial counterparts, should cover all aspects of emergency management, including health.

5. Tasks of the emergency management organization

The organization should institutionalize emergency management in other organizations rather than attempt to undertake all emergency management work itself. It should undertake a number of tasks, but maintain a generalist approach.

6. Community and provincial emergency preparedness

The national level should develop policy and standards for emergency preparedness at all levels of government. Provincial and community-level emergency preparedness should be developed according to the policy and standards.

7. Health sector emergency preparedness

Health sector emergency preparedness should be coordinated with other sectors, the national level developing policy and standards, and the provincial and community levels implementing programmes. Public, private, military, and NGO health-service providers should be part of the same preparedness programme, as should each discipline within the health sector.

8. Involving other groups management and citizens in emergency

All citizens should be involved in emergency management in some way, ranging from active participation in vulnerability assessment and emergency planning, to receiving information on emergency preparedness.

9. Managing resources

Resources for emergency management should be based on existing resources. Emphasis should be on training and information-sharing in emergency management in all sectors and at all levels.

10. Evaluating an emergency preparedness and response programme

Performance indicators for emergency management should be developed to suit the national, provincial, and community environments.

11. Priorities in implementing emergency preparedness

Priorities should be based on either expressed or actual needs. This will require at least basic research into vulnerability and immediate needs.

Emergency preparedness and development planning


· Do not institute emergency planning; leave the situation as it is.
· Keep emergency planning and development planning separate.
· Incorporate emergency planning into development planning.
· Initiate separate emergency planning but coordinate it with development planning.

Discussion questions

· Why give emergencies, which are statistically infrequent, priority over other social needs?

· What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option?

· What does emergency planning mean? What does development planning mean? Which concept should be used and why?

· What are the goals and objectives of planning of any kind?

· How can emergency planning be linked to sustainable development?

A national emergency law and other enabling legislation


· Do not pass a new law. The country or community (or both) has survived without such legislation.

· Pass a new law that deals with emergencies only.

· Pass a law that deals not only with emergencies, but all hazards, including chronic as well as sudden risks, war or military situations as well as civil problems, and so on.

· Keep the terms of the law short and general; do not make it long and detailed.

· Define emergencies in terms of physical agents (e.g. flood, cyclone, explosion) or in terms of social effects and vulnerability (e.g. casualties, property losses, social disruption).

· Indicate gradations of emergencies; distinguish between everyday emergencies, disasters, and catastrophes. Are the differences quantitative or qualitative or both? What is the value of these distinctions?

Discussion questions

· Should the passage of a law be the first step in emergency preparedness?

· What would be gained or lost by adopting one or other of the various options indicated?

· What political considerations should be taken into account in attempting to pass any emergency legislation?

· Should consideration be given to the purposes of and problems in making fine legal distinctions?

· Given the variable nature of emergencies, might it not be wise to leave a degree of ambiguity or obscurity in defining an “emergency”?

The national emergency management organization


· Make the armed forces the national organization responsible for emergency management.

· Give the responsibility to a special policy planning group in the prime minister’s office.

· Increase the authority of some existing ministry (such as developmental planning or the ministry in charge of the police) to undertake emergency management.

· Create a new, national-level cabinet position with emergency management responsibility.

· Create a separate independent agency directly responsible to the president.

· Pass a national law, but decentralize responsibility to an organization in each of the provincial governments.

· Have no national organization, but make emergency management a “bottom-up” responsibility, to be undertaken by groups at the community and provincial levels.

· Give the responsibility to an NGO already operating nationwide and emergency-oriented (e.g. the national Red Crescent or Red Cross Society).

Discussion questions
· Why is there a need for a formal organization?

· How important is its location in the governmental structure?

· What are the advantages and disadvantages of the different options?

· What might be the case for using an established group or creating a new one for emergency purposes?

· Should consideration be given to establishing an organization that is partly protected from political pressure?

· Should a national-level organization be composed exclusively of specialists with relevant skills; professionals in public administration; political appointees; a combination of various skills and backgrounds? How might the personnel be recruited? Might the higher levels be composed of political appointees and the rest of the staff obtained through civil service examinations?

Responsibility and major mission of the national emergency management organization


· The organization should be responsible for all aspects of emergency management, prevention/mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

· The organization, while responsible for all aspects of emergency management, should focus primarily on prevention/mitigation.

· The organization should deal only with prevention/mitigation.

· Equal emphasis should be placed on structural mitigation measures (i.e. physical measures such as building dams) and non-structural mitigation measures (i.e. social measures such as training governmental officials on appropriate land use patterns or building codes).

· Emergency management should look forwards rather than backwards, concentrating on preventing and mitigating possible future emergencies rather than looking at past problems.

Discussion questions

· Is it possible to focus, in a meaningful way, on only one aspect of emergency management? Is there a difference between prevention and mitigation? If so, what are the implications for emergency management?

· Is the distinction between structural and non-structural measures (which to some extent is a distinction between physical and social activities) a meaningful one? Are not all such measures fundamentally social in nature, in that they require informing people and teaching them to do the right things?

· Should thought be given to how to project future emergencies, especially since they are likely to be somewhat different from past ones?

· Should consideration also be given to the possible relationship between the organization’s major mission and the infrastructure or personnel that might be required? (For instance, a focus on mitigation/prevention may require professional knowledge of land use, zoning, building codes, and construction practices.)

Tasks of the emergency management organization


· The organization should be almost exclusively an emergency planning group.

· In addition to emergency management, the organization should have regulatory/supervisory tasks (such as ascertaining whether dams have been properly constructed or whether building inspectors have the appropriate emergency-relevant knowledge).

· The organization should be primarily concerned with emergency planning during normal times, but should also have operational or management tasks during national emergencies.

· The organization should have a very broad mission; it should undertake a wide variety of functions, including policy setting, planning, provision of resources, gathering of information, monitoring, operations, and training.

Discussion questions

· Is a planning focus likely to lead to emphasis on the production of documents rather than on the planning process itself?

· If multiple tasks are to be undertaken, is there a logical or practical priority ranking that can be assigned to them?

· Should the implications of having a one-mission versus a multiple-mission organization be explored?

Community and provincial emergency preparedness


· No formal attention should be paid to creating lower-level counterpart preparedness; provincial and local community governments would be responsible for this initiative.

· Only national-level entities and tasks should be discussed and decided at the present time. A decision on whether lower-level preparedness ought to be examined should be made later.

· National-level and lower-level entities and preparedness should be developed in parallel and simultaneously.

· While national-level activities should be given first priority, the national emergency legislation should set forth activities at the provincial and local community level that might be developed later.

Discussion questions

· What would be the positive and negative consequences of having (or mandating) a multilevel structure and preparedness programme?

· To what extent should lower-level structures and preparedness be similar to or parallel those at the national level?

· What are the implications of a primarily urban-based agency trying to initiate emergency preparedness for a mostly rural population?

Health sector preparedness


· The health sector does not prepare for emergencies.

· Preparations are made for emergencies, but each part of the health sector conducts its own preparedness programme.

· Health sector preparedness is not coordinated with other sectors.

· A national emergency management cell is established in the health sector, to develop policy and standards.

· The health sector responds to emergencies at the national level only.

· The provincial level of the health sector responds to emergencies, assisted by the national level.

Discussion questions

· How can the health sector fit in with multisectoral emergency preparedness?

· Who is responsible, within the health sector, for emergency preparedness and response?

· Should private, public, military, and nongovernment health providers coordinate their emergency preparedness programmes?

· What is the most efficient way of organizing health sector emergency preparedness?

· Does the ministry of health have the legislative power to coordinate emergency preparedness?

· How do community health organizations communicate with the national health level?

· Who is ultimately responsible for health sector emergency preparedness?

Involving other groups and citizens in emergency management


· Others should not be formally involved.

· Only other government organizations should be involved.

· Besides the government, the private sector and NGOs should also be involved.

· There should be a selective involvement of key community officials.

· All citizens should be involved in emergency management in some way.

· All should be involved but there should be a definite sequencing for involvement in the planning process.

Discussion questions

· How is the credibility of emergency management to be established in government bureaucracies?

· Are there special problems in securing the involvement of industry and industrial workers in emergency management?

· Is it worth using national heroes, celebrities, and educational campaigns to increase citizens’ awareness?

· What degree of citizens’ involvement in any emergency management programme is there? What kind of involvement? For what reasons? Some argue that without extensive citizen participation (or at least interest), no meaningful emergency management programmes can be undertaken. Others argue that, strategically, it is best to start a programme with a core of key community officials or leaders.

Managing resources


· There should be funding for institution-building and other community activities and entities relevant to emergency prevention.

· A cadre or core of specialists in emergency management should be quickly established.

· A full range of facilities and equipment (e.g. training centres, computers with appropriate software) should be provided for the emergency management organizations.

Discussion questions

· Should direct funding be provided for increasing and strengthening coping mechanisms for emergencies at the local community level?

· What are the advantages and disadvantages of sending officials abroad for training in emergency management?

· Should emergency training centres and programmes be developed within existing educational institutions or should new organizations be created?

· Is it easier to fund non-structural activities (e.g. training or educational programmes) than structural measures (e.g. building dams), since the latter often require considerable capital investment as well as maintenance costs?

· Should thought be given to whether information distribution and sharing should be considered as a resource allocation mechanism?

Evaluating an emergency preparedness and response programme


· Set milestones and deadlines for meeting specific goals.
· Obtain feedback from citizens.
· Undertake research.
· Require periodic reports be made to the government.

Discussion questions

· Does a focus on deadlines, schedules, and reports lead to a concern with administrative matters rather than with the quality of what is being attempted?

· What are the relative advantages and disadvantages of having insiders (i.e. members of the organization involved) or outsiders evaluating a programme? Can candid and honest organizational self-assessments be obtained?

· Should there be an examination of the type of research and social science that would be most useful for emergency planners? What should be the relationship between researchers and emergency managers? Does an interest in applied research preclude supporting basic research?

Priorities in implementing emergency preparedness


· A systematic national emergency vulnerability assessment is the highest priority.

· A mass information or educational campaign about emergency planning is necessary and should be given early priority.

· Priorities should be set in terms of the sectors that are most important in the society.

Discussion questions

· In what ways might symbolic activities (such as proclaiming a national emergency day, a public address on the topic by a senior figure, statements of support by well-known figures) be important first steps in initiating an emergency planning programme?

· Since everything cannot be done at once, should the easier tasks or those offering the greatest long-term advantage be undertaken first?

· How should the choice be made between planning for a likely emergency and planning for a more unlikely catastrophe?

· How will political considerations affect decision-making on setting of priorities?


· Policy is strategic in nature, concerns the establishment of long-term goals, assigns responsibilities for achieving goals, may establish recommended work practices, and may determine criteria for decision-making.

· Policy development is a process.

· Emergency management policy should be developed in line with accepted emergency management principles.

· Policy should be widely debated.

· Policy issues include:

- emergency preparedness and development planning;
- national emergency law and other relevant enabling legislation;
- national emergency management organization;
- responsibility and major mission of the national emergency management organization;
- tasks of the emergency management organization;
- community and provincial emergency preparedness;
- health sector emergency preparedness;
- involving other groups and citizens in emergency management;
- managing resources;
- evaluating an emergency preparedness and response programme;
- priorities in implementing emergency preparedness.


1. National emergency management competency standards. Canberra, Emergency Management Australia, 1995.