Emergency Management

… a core concept used in Implementation and Delivery and Atlas107

Concept description

Leslie Pal (reference below) defines emergency management as “the process of developing and implementing policies and programs to avoid and cope with the risks to people and property from natural and man-made hazards” (p. 343).

He writes (p. 324):

“Managing emergencies might, at first blush, appear to be a contradiction. In times of emergency or disaster, public and private authorities are put to the ultimate test. The public interest always appears abstract and distant when discussed in terms of broad policy or hypotheticals. However, when a bridge collapses, when forest fires rage, when terrorists strike, or when financial markets implode, there is a clear and present imperative for governments to act. They need to show that in some way they were prepared, that they can deal with the emergency, and that they will manage the aftermath. …

“Obviously, there has been a response function in government as long as government has been around – to fires, medical services, disaster relief, and crime. But the field of emergency management has emerged only in the last 20 years as a distinct area of public administration. It has taken on even greater importance since 9/11 and subsequent terrorist attacks in Madrid and London, as well as natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes. The possibility of deliberate and calamitous damage to life and property has increased exponentially in the last few years. Emergency and crisis are now much more closely aligned – something that, at one time, might have been a mere emergency, if the result of a terrorist attack – could become a crisis that challenges the entire political and economic system.

“There have been several challenges to emergency management in the past. One is that most emergencies conventionally occur “on the ground” – that is, they require a response from local governments and communities. This expectation places a huge burden on levels of government that are not usually well endowed with funds and personnel. The second traditional problem is that many emergencies are low-probability events. In the normal course of things, people try to avoid the hazards that lead to emergencies. However, while the probability is low, the consequences can be severe. So there is a compulsion on the part of governments to prepare for possible emergencies, but not much of a public constituency pushing for that response or lobbying for it. There is also a psychological bias to underestimate broadly based risk and a commensurate reluctance to pay the taxes required to deal with it. This bias has changed completely since 9/11. There is a much heightened sense of the possibilities of deliberate danger, and the pummelling that Canada and other countries have received through emergencies such as mad cow, SARS, H1N1, and natural disasters has driven home the importance of preparation and the importance of having the capacity to deal with threats.”

Categorizing threat events

Threat events can be categorized as follows (p. 326):

Four phases of emergency management

Pal notes (p. 326) that the standard framework for emergency management has four phases or elements:

  1. The first is mitigation, which includes some of the steps [listed in Risk Assessment]. A government agency has to scan its internal procedures and its external environment, assess the probabilities of disaster, and take steps to mitigate or reduce those probabilities. The reason this is part of a management framework is that risk assessment and mitigation is an ongoing process that should be woven into daily organizational practices.
  2. The second step or phase is preparedness. Whereas mitigation involves the active effort to prevent or avoid disasters, preparedness is about being ready for the inevitable but unpredictable accidents that will occur. Readiness requires planning and, indeed, the establishment of some sort of emergency response plan that outlines who is in charge, what kind of coordination will take place, and the distribution of resources and responses. Part of being prepared is simulating an actual emergency and going through the steps. Doing this can sometimes seem silly to the public at large, but trained emergency professionals know that an effective response to disaster depends on calm threat assessment and reaction. It helps if people have gone through something similar before.
  3. The third step or phase is response – what one does when the emergency occurs. In part, responding involves following the plans made during the preparation phase, but every situation is unique. Moreover, there has to be an element of innovation and creativity in responding to a particular situation, so plans need to be supple enough that they provide guidance without tying people to the specifics.
  4. The final phase is recovery – reviewing what happened, how well the response went, and what lessons there are to be learned for the next event.
Atlas topic, subject, and course

Managing Risk (core topic) in Implementation and Delivery and Atlas107.


Leslie Pal (2014), Beyond Policy Analysis – Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times, Fifth Edition, Nelson Education, Toronto. See Beyond Policy Analysis – Book Highlights.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 10 April 2017.

Image: University of Colorado Police, at http://www.ucdenver.edu/anschutz/about/location/Police/Emergency_Management/Pages/default.aspx, accessed 10 April 2017.