Emergency management planning: An essential step toward resilient cities

At its most basic level, emergency management is the established system for crisis planning. Preparedness was the primary focus of emergency management during the middle of the 20th century, but overtime it has evolved to now include three other phases – response, mitigation, and recovery.

The importance of an emergency management plan
From a public safety perspective, it’s vital that agency leaders come together, define their challenges and vulnerabilities, and develop a plan addressing the four phases. Leaders can then return to their respective agencies and build out individualized procedures developed from an overall understanding of the importance of emergency management and disaster recovery.

Because public safety is comprised of multiple agencies, developing a unified emergency management plan can be difficult. But once initiated, it becomes a first line of defense and the blueprint on which to build. Using the phases to guide plan creation is key, as each one is important to reduce loss of life and mitigate property and economic losses.

Emergency management planning is also critical for organizations outside the public safety realm. With the increasing number of severe weather events and associated economic impacts, businesses and corporations are at risk. Establishing plans and procedures in advance can considerably reduce the recovery period for operations and employees.

Understanding emergency management phases
When it comes to defining or explaining each emergency management phase, organizations have varying opinions, which can create confusion when crafting an overall approach. No matter how you define each phase, the goal is the same – create an emergency management strategy that works for your community or organization. Start with a basic understanding of each phase.

Preparedness
Because disasters aren’t planned, preparation is essential. The preparedness phase begins with researching, planning, organizing, and equipping, better known as “prevention.” It also includes a continuous cycle of training personnel, ensuring functioning equipment, assessing processes, and formulating improvements.

Response
Some disasters, like extreme weather events, are preceded by a warning, but others hit unexpectedly. The response phase, which utilizes procedures developed during the preparedness phase, is triggered when a crisis begins. Trained staff and volunteers are equipped to immediately react and initiate predetermined protocols.

Recovery
The recovery phase begins immediately after a crisis. Actions are taken to usher in a return to normalcy. These may include short- and long-term activities that help restore order and improve living conditions. Recovery plans and assistance for those affected by the disaster may continue for years.

Mitigation
The mitigation phase is unique in that it’s useful before and after an emergency. Establishing best practices, which can be shaped by prior events or others’ experiences, is essential to this phase and could reduce the impact and consequences of emergencies. Mitigation also reduces costs associated with response and recovery.

Beginning the emergency management planning process
One agency or organization may activate an emergency management plan, but leaders from the private sector – as well as from various agencies and organizations – should all participate in the planning process. This ensures the whole population is represented and reduces the chances of overlooking key factors.

Effective plans will clearly communicate the goals and objectives and include all steps needed to achieve them. They should be developed using risk analysis, but should also be flexible and adaptable enough to cover all types of emergencies, whether traditional or catastrophic. The causes of an emergency vary, but the effects do not. Many of the essential needs (e.g., public shelter after a fire, tornado, or hurricane) will be the same.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, look for resources and guides from national, state, regional, and/or local emergency management agencies. The International Association for Emergency Managers offers a list of resources from various countries. You can also contact leaders from other cities and communities to discuss their emergency management plans. Setting a meeting between your community leaders and someone with experience creating procedures and protocols would be a great first step.

Moving toward a safer city
Establishing an emergency management plan is an essential step in moving toward a safer, more resilient city. You should also revisit your strategy to adjust for lessons learned, technology advancements, industry innovations, etc.

For more information about creating safer cities, explore our Safe City Framework to help your city achieve transformative change.

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