Crisis management cycle

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Crisis management is the process by which an organization deals with a major event threating to harm the organization, its stakeholders, or the general public. Three elements are common to a crisis: (a) a threat to the organization, (b) the element of surprise, and (c) short decision time.[1]. The term is closely related with disaster and emergency management and in the context of this wiki, the terms will be used as synonyms.

The crisis management cycle

The crisis management cycle

Crisis management is widely understood to be a multiple-phase process, with the phases often paralleling, rather than merely running sequentially, as implied by common cycle illustration. There are several models of the crisis management cycle, among which the 4-phases cycle became widely accepted. [2] [3] [4] There are many emergency services protocols that apply in an emergency, which usually start with planning before an emergency occurs. One commonly used system for demonstrating the phases is shown here on the right.

The planning phase starts at preparedness, where agencies decide how to respond to a given incident or set of circumstances. This should ideally include lines of command and control, and division of activities between agencies. This avoids potentially negative situations, actions, and use of valuable resources like time and finance. For example, poor planning may result in three separate agencies all starting an official rest centre for victims of a disaster. This is inefficient as this will deplete resources of money and time, as well as potentially adding to the confusion of the public, and creating competition rather than cooperation among agencies.

Following an occuring emergency, the agencies move to the response phase, where they execute their plans, and may end up improvising on some areas of their response (due to gaps in the planning phase, which are inevitable due to the individual nature of most incidents).

Agencies may then be involved in recovery phase following the response phase, where they assist in the clean up of the incident or help the people involved overcome their mental trauma.

The final phase in the circle is mitigation, which involves taking steps to ensure no re-occurrence is possible or putting additional plans in place to ensure less damage is done. This should feed back in to the preparedness stage, with updated plans in place to deal with future emergencies, thus completing the circle.

Definitions of the phases

Whereas there is general agreement on the phases "preparedness", "response" and "recovery", the EU puts an emphasis on "preparedness" (i.e. prevention) instead of "mitigation". [5] [6] Crisis management, emergency management, and disaster and/or risk management are sometimes used synonymously. However, they can also be understood as components of each other.

Crisis management activities are substantial for urban environments, critical infrastructure protection and civil protection respectively for the protection of the society. In urban systems they are every-day business; and all phases of the crisis management cycle may be experienced simultaneously in different parts of the city.

Views and interpretations of the phases vary largely in literature, according to disciplines and perspective; and there is a wide number of definitions available. Following definitions were chosen from those provided by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)[7], and differ for example from the glossary definitions in the National Response Plan (NRP) by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).[8]


"The lessening or limitation of the adverse impacts of hazards and related disasters."

Comment: The adverse impacts of hazards often cannot be prevented fully, but their scale or severity can be substantially lessened by various strategies and actions. Mitigation measures encompass engineering techniques and hazard-resistant construction as well as improved environmental policies and public awareness (UNISDR 2009).


"The outright avoidance of adverse impacts of hazards and related disasters."

Comment: Prevention (i.e. disaster prevention) expresses the concept and intention to completely avoid potential adverse impacts through action taken in advance. Examples include dams or embankments that eliminate flood risks, land-use regulations that do not permit any settlement in high risk zones, and seismic engineering designs that ensure the survival and function of a critical building in any likely earthquake. Very often the complete avoidance of losses is not feasible and the task transforms to that of mitigation. Partly for this reason, the terms prevention and mitigation are sometimes used interchangeably in casual use (UNISDR 2009: 22).


"The knowledge and capacities developed by governments, professional response and recovery organizations, communities and individuals to effectively anticipate, respond to, and recover from, the impacts of likely, imminent or current hazard events or conditions."

Comment: Preparedness action is carried out within the context of disaster risk management and aims to build the capacities needed to efficiently manage all types of emergencies and achieve orderly transitions from response through to sustained recovery. Preparedness is based on a sound analysis of disaster risks and good linkages with early warning systems, and includes such activities as contingency planning, stockpiling of equipment and supplies, the development of arrangements for coordination, evacuation and public information, and associated training and field exercises. These must be supported by formal institutional, legal and budgetary capacities. The related term “readiness” describes the ability to quickly and appropriately respond when required (UNISDR 2009: 21).


"The provision of emergency services and public assistance during or immediately after a disaster in order to save lives, reduce health impacts, ensure public safety and meet the basic subsistence needs of the people affected."

Comment: Disaster response is predominantly focused on immediate and short-term needs and is sometimes called “disaster relief”. The division between this response stage and the subsequent recovery stage is not clear-cut. Some response actions, such as the supply of temporary housing and water supplies, may extend well into the recovery stage (UNISDR 2009: 24-25).


"The restoration, and improvement where appropriate, of facilities, livelihoods and living conditions of disaster-affected communities,including efforts to reduce disaster risk factors."

Comment: The recovery task of rehabilitation and reconstruction begins soon after the emergency phase has ended, and should be based on pre-existing strategies and policies that facilitate clear institutional responsibilities for recovery action and enable public participation. Recovery programmes, coupled with the heightened public awareness and engagement after a disaster, afford a valuable opportunity to develop and implement disaster risk reduction measures and to apply the “build back better” principle (UNISDR 2009: 23).

Relevance to urban planning

As securing the safety of citizens is an important function of the urban planner, and crisis management functions as an important 'safety net' to ensure provide vital assistance in case all other preparation fails. It is therefore important to consider the needs of the emergency services in the urban planning. A particular consideration in this is the speed with which they can access possible locations of emergency (under all possible circumstances).

Footnotes and references

  1. {{|last=Seeger|first=M. W.|coauthor=Sellnow, T. L., & Ulmer, R. R.|year=1998|title=Communication, organization and crisis|journal=Communication Yearbook|volume=21|pages=231–275}}
  2. Schwab Anna K., Eschenbach Katherine, Brower David J. (2007): Hazard Mitigation and Preparedness. Danvers: Wiley.
  3. Coppola Damon P. (2007): Introduction to International Disaster Management. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
  4. US Department of Education (2009): Action Guide for Emergency Management at Institutions of Higher Education. U.S. Department of Education Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Online : [2011-05-13].
  5. European Commission (2011): European Civil Protection. Prevention. Online: [2012-07-19].
  6. Commission of the European Communities (2009): COM(2009) 82 final. COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS. A Community approach on the prevention of natural and man-made disasters. Online: [2012-07-19].
  7. UNISDR (2009): 2009 UNISDR Terminology on Disaster Risk Reduction. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction ISDR. United Nations: Geneva. Online: [2011-05-13].
  8. DHS (2004): National Response Plan. Department of Homeland Security: Washington. Online: [2011-03-23].