Help or Hazard?

When participating in emergency management planning, some organizations begin and end with the all hazards approach. In an article on Student Pulse titled “Reassessing the Effectiveness of All-Hazards Planning in Emergency Management”, industry expert Peter A. Gregory takes a look at some of the pros and cons of this method.

In terms of strengths of the all hazards planning approach, Gregory identifies the following factors.

1. Cost effectiveness

Sharing resources can lessen the costs of emergency planning. “Rather than each organization creating its own unique plan, organizations are able to consolidate resources by creating a single, common plan; rather than each organization having to individually bear the costs of training its personnel, an all-hazards approach allows these costs to be shared by the organizations involved and also reduces said costs in the process,” writes Gregory.

2. Streamlining of logistics

Logistical and managerial benefits can spring from coordinating resources as well, says Gregory. “When left to themselves, organizations will tend to develop emergency response plans specific to them and their resources,” he writes. “This can be problematic for several reasons. Firstly, such plans may be in conflict with the plans of other organizations. Secondly, plans created by independent organizations may make use of a specific terminology or jargon that inhibits communication between that organization and other responders. Thirdly, said plans will most likely each end up being managed by a different manager, leaving no clear chain of command and a potentially large number of managers with different objectives. An all-hazards approach addresses each of these problems through its use of the Incident Command System (ICS). ICS provides a way for all organizations involved to work together in a unified manner, a manner that allows them to respond to emergencies more quickly and with an increased level of precision.”

3. Comprehensiveness

The overarching nature of an all hazards approach can also be beneficial. “It fosters an underlying infrastructure of management and resources that can theoretically be used to respond to any emergency or disaster,” says Gregory. “As was alluded to earlier, it alleviates the need to have multiple and separate plans for responding to each aspect of a potential emergency. In this case, specifically, rather than simply consolidating and focusing the plans of several organizations, the all-hazards approach also consolidates the several plans that a single entity, such as a government, might have in place to respond to different threats…Instead of the government needing a specific plan in place for every possible scenario, the all-hazards approach provides a general framework on which all of the government's emergency management operations can be based. Consolidated plans increase efficiency and, once again, allow for resources to be saved and used more effectively in the process.”

When it comes to weaknesses in the all hazards approach, some of the positive factors identified above can also be negatives, says Gregory.

1. Combining unlike categories

The one size fits all approach can work against emergency management when it tries to defend against separate threats the same way, says Gregory. “One of the most argued weaknesses of the all-hazards approach is that it attempts to simultaneously mitigate against both natural disasters and terrorism, hazards that belong to two separate and very distinct categories…More specifically, while the resources and policies necessary to respond to and recover from either a disaster or an attack may be similar, the same cannot be said of processes used to mitigate initial damages prior to events belonging to either category,” he writes.

2. Overgeneralization

Similarly, an all hazards approach can be too general. “In some circumstances, such as a potential terrorist attack or another kind of unique emergency, a general plan may simply not be sufficient or as effective as a specific plan tailored to a particular type of event,” writes Gregory. “In such a case, the ‘generalness’ of an all-hazards approach might easily become a weakness; it simply may not be totally suited to or adaptable enough to be used in the event of an emergency that is not ‘general’.”

3. Too many cooks in the kitchen

Bias can be brought in from media, local government or people with family members directly involved in the emergency, says Gregory. In addition, “even without these biases or skewed perceptions of reality, however, emergency managers will tend to base their plans solely on the largest and most obvious hazards and neglect hazards that appear smaller,” he says.

4. Overconfidence

Gregory argues that an all hazards approach can give leaders the sense that their organization can deal with any disaster.

“As the name, ‘all-hazards’ is misleading, leaders who know little more than that their government or organization has an ‘all-hazards’ plan may feel as though they are safe and secure with little to worry about. The opposite is true, however,” writes Gregory. “An emergency management plan is not something that should be ambiguous. Emergency management plans need constant maintenance and attention. Additionally, to act effectively in the event of an emergency, emergency managers must always be aware of changes in their area's environment, and should plan for the worst case scenario, not simply the scenarios most frequently encountered.”

After reviewing the pros and cons, Gregory concludes that the all hazards approach is still a highly effective tool for emergency management professionals, but warns “like a tool made for a specific purpose, all-hazards planning is only effective in fulfilling its intended purpose if those using it are aware of how to use it, and more effective in the hands of those with experience.”


This article has been excerpted. For the entire article and real life case studies, click HERE: