Natural and man-made hazards threaten people, property, the environment and cultural heritage. Climate change will increase disaster risk amplifying the impacts of extreme weather events, floods, droughts and wildfires unless adaptation and mitigation measures are undertaken. Disaster risk management (DRM) aims to tackle these hazards and the resulting risks. Climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction should be strictly interlinked, with the active collaboration of communities and a common understanding of risks. 

There are typically four stages to organising DRM, including prevention, preparedness, response and recovery measures. 

Prevention entails the identification of areas prone to natural hazards of different intensity and frequency, and implementation of protection measures. Measures can be both structural and non-structural, aimed to reduce the exposure and/or vulnerability to such hazards. Structural measures include physical constructions and engineering techniques such as flood defences work (e.g. dams or embankments) or temporary flood storage areas. Non-structural activities include policies and laws, public awareness raising, training and education as well as urban planning and land management. They include for example measures that limit the development in flood prone areas and encourage flood and drought risk-sensitive land use and management practices.  

Preparedness aims to build the capacities of governments, response and recovery organizations, communities and individuals to manage emergencies efficiently. Preparedness includes effectively anticipating and recognising imminent danger (i.e. early warning systems), the stockpiling of equipment and supplies, the development of arrangements for coordination, evacuation, public information, training and field exercises and activities such as contingency planning. Contingency planning is developing strategies, arrangements and procedures to address the humanitarian needs of those adversely affected by potential crises before their occurrence. An active contingency planning process enables individuals, teams, organizations and communities to establish working relationships that can make a critical difference when facing a crisis. By working together in a contingency planning process, the actors develop a common understanding of problems, each other's capacities, objectives, and organizational requirements. Contingency planning involves actions in which individuals and institutions are alertly responsive and responsible for all eventualities.  

Response entails all the actions taken directly before, during or immediately after a disaster to save lives, reduce health impacts, ensure public safety and meet the basic subsistence needs of the people affected. Emergency responses may also include water restrictions and rationing. During the 2008 droughts in Cyprus and Spain (Barcelona), the emergency responses also included the shipping of water from Turkey and France, respectively. Ordinary regulations are or may be superimposed by emergency norms and regulations as a response to crises. For example, during the 2003 drought that affected large parts of Europe, more than 30 nuclear power plant units were forced to shut down or reduce their power production due to the shortage of water required for cooling the power plants.  

Finally, recovery addresses activities in the aftermath of the emergency. The final goal is to restore or improve livelihoods and health, as well as economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets, systems and activities of a disaster-affected community or society. Recovery is aligned with the principles of sustainable development and “build back better”, to avoid or reduce future disaster risk 

Emergency management is part of the preparedness and response stages of DRM, which civil protection services typically manage. Civil protection manages the residual risk, that means the portion of risk persisting after adopting all cost-efficient and/or collectively decided prevention/protection measures. Up-to-date early warning systems and well-thought emergency plans are key instruments for further curtailing the residual risk. 

Emergency management is pertinent to all climate-related risks, including slow-onset (as for drought) and rapid-onset (as for flood) disasters. The emergency plans contain the specification of the roles and coordination between various actors, specification of the shelter places for the evacuated population, emergency equipment and facilities, disaster contingency plans etc. All administrative levels (from municipal up to the national level) should ideally develop emergency plans with different levels of detail and partly different content (See more in the section 5. Stakeholder participation). Emergency operations focus primarily on protecting human lives and limiting the impact of disasters. Emergency operations can include the deployment of temporary flood control structures, water tanks or bottled water and food distribution, and mobile water purifiers and sanitation equipment 

Adaptation Details

IPCC categories
Institutional: Government policies and programmes, Institutional: Law and regulations, Structural and physical: Service options
Stakeholder participation

The multidimensionality of risks requires multidisciplinary collaboration to promote synergies between scientists, policymakers, practitioners and citizens. All administrative levels (from local to national) can implement specific emergency plans and arrangements . However, they require high participation and often training to be effective. The composition of stakeholders involved in the emergency plans may vary depending on the administrative level of the plan and on the specific nature of the disaster taken into consideration. The main actors involved are represented by: local and national public authorities; civil protection; army, firefighters and police corps; health sector; representatives of the main economic sectors¸ and local population.  

The central government often defines risk management strategies at the national scale. However, broader stakeholder participation is highly desirable at the local administrative level. 

Stakeholder participation should aim at: (i) defining actors’ roles and responsibilities before, during and after a crisis; (ii) identifying potential opposing values among actors; (iii) building trust and awareness through systematic sharing of information and experiences, education and training. For example, in Austria, the participation of citizens in DRR is ensured in different local and regional participation forums. At the local level, citizens are involved in planning activities and in the elaboration of local hazard maps and risk management plans. Moreover, various local channels and regional media communicate comprehensive information about hazard and risks to different stakeholders.

Success and Limiting Factors

DRM can include measures that radically change land use and human activities, which can generate concern and even opposition. When emergency plans relocate infrastructure from risky to safer areas, they are generally highly appreciated, though cost and technical feasibility can be important barriers to their implementation. Conversely, the strategies aimed at disaster contingency planning and ensuring business continuity are considered tangible and risk-free solutions.  

When the plan is well structured and well implemented, the emergency is managed effectively, and the human and economic losses are minimised. Emergency and crises management plans are generally structured in a way that helps to standardise and prioritise the actions requested to respond promptly to natural or man-made disasters. They comprehend different catastrophic scenarios and the related strategies that need to be implemented to minimise the impacts. The plans are designed in a way that allows coping with a wide range of situations. Unfortunately, sometimes, the large uncertainty mainly characterising the rapid-onset (as for flash-floods) disasters or the combined occurrence of more than a disaster could seriously put the plans to a harsh test. 

Costs and Benefits

The main objective of DRM plans should be to save human lives at any cost and use the best instruments available. The majority of the plans are designed to minimise not only human but also economic losses. In this context, cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analyses are the main instruments used to design and characterize emergency plans. Total protection is virtually impossible and associated with infinite costs in terms of bringing the residual risk to zero. The emergency measures are designed to calibrate the level of protection with the associated cost, for what concerns the protection of economic assets. In this way, the plan offers the maximum level of protection at a cost that theoretically should not exceed the replacement cost. If correctly designed and implemented, disaster management plans generate benefits in terms of avoided losses greater that the associated investments.  

Many methodologies are used for the cost-benefit analysis of DRM. For example, the Triple Dividend of Resilience framework of the World Bank and Overseas Development Institute (ODI) identifies and quantifies three types of benefits (dividends) in any DRM investment:  

  • avoiding losses and saving lives during a disaster (dividend 1),  
  • unlocking economic potential as a result of stimulated innovations and economic activities that arise from the reduction in background risks related to disasters (dividend 2),  
  • and generating social, environmental, and economic co-benefits of DRM investments even in the absence of a disaster (dividend 3).  

An analysis of 74 case studies carried out applying this methodology shows that the benefits of investing in disaster management and resilience against natural hazards (e.g., floods, earthquakes, heatwaves, and wildfires) are generally two to ten times higher compared to the DRM costs.

Implementation Time

The time required to develop crises and disaster management systems and plans varies depending on many factors, such as the administrative level (local, regional or national), the number of sectors and natural hazards they address, the extent of stakeholder participation etc. However, they can approximately require 1-5 years. 

The implementation time for the different activities and measures envisaged by plans can also vary broadly. The construction of structural protection measures can take up to several years for implementation, while the set-up of non-structural measures usually requires less time (eg. for training and field exercises, stockpiling of equipment and supplies or for the development of arrangements for evacuation). 

Life Time

Plans are usually conceived as dynamic documents. Thus, they should be revised and updated regularly after the first experiences are gained and after more specific knowledge is built up. In particular, plans should consider the developments and changes related to the exposed assets and people as well as any variation in the expected hazard scenarios. Training exercises also contribute to the updating of plans as they validate their contents and assess the operational and management skills of personnel. In some cases, the update is compulsory. For example, Municipal Civil Protection Plans in the Veneto region (Italy) have unlimited validity, however, they must be periodically updated every six months. At the European level, flood risk management plans developed in accordance with the Floods Directive need to be reviewed every 6 years.  

Actions foreseen by the plans and strategies are assumed to continue for the long-term. The different measures part of the emergency plan have different lifetimes, depending on their nature. Structural protection measures such as dikes or debris flow barriers usually have a lifetime of several decades. Non-structural measures such as weather monitoring and early warning system are instead a permanent task. 


Reference information


DG ENV project ClimWatAdapt and DG CLIMA project "Adaptation Strategy of European Cities"

Published in Climate-ADAPT Feb 10, 2021   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT May 17, 2024

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