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Adaptation option

Crises and disaster management systems and plans

Disaster risk management is typically organised along five stages including prevention, protection, preparedness, response, recovery and review. Territorial and urban planning, as well as land management, play an important role in risk prevention, by for example limiting the development in flood prone areas, and by encouraging flood and drought risk-sensitive land use and management practices. With respect to water management, disaster risk management entails identification of areas prone to natural hazard of different intensity and frequency, and implementation of protection measures, both structural and non-structural, aimed to reduce the exposure and/or vulnerability to strikes of ‘capricious nature’.

Contingency planning is a process of developing strategies, arrangements and procedures to address the humanitarian needs of those adversely affected by potential crises. 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, of each other's capacities and of objectives and organizational requirements. Contingency planning involves actions in which individuals and institutions are alertly responsive and entirely responsible for all eventualities. The options are designed prior to disasters.

Emergency management is part of the preparedness and response stages and is typically managed by civil protection services. Civil protection attends to the residual risk,  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. Up-to-date early warning systems (addressed in a different factsheet) and well-thought emergency plans are key instruments for further curtailing the residual risk. The emergency plans contain 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. Emergency plans should be ideally developed at all administrative levels (from municipal up to the national level) with different level of detail and partly content. The emergency operations focus primarily on the protection of human lives and limiting the impact of disasters. Part of the emergency operations can be deployment of temporary flood control structures, water tanks or bottled water and food distribution, and mobile water purifiers and sanitation. Emergency responses may also include water restrictions and rationing that are handled in a different factsheet. During the 2008 droughts in Cyprus and Spain (Barcelona) the emergency responses also included the shipping of water from Turkey and France respectively. During the crises, ordinary regulations are or may be superimposed by emergency norms and regulation. For example, during the 2003 drought that affected large parts of Europe the regulations limiting the abstraction of water for nuclear or thermoelectric power plants in cases of low river flow and water temperature exceeding given thresholds were temporarily modified or put on hold in order to prevent larger systemic failures. More commonly, the environmental flow regulations are violated during the water crises in order to guarantee sufficient water for basic human needs.

Additional Details
Reference information

Adaptation Details



IPCC categories

Institutional: Government policies and programmes, Structural and physical: Service options

Stakeholder participation

Specific emergency plans and arrangements can be implemented at all administrative levels (from local to national). They require high participation and often training to be effective. The composition of stakeholders involved in the emergency plans may varies depending on the administrative level. The main actors involved are represented by: local and national institutions; civil protection; military, firefighters and police corps; health sector; local population; representatives of the main economic sectors.

Very often the strategies defined in the plans are studied centrally and based on the need to maximize the effectiveness of the emergency management apparatus, minimizing waste of resources and possible human errors. A broader stakeholder participation is highly desirable in the local administrative level.

The emergency plans and the consequent stakeholder composition largely vary depending on the specific nature of the disaster taken into consideration: emergency plans aimed at mitigating drought and flood risk, for example, are radically different and impact, at least in part, on different stakeholders.
Stakeholders usually give high value to the possible acquisition of temporary flood control structures and to the practices aimed to the evacuation preparation. They tend to prefer the strategies inspired by prevention, such as: emergency preparedness planning and emergency response systems in extreme risk catchments. These measures have been considered a priority and relevant at the EU policy level.

Success and Limiting Factors

The relocation of existing infrastructures has been considered extremely costly and hardly feasible, but the introduction of this strategy into the urban planning activity has been, in general, highly appreciated. The strategies aimed at disaster contingency planning and at ensuring business continuity are considered tangible and risk free solutions. Emergency and crises management plans are structured in a way that helps to standardise and prioritise the actions requested to promptly respond to natural or man-made disasters. They comprehend different catastrophic scenarios and the related strategies that need to be implemented to minimize the impacts. The plans are designed in a way that allows to cope with a wide range of particular situations. Unfortunately, sometimes, the large uncertainty characterising mainly the rapid-onset (as for flash-floods) disasters or the combined occurrence of more than a disaster (as for example in the case of Fukushima) could seriously put the plans to a harsh test. When the plan is well structured and well implemented, the emergency is managed in an effective way and the human and economic losses are minimised.

Costs and Benefits

In some cases, talking about cost-benefit analyses for the Crises and Disaster Management Systems and Plans could sound slightly inappropriate. The main objective of these plans should be to save human lives at every cost and using the best instruments available. In reality, the majority of the plans are designed to minimise not only the human, but also the economic losses. In this context, cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analyses are the main instruments used to design and characterize the emergency plans. Total protection, in the sense of bringing the residual risk to zero, is virtually impossible and associated with infinite costs. The emergency measures, at least for what concerns the protection of economic assets, are designed calibrating the level of protection with the associated cost. In this way the plan allows to offer the maximum level of protection at a cost that theoretically should not exceed the replacement cost. In this way, if correctly designed and implemented, the disaster management plans allow to generate benefits in terms avoided losses greater that the associated investments.

In Europe, the civil protection is responsibility of the Member States. The Community Civil Protection Mechanism (CCPM) was first established in 2001 (Council Decision of 23 October 2001) and modified/extended in 2007 by the European Council’s Decision 2007/779/EC, Euratom. More recently, the European Union’s efforts in disaster risk reduction intensified with the EC Communication on Disaster Response Capacity (EC 2008). This Communication highlighted the need for stepping up the Community capacity and effectiveness to respond to disasters, within and outside the EU. To do so, the EC proposed several tangible means for a better coordination of various EU/Community policies, instruments, services and players (at national, European and international levels). While the Communication focuses on the response to disasters, it acknowledges that a comprehensive approach to disaster management is needed comprising risk assessment, forecast, prevention, preparedness and mitigation.

In the flood risk domain, the Directive 2007/60/EC on the Assessment and Management of Flood Risks (hereafter Floods Directive) was adopted on 18 September and entered into force on 26 November 2007. The Floods Directive focuses primarily on prevention, protection and preparedness, whereas the CCPM addresses issues relevant for preparedness, response and to some extent recovery. Prevention includes non-structural activities reducing the flood impacts such as restricting the development of flood plains; risk-proofing of buildings and infrastructure; and flood-sensitive land use, agricultural and forestry management practices. Protection addresses both structural and non-structural measures reducing the likelihood and/or impacts of flood such as flood defenses work, temporary flood storage areas etc. Preparedness includes recognition of the imminent danger (i.e. early warning system) and communication of risk. Response entails all emergency activities aimed at protecting human life, property, environment, and cultural heritage. Recovery and review (lessons learned) address activities in the aftermath of the emergency helping to restore normal/ordinary conditions and to help to bear the inflicted hardship.
The European Commission, after the massive flood that hit the central part of the Union in 2002, founded the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF). The instrument has been created to assist the State Members to cope with natural disasters. The fund has been designed to financially assist the emergency management and the first recovery actions.

Implementation Time

1-5 years.

Life Time

More than 25 years.

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 Sep 10 2022

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