Emergency Management Blogs

Managing Crisis

by Lucien G. Canton: Melding theory and practice

| Contact Lucien G. Canton

How realistic is your planning?
February 06, 2013
Bookmark and Share

Emergency Management Degrees

Visit our education pages to learn more about higher education opportunities in emergency management:

Emergency Management Degrees
Homeland Security Degrees
Emergency Management Certificates


Latest Blog Posts RSS

Emergency Management Blog - Eric Holdeman: Disaster Zone Water Disaster: FEMA Reimbursement
Apr 20 Take note that there are eligible costs that can be reimbursed.…
Emergency Management Blog - Eric Holdeman: Disaster Zone How Politics Buries Science
Apr 20 This example is for landslides, but the damage goes much further.…
Alerting Failure Draws Fire in Portland
Apr 17 The City says a failed alert this week was the fault of the alerting vendor. The vendor says it was the city's fault.…

"I saw a frog in the air once, so therefore frogs can fly!"

This was a favorite saying of one of my former colleagues in San Francisco whenever we encountered someone who was so sure of their opinion that they could not be swayed by the facts. We've all encountered people like this. Indeed, if we're honest, we'd have to admit that we have sometimes been that person.The psychological term is "misleading vividness", a condition where we draw conclusions on the basis of limited anecdotal evidence.

Couple this with another phenomena, that of perceived risk. The immediacy of media images has changed how we perceive risk in the United States. In the days when news took days to reach communities, the perception was that whatever had happened did not necessarily affect our community. Now with constant breaking news, the most minor risks have an immediacy that makes them seem like direct threats to everyone. 

Unfortunately, these two phenomena have had an impact on how we do emergency planning in the United States. We often talk about "disaster mythology" but a lot of false assumptions have been woven into our plans. For example, despite research demonstrating that people are resilient and able to participate in response, our plans continue to assume that response must be centrally controlled. We spend considerable effort during response dismantling spontaneous feeding and sheltering sites because they are not part of the "official system". We assume that people will act contrary to their best interests, although we have seen time and time again that people are more likely to act altruistically in a crisis than to act negatively.

Further, we have squandered limited planning resources because we feel the need to plan for risks that are more perceived than actual because they are in the public eye. We have forgotten that part of our job is to prioritize risk for our communities. All-hazards planning should mean that we consider all hazards in our planning, not that we plan for every possible hazard. Scenario-based planning has its uses but should not be the norm.

If we are to be effective planners, we must move away from these outdated assumptions and begin using evidence-based planning. We need to plan realistically for what is most likely to occur, not what we think will occur.

No matter what you believe, sooner or later that frog is going to hit the ground.



Add Your Comment

You are solely responsible for the content of your comments. We reserve the right to remove comments that are considered profane, vulgar, obscene, factually inaccurate, off-topic or a personal attack. Comments are limited to 2,000 characters.

Latest Emergency Management News

Moulage Provides Realism for ShakeOut Disaster Drill

The morbid makeup ensures that emergency responders have realistic-looking victims for disaster preparation drills.
Police officer working on a laptop
FirstNet Explained

FirstNet, the proposed nationwide broadband public safety network, is big, expensive and complicated. Here are a few basic things you need to know.
FirstNet Testbeds (Interactive Map)

FirstNet began negotiations with eight testbed jurisdictions, and the projects that did reach agreements should help shape the FirstNet network.

4 Ways to Get EM

Subscribe to Emergency Management MagazineFollow Emergency Management on TwitterSubscribe to Emergency Management HeadlinesSubscribe to Emergency Management Newsletters

Featured Papers

Blog Archives