Disaster Operations and Decision Making

Normal Decision Making Versus Crisis Decision Making

One of the main differences between normal and crisis decision-making is that the emergency response process involves a wide variety of personnel and agencies (Huder, 2012). The video by Aksecmiami (2013) indicates that, in an emergency, “the federal government interfaces with state, local, and tribal governments and the private sector” (0:26-0:33). Miscommunication between the different people involved in the response can cause misunderstanding or confusion during the incident. For example, the video “Hats of Incident Management (excerpt)” (Axt0, 2007) shows how poor coordination leads to severe delays and lack of information that can be vital to save people’s lives and prevent the possible consequences of the incident.

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On the other hand, a video by Wildfire Today (2014) shows the benefits of having a set procedure for the cooperation of a variety of people and how it helps to generate a prompt response. Therefore, the key element of emergency decision-making is that it incorporates a variety of personnel from many agencies, who perform entirely different procedures during the response process. Huder (2012) states: “Disasters require a unique level of coordination both within the community as well as with outside agencies” (p. 2). Another feature of emergency decision-making is that it involves continual monitoring and, if necessary, a correction to the initial plan. This cycle of decision-making and monitoring is called the Boyd Cycle (Huder, 2012). Emergency managers use the four steps of the cycle to come up with decisions, impose them and make changes according to the results. The four steps are: observe, orient, decide, and act (Huber, 2012). The Boyd Cycle is very effective when making decisions in a crisis, as it allows to determine the correct strategy for all stages of the response process. It also promotes measuring the outcomes of the response using observation.

Planning Process

Continuity of operations planning ensures that no matter the emergency the business operations can be maintained with no interruptions (NVmultimedia, 2012). It is especially vital for response teams who need both to continue regular operations and to respond to crises effectively (NVmultimedia, 2012). However, it can also help medium and large businesses as it outlines the public-private partnerships that can contribute to efficient response and effect management (NVmultimedia, 2012). Finally, the continuity of operations can also help to ensure that any negative effects of the disaster are mitigated in an effective manner (NVmultimedia, 2012). Therefore, continuity becomes one of the most important factors to be addressed in the emergency planning process. The process of creating an emergency plan is usually more important than the emergency plan itself due to a few reasons. First, as noted by Huder (2012), “Disasters never seem to conform to the plans we draw up to combat their effects” (p. 63).

Therefore, preparing the people to act with consideration of all the specifics of the event is one of the most crucial steps that a manager can undertake (Huder, 2012). The emergency planning process ensures the readiness of the employees and the readiness of operations to withstand the crisis and manage its consequences efficiently, which is why it is far more important than the plan itself in case a unique response is needed. The planning process can also determine if there are any obstacles to emergency management within the organization. Problems such as poor communication are usually at the heart of the organization; they can be facilitated by a tall organizational structure or by the large scale of business operations. Poor communication creates resistance to emergency planning, as it calls for a change to the organizational structure of the communications within the company to promote its effectiveness in the time of a crisis.

Protection in Place Versus Evacuation

One of the primary responsibilities of emergency managers is to decide on the best way to protect the people (Huder, 2012). The crucial decision, in this case, is whether to evacuate the people from the affected or to let them stay in their homes or shelters provided safety recommendations. The main consideration, in this case, is the type of disaster that has taken place. Some circumstances, such as floods, might not be as dangerous and will not necessarily require people to leave their homes. Another major factor is the amount of time that the people are given before the disaster strikes. Some disasters, like tornados, can be predicted, giving the official agencies enough time to proceed with the evacuation. Others, on the other hand, are more sudden and will not allow for effective evacuation.

In situations where both protection in place and evacuation are considered, it is needed to take into account the advantages and disadvantages of choosing one option over the other. For instance, McCaffrey, Rhodes, and Stidham (2015) argue that evacuation may increase the anxiety as for some people, “the uncertainty of not knowing what was going on while out of the area was more stressful than that of staying in place” (p. 175). Moreover, evacuation requires substantial resources and many people still stay behind, which may hurt the entire protection plan (McCaffrey et al., 2015). One significant advantage of evacuation, however, is that it is usually the safest option available; McCaffrey et al. (2015) argue that protection in place provides limited control over the situation: “People might not follow instructions and make poor choices, leading to injury or the need to be rescued” (p. 175). Finally, evacuation allows restoring the sites damaged by the disaster more promptly, as it reduces the amount of time spent on rescue missions.

Structuring Emergency Operations Plans

Huder (2012) emphasizes the idea that all disasters are different, and therefore “they require a different decision-making process for a successful response” (p. 19). However, one common feature of all disasters is that they require swift yet well-considered action (Huder, 2012). Another common characteristic of many emergencies is that they pose a significant danger to people and property and require the manager to understand the priorities to choose a suitable plan of response (Huder, 2012). Finally, most disasters require a restoration process when the danger has passed: for instance, for the air to clean up after a chemical leak, or for the houses to be rebuild after a tornado. As for the response required to combat the situation and decrease its effect on people, every emergency is different. One of the main differences is the scope of the emergency.

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Understanding the number of people targeted by the disaster can help to estimate the number of resources required to help. Another factor of difference is the geographical area affected. The consideration of geographical factors is crucial in case an evacuation is planned, but it can also provide information on potential complications that might be caused by the disaster. For instance, in some areas, disasters are connected, like earthquakes and tsunamis. Being aware of these specifics can help in choosing a well-rounded approach to the protection and rescue of the people. Different geographical areas also have different infrastructures, which may either impair or promote efficient response during an emergency. The differences in geographical factors and infrastructures between regions are the main reasons why disaster response plans should be made individually for a particular area. By not engaging in the emergency planning process, local managers limit their understanding of the factors affecting the response process, which impairs their ability to act successfully.


Aksecmiami. (2013). NIMS: Introduction to the national incident management system [Video file]. Web.

Axt0. (2007). Hats of incident management (excerpt) [Video file]. Web.

Huder, R. C. (2012). Disaster operations and decision making (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Wildfire Today. (2014). Introduction to next-generation incident command system [Video file]. Web.

NVmultimedia. (2012). Nevada continuity of operations overview [Video file]. Web.

McCaffrey, S., Rhodes, A., and Stidham, M. (2015). Wildfire evacuation and its alternatives: perspectives from four United States’ communities. International Journal of Wildland Fire, 24(2),170–178.

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