The Four Phases of Emergency Management

Emergency management can be applied to individuals or communities. Typically, we think broadly when considering emergency management since the larger entities, such as FEMA, are so widespread in reach and scope.

Basic family preparedness is actually a form of emergency management. Emergency management is thinking about threats and hazards to you and your family and creating a plan. Sound familiar? It should- because it is the key analytical component of prepping! Understanding emergency management can help us as preppers stretch our budgets and better prepare for likely events.

Emergency management is most often broken up into four phases. Some local community organizations add phases here and there, but the consensus is that four phases pretty much sums it up.

The four phases of emergency management are:

  1. Mitigation
  2. Preparedness
  3. Response
  4. Recovery

Each one is specific to a time period related to an emergency, and includes the actions (or inaction) that you chose to take.

Mitigation: Preventing or Minimizing Emergencies

Mitigation involves using measure to reduce the chance of an emergency occurring or reducing the effects of an emergency that is unavoidable. The mitigation phase occurs both before and after emergencies and is often a continuous process seeking improvement.


Risk analysis is at the heart of the mitigation phase, since it allows you to identify and quantify risks and hazards. We have conducted a general risk analysis with our TrueRisk index, but have also shared guidelines for you to conduct your own risk analysis.

At the government level, mitigation can identify opportunities with proper zoning, safe building codes, levees for floods, and controlled burns for wildfires- to only name only a few. Cyclical damage, like repeated flooding, should be flagged in the mitigation step since risks are obviously not being accounted for in those situations. A recent study published that every dollar spent on mitigation efforts saves society an average of four dollars- a darn good return rate if you ask me!

Preparedness: Actively Preparing for Emergencies

Preparedness is a whole toolkit of planning, organizing, training, exercising, equipping, and evaluating disaster response. The preparedness phase occurs before an emergency occurs, but is still a continuous process with room for constant improvement.

Basic Emergency Plan Download

Preparedness is different from mitigation in that it does not try to prevent the disaster from happening. Instead, preparedness is planning procedures and procuring equipment to handle the disaster. This may sound the most familiar to preppers, since 99% of what we do falls within this emergency management phase. All of the kits we create and plans we fine tune are a part of the preparedness phase of emergency management.

If the preparedness phase is tackled well, then it makes the next two phases go much more efficiently.

Response: Responding to Emergencies

Response is the carrying out of plans and use of equipment from the preparedness phase. The response phase occurs during an emergency. Adrenaline is typically as high as the stakes in this phase, since this is the most dangerous phase with some of the greater unknown variables.

Volunteer Firefighters

Governments will execute their Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) during this phase, and families should execute their Family Emergency Plan if they have planned accordingly.

Information gathering and communication is of the utmost importance in this phase, and can test the communication limits of even the most weathered emergency management personnel. Staying informed, clear headed, and focused on a plan can help you get through this difficult phase.

Recovery: Recovering from Emergencies

Recovery is the actions taken to return to the ‘status quo’. The recovery phase occurs after an emergency is over. Typically, this involves rebuilding and making sure critical infrastructure is back in place.

SHTF is a unique exception to this phase, since it assumes that even a marginal recovery to the ‘status quo’ is not possible in a reasonable time period. This prolongs the recovery period of the specific incident (perhaps indefinitely), which breaks the cycle of emergency management. Breaking this cycle causes resource inefficiencies among other problems.

Setting a ‘new normal’ may be needed to effectively exit this phase if the disaster is severe enough. If there are cascading emergencies, or a ‘domino effect’, then even national incident management systems can become overburdened and ineffective. You can see glimpses of this during widespread regional disasters, or with disasters in more remote areas, such as the Puerto Rico hurricane Maria recovery.

An Example of the Four Phases

You can see examples of the four phases of emergency management in the news for many disasters. Often, the phases are even identified as they go through them in accordance with the National Incident Management System (NIMS). It may be a little harder to relate it to an incident on your own, however. Here is an example of the four phases at work:

Mitigation – Your friend in Mississippi just had their home flooded and lost many valuable possessions. You have been in your North Carolina home for a few years now without incident, but decide to check out your local flood plain. You see that your home is squarely ‘in the blue’ on a 100 year flood map that was recently updated. You reach out to your insurance company and purchase flood insurance.

Preparedness – You don’t want to be stuck with a sopping wet house without a plan or any gear, so you put together a Basic Emergency Plan and identify a bug out location. You also create Bug Out Bags for each family member in case of an emergency, disaster, or even worse.

Response – Hurricane Abigail hits, and although it is only a Category 2 hurricane, it hovers over your home for days dumping over 12 inches of rain per day. You were informed and evacuated your home equipped with your bug out bags prior to the inevitable flooding, all according to your emergency plan.

Recovery – You return home when safe to find 3 inches of flooding inside your home. You contact remediation experts and your insurance agent to file a claim. Six weeks later you are back in your home with your family.

Mitigation – The flooding ordeal was not something you would like to deal with again, but you have two options. You can seal the outer wall where you identified the main leak, or you can move to a new home outside of the flood plain.

Although this is a simple scenario above, you can plainly see how the flood victim went through each phase of emergency management. Too often today, we see people skip the mitigation and preparedness phases, which makes the response and recovery phases difficult on both themselves and society.


The Final Word

“Personal disaster preparedness is the first and most effective intervention to reduce the impact of disasters” – Federal Emergency Management Agency. Prepping isn’t a selfish endeavor- it is praised by those that know the risks since it can greatly reduce your burden to society. Choosing not to prepare for basic disasters could be viewed as the opposite: selfish, reckless, and irresponsible.

Learn about the risks you could encounter every day with our TrueRisk index to make sure you are on top of every likely and plausible threat. Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.

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Rusty Collins

I am an engineer, Air Force veteran, emergency manager, husband, dad, and experienced prepper. I developed emergency and disaster plans around the globe and responded to many attacks and accidents as a HAZMAT technician. I have been exposed to deadly chemical agents, responded to biological incidents, and dealt with natural disasters. Check out my full story here: Rusty's Story

One thought on “The Four Phases of Emergency Management

  • This a wonderful post Rusty. I totally agree with you. The best really is to prepare yourself and these tips are so helpful.


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