Occasional Paper 22: Anticipating & Preventing Emergencies


We all talk about “horizon scanning”, but how do you actually do it?  That’s the starting point for this paper, which then goes on to examine its connection to something else that the official guidance is fairly quiet about – preventing emergencies. 


In terms of the core model of civil emergency management, “anticipate” and “prevent” are its “dusty corners”.  This paper shines a light into them and presents both a method and the tools to go with it.

Check out our new way of presenting papers;  there’s a summary (a 5-minute introduction – the core idea), the full paper (a 1-hour study – the detail) and a collection of the tools and templates it puts forward (the practical “stuff”). 

It’s written by Mark Leigh, the EPC’s Capability Lead on insight and thought leadership - and endorsed by the Cabinet Office risks and assessments team.

We hope you find it useful.  Let us know what you think!


How We Present This Paper

We start by recognising that everyone has far too much to read these days!
So we want to help you be selective and smart – making sure that the investment of about 1 hour in reading this paper is worthwhile in the context of your role and responsibilities.
So, this is how we are doing it:

1. The very short introduction

This is 2 sides of A4 – about a 5-minute read.
This will suit you if you don’t need the technical detail, but do want to know if it is something that your experts or teams should know about. It introduces the paper and explains what the problem is that it is trying to solve. It will give you a basic framework for asking the right questions if you need assurance from your teams that they are doing the right things.

2. The paper

If you work directly in emergency and disaster risk, or lead a team delivering resilience services, you need the full technical detail and a smart understanding of its context. We think you should read the whole paper.

3. The template and tools

The paper contains 9 models and 1 template. We have included 7 of the models and the template as separate documents that you may download () and use freely; we only ask for a fair acknowledgement. Each is given in the text of the main paper but also in this section with a short explanation of the use or value of each one. 

Fig. 1: 

This is the version of Integrated Emergency Management used in UK national guidance. The two issues dealt within in this paper ('anticipate' and 'prevent') can be seen at steps 1 and 3 of the model. 

Fig. 2: 

The ability to anticipate emergencies and risks is represented here as a capability at the intersection of three factors.  These are organisational learning, organisational culture and situational awareness.  All 3 need to be integrated to support the ability to 'see it coming'. 

Fig. 5: 

This is the process used to bring a system and rigour to anticipation and prevention, with each stage in the model aligned with a particular tool used to assess the nature, meaning and implications of any perceived change to the landscape of risk.  Note that two important tools, persisitent questioning and back-casting are described in the text of the paper, but not represented by graphics.

Fig. 6: 

This is a tool for deconstructing an issue or problem into component factors, in order to understand all its various aspects - before recombining them into a detailed appreciation of the issue or problem.

Fig. 7: 

Based on the work of Dewar (2002), this tool takes a '5 questions' approch to understanding and assessing the assumptions upon which a decision or choice is based.  It brings rigour to the process and helps you identify which assumptions are the 'load-bearing' (critical) ones.

Fig. 8: 

Given the inevitable uncertainties in risk and crisis management, this tool is important for arriving at a clear understanding of what you know for sure, what you think you can presume or deduce and what you are uncertain of or don't know.

Fig. 9: 

This tool is very useful in investigating the relationships between causes and preventative measures before a risk becomes an event and then between impacts and mitigation measures.  The end product resembles a 'map' of the risk and your management activities.

Annex A:  Part 1:   Part 2:   Part 3: 

This is a suggested template for analysis of your landscape of risk.  Although geography (physical, economic and human) is fundamental to it, it goes beyond that.  It helps to regard 'landscape' in this sense as a metaphor, as much as a physical reality. 


Quick Read

Short on time? Click to read the condensed version

(2 pages, pdf)

Full Document

Click to read the full paper

(31 pages, pdf)