Emergency Preparedness


Emergency preparedness refers to precautions taken before an emergency or disaster happens to help lessen damage and effects on people and property. Emergency preparedness is the first step in emergency management. It can be subdivided into two phases, mitigation and direct preparedness.

Emergency preparedness is distinct from emergency response and recovery, which refers to measures taken after an event. It is important to distinguish among emergencies, disasters, and catastrophes, even though the words are often used interchangeably in ordinary speech, because different types of planning and preparation are required to prevent or respond to these situations. The definitions used most often by emergency management professionals are as follows:


Emergency preparedness entails a cycle of planning, training, and equipping first responders and volunteer emergency workers, stockpiling necessary equipment and supplies, establishing and maintaining an emergency communication system, and taking additional measures that might be needed to prevent, respond to, lessen the impact of, and recover from natural or human-made disasters. In actual practice these stages or phases overlap; emergency preparedness is an ongoing set of activities rather than a final goal.


Mitigation is the first stage or phase of emergency preparedness. It is defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as “the effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters.” It can also be defined as taking action in the present before a disaster occurs to prevent human and financial losses later. Mitigation is undertaken at the community, state, and federal levels in the United States.

Mitigation has four major aspects:

Community emergency preparedness

FEMA identifies five stages in emergency preparedness at the community level following mitigation and risk assessment:


On October 24, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall near Kingston, Jamaica. Its winds were close to 80MPH, and its path was far-reaching. There has been much speculation as to the correlation between global warming and Sandy's power. Scientists state that warmer temperatures increase the atmosphere's ability to retain water and produce greater storms. Also, the jet stream pattern that typically keeps Atlantic Coast storms from reaching landfall was disrupted due to a high pressure system over Greenland. Some believe this high pressure ridge was the result of global warming.

On October 31, the storm dissipated. The worldwide damage was colossal, with 253 confirmed fatalities. Twenty-four of the fifty United States were affected by Sandy, and over 8.5 million households lost power.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a staunch Republican, worked closely with President Obama to assess his state's damage. It was less than a month before the 2012 presidential election, yet Christie crossed party lines to publicly praise Obama for his rapid response to this natural disaster.

President Obama granted immediate financial assistance to storm victims in certain devastated geographical areas, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) accepted additional applications for financial aid. FEMA's assistance included home repairs and funding for temporary housing. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) also offered low-interest disaster loans for small businesses affected by the storm.

Military personnel involved in emergency preparedness often include units of the National Guard as well as members of the various branches of the armed forces from nearby bases or installations. They may serve as instructors as well as participants in training exercises and CERT programs.

Household emergency preparedness

The American Red Cross and the CDC have joined together to provide a three-step program for emergency preparedness for households. A module detailing the three steps can be viewed at http://www.redcross.org/prepare/location/home-family . The three steps are:

The Red Cross and CDC offer additional information about emergency preparedness for vulnerable family members, such as the elderly, children, people with disabilities, and pets.

Public health role and response

The effects of emergency preparedness on public health include closer coordination of local boards of public health and public health workers with emergency management experts and first responders. Increasing numbers of public health personnel participate in CERT programs and region-wide disaster simulations. Courses on emergency preparedness are offered in most schools of public health, and there were as of 2018 several public health journals in the field, such as Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, published by the American Medical Association.

Emergency management—
An overall term for organization and management procedures for critical events that includes response to and recovery from emergencies as well as emergency preparedness.
First responder—
A generic term for the first medically trained responder to arrive at the scene of an emergency. First responders include police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics.
In the context of emergency preparedness, a general term for any agent, whether biological, chemical, mechanical, or other, that is likely to cause harm to humans or the environment in the absence of protective measures.
A general term for attempts to prevent disasters or reduce their impact.
An epidemic of infectious disease that spreads over several continents or worldwide.
The probability that exposure to a hazard will have a negative consequence. There are mathematical equations and computer programs that can be used to calculate risk in specific situations.
Shelter in place—
A phrase used to describe remaining indoors in a safe location during an emergency rather than evacuating the area.
A method for determining the priority of patient treatment during a disaster or mass casualty event according to the severity of the injuries.
In epidemiology, any person, animal, or microorganism that transmits a disease agent into another organism.

One important aspect of the relationship between public health and emergency preparedness is the matter of ethics. The health emergencies associated with disasters require triage and setting priorities and might require overriding the rights of individuals and property owners. Given the American tradition of respect for the individual, public health workers should take the ethical and social values of a community into account before approving coercive measures; should identify the persons or groups most likely to bear the burdens of government use of power or coercion; and monitor the use of power when emergency plans must be carried out.

Efforts and solution

In the field of public health, training programs and communications networks specific to the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) help to ensure emergency preparedness. The CDC website contains information regarding programs in disease surveillance, emergency preparedness for healthcare facilities, and training in risk communication and trauma management. The Health Alert Network (HAN) is a national program that provides emergency alerts, advisories, updates, and other public health-related information to state and local public health officers and epidemiologists.

The FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) assists public health workers in preparing medicines and vaccines against various forms of bioterrorism, radiation emergencies, and emerging diseases. The FDA also provides information about medication availability and safety during human-made and natural disasters, and coordinates responses to emergencies requiring large amounts of prescription medications or other regulated products. The National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center is the nation's coordinator of cyber defense, operational response, and preparedness for cyberattacks.



McKinney, Suzet, and Mary Elise Papke. Public Health Emergency Preparedness: A Practical Approach for the Real World, 3rd ed. Nurlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning, 2018.


Makin, S., L. Smith, and K. McDevitt. “How a Major Incident Plan Can Be Used in an Acute Care Setting.” Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Published electronically April 6, 2018. doi: 10.1136/jramc-2018000926.

TariVerdi, M., E. Miller-Hooks, and T. Kirsch. “Strategies for Improved Hospital Response to Mass Casualty Incidents.” Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness 19 (March 2018): 1–13.


American Red Cross. “Plan and Prepare.” http://www.redcross.org/prepare (accessed April 11, 2018).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Emergency Preparedness and Response.” http://emergency.cdc.gov/ (accessed April 11, 2018).

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “General Information for Disaster Preparedness and Response.” http://www.epa.gov/naturaldisasters/general.html (accessed April 11, 2018).

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “Are You Ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness.” http://www.fema.gov/pdf/areyouready/areyouready_full.pdf (accessed April 11, 2018).

Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Emergency Preparedness and Response.” http://www.fda.gov/EmergencyPreparedness/default.htm (accessed April 11, 2018).


American Red Cross, 431 18th St. NW, Washington, DC, 20006, (202) 303-4498, (800) 733-2767), http://www.redcross.org .

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Rd., Atlanta, GA, 30333, (800) 232-4636, http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/requestform.html , http://www.cdc.gov/ .

Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, 1750 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 910, Washington, DC, 20006, (202) 261-7600, Fax: (202) 261-7650, http://www.csb.gov , http://www.csb.gov .

Federal Emergency Management Agency, 500 C St. SW, Washington, DC, 20472, (202) 646-2500, (800) 6213362 (for disaster assistance), http://www.fema.gov , http://www.fema.gov .

Food and Drug Administration, 10903 New Hampshire Ave., Silver Spring, MD, 20993-0002, (888) 463- 6332, http://www.fda.gov .

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 111 T. W. Alexander Dr., Durham, NC, 27709, (919) 5413345, Fax: (919) 541-4395, http://www.niehs.nih.gov .

Rebecca J. Frey, PhD
Revised by Teresa Odle, BA, ELS

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.