News headlines, dramatic photographs, and video tell us about the lives lost, destruction, and hardship generated by many types of severe emergencies. Such crises challenge leaders and society as a whole to respond creatively to novel situations with very high stakes. Lives, property, and critical resources are at risk.
Getting truly ready for emergencies is extremely difficult because responders have to function in two modes – preparing both for what we will term “routine emergencies” and for the rarer but more difficult true “crises.” In a crisis, taking action is urgent, but the tactics and methods that work in confronting everyday emergencies may be inadequate – or even counterproductive. Crisis conditions can lead to confusion about the correct course of action, decision-making delays, failures of communication, conflicts or unintentional interference among response organizations, flaws in execution of response action, and undesirable citizen reactions. Response leaders confronting crises, especially large-scale disasters, therefore must operate in a different mode than that appropriate for routine emergencies. They must make decisions with participation of a wider range of stakeholders, developing new solutions by combining elements of several kinds of routine response or by innovating in their strategies and tactics.