Australia’s new emergency planning handbook

By Ella Wilkinson and David Parsons

From 2009-2019, 7,348 disaster events were recorded worldwide by the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT), leading to approximately US$ 2.97 trillion in economic losses and affecting over four billion people (UNDRR & CRED, 2020). The economic cost of emergencies in Australia over the past decade averages $18.2 billion per year, and the real cost in terms of human suffering and environmental damage surpassing this already large burden (ABR, 2017). A key to minimizing the cost and effects of these emergencies, after all reasonable risk reduction measures have been taken, is effective emergency planning.

The Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience has published a new Emergency Planning Handbook (the Handbook). The Handbook establishes Australia’s agreed-upon principles for good practice in emergency planning and is part of the larger Australian Disaster Resilience Handbook Collection.

Emergency planning plays an important role in the development of disaster resilience capability. The emergency planning process is the collective and collaborative effort by which agreements are reached and documented between people and organizations to meet their communities’ or entities’ emergency management needs. Emergency planning involves identifying and documenting strategies for preventing, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from emergencies. Effective emergency planning contributes to reducing the likelihood and consequence of emergencies for individuals, communities, entities, and the environment – and can have positive economic benefits.

What has changed?

The Handbook replaces an earlier 2004 manual and recognizes significant changes in the emergency planning landscape. These changes include:

  • The international shift to disaster risk reduction, with planning covering all the phases of prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery;
  • The recognition that we need a shared responsibility across society to building resilience through emergency planning;
  • The importance of engagement through communication and consultation across the planning process;
  • Partnerships between the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors;
  • The importance of being flexible and adaptive to utilize emergency capability and capacity;
  • The need to consider catastrophic, cascading, and concurrent disasters; and
  • The value of an effective lessons management process to improve planning outcomes.

What are the key emergency planning principles?

The Handbook sets out eight emergency planning principles:

  1. Emergency planning is risk-informed. Planning is based on a risk management study.
  2. Emergency planning reduces unknowns. Planning increases understanding of risks, vulnerabilities, and treatment options across the social, built, economic, and natural environments.
  3. Emergency planning is collaborative and inclusive. Planning involves consultation and engagement with those affected by the plan.
  4. Emergency planning is strategic. Planning develops strategic objectives, relationships, and networks.
  5. Emergency planning is solutions orientated. Planning develops agreed approaches to managing risks and consequences.
  6. Emergency planning is iterative. Learning from each step informs the next steps.
  7. Emergency planning enables adaptive capacity. Planning develops frameworks that provide a base on which to build flexible and adaptive solutions.
  8. Emergency planning is a shared responsibility. Planning documents actions to be undertaken by a wide range of people/entities.

How should an emergency planning task be managed?

The Handbook uses a project management approach to developing an emergency plan, with clear deliverables, accountability, and methodology. Standard project steps of establishing a project plan and establishing a project team are recommended. The project plan is critical and sets out the project sponsor, establishes authority, appoints a project manager, and sets out the development pathway for the creation of the plan. The plan is validated through trials and exercises and regular monitoring and review of the plan and its progress are recommended.

The overview of the emergency planning process is shown in Figure 1 Emergency Planning Process (AIDR 2020).

What planning guidance is provided?

The Handbook sets out a sample set of contents for a plan. However, detailed guidance on issues such as evacuation planning, community recovery, flood emergency planning, land use planning, public information and warnings, and lesson management are contained in specific handbooks covering these topics.

How can I better plan for uncertainty?

The Handbook notes that there may be a requirement for certain plans to focus on managing events with high levels of volatility uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. In these cases it is recommended plans:

  • Be strategic adopting a principles-based approach;
  • Identify subject matter specialists who can provide expert advice;
  • Create flexible leadership structures that can integrate entities not identified in the planning process;
  • Create collaborative networks and relationships that can provide support to each other and share innovative ideas;
  • Establish processes that enable adaptive and creative thinking to produce innovative solutions;
  • Create a learning organization approach that enables rapid prototyping, trialing, and evaluation of solutions.

How was this handbook developed?

This handbook was prepared by the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience (AIDR) with David Parsons of Crisis Management Australia, and with financial assistance from the Australian Government. Responsibility for the views, information or advice expressed in this handbook does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government. This handbook was made possible through the support of a broad cross-section of the disaster resilience and emergency management sector.

The Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience

The Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience develops, maintains, and shares knowledge and learning to support a disaster resilient Australia. Building on extensive knowledge and experience in Australia and internationally, we work with government, communities, NGOs, not-for-profits, research organizations, education partners, and the private sector to enhance disaster resilience through innovative thinking, professional development, and knowledge sharing.

AIDR is supported by its partners: the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC), and the Australian Red Cross.

All handbooks in the Australian Disaster Resilience Handbook Collection are available free to users around the world.


Australian Business RoundTable [ABR] & Deloitte Access Economics (2017) Building resilience to natural disasters in our states and territories. Available at  (Accessed: 22 October 2020)

Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience [AIDR] (2020) Australian Disaster Resilience Handbook Collection. Available at (Accessed: 28 October 2020)

Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience [AIDR] (2020) Emergency Planning. Available at (Accessed: 28 October 2020)

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction [UNDRR] & Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters [CRED] (2020) The human cost of disasters: An overview of the last 20 years (2000-2019). Geneva: United Nations and IFRC. Available at (Accessed: 28 October 2020)



Ella Wilkinson

Ella Wilkinson is Project Officer at the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience (AIDR) working in the National Handbooks team, contributing to the development of the Australian Disaster Resilience Handbook Collection. Ella is studying a Master of Environment at the University of Melbourne and in 2015 undertook an internship at the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva as a Content Editor for

David Parsons

David is an Adjunct Lecturer at Charles Sturt University, a visiting fellow with the Joint Centre for Disaster Research at Massey University, a fellow of the Australian Institute of Emergency Services, the Business Continuity Institute, the Emergency Management Academy New York, and a member of the International Association of Emergency Managers. David holds a Masters in Emergency Management, and degrees in Social Science and Education and has completed the Leadership in Crises Program at the Harvard University. David is a founding member of Response and Recovery Aotearoa New Zealand (RRANZ).

David’s company Crisis Management Australia provides a range of specialist emergency management services to jurisdictions across Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific and Europe.

David previously managed Sydney Water’s Emergency Management and Counter Terrorism Program. David established the Water Services Sector Group within the Australian Government’s Trusted Information Sharing Network and was a member of the Critical Infrastructure Advisory Council for 14 years. Prior to commencing at Sydney Water David served as the Regional Emergency Management Officer for Central West NSW where he was awarded a Ministerial Commendation for his efforts.

For the past forty-four years David has been an active member of the Blue Mountains State Emergency Service.