Emergency management as a complex adaptive system

J Bus Contin Emer Plan. 2021 Jan 1;14(4):354-368.


This paper explores the application of insights from the study of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) to emergency management in search of an adaptive approach to hazard management capable of functioning with increased effectiveness in dynamic, uncertain and unclear environments. This approach demands a shift in perception towards seeing emergency management at the local, tribal, state and national level as a CAS. To function successfully as a CAS, emergency management must move past its current linear hazard-based approach to a hazard-agnostic consequence-based systems approach. This must be predicated on building an understanding of systems, nodes and influencers within and around the emergency management networks before a disruption occurs. This paper encourages emergency managers to map the networks they exist within, describing the nature of the relationships between nodes and identifying their interdependencies, and to cultivate an understanding of CAS. This builds an appreciation of the critical emergency management functional components and the consequences of those components failing. Finally, the paper offers recommendations for emergency management agencies to begin the transformational process of emergency management from bureaucracy to a CAS.

MeSH terms

  • Disaster Planning*
  • Emergencies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans