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The causes of an emergency

As well as differing in size and complexity, emergencies also differ with regards to their causation. Having some understanding of the underlying causes can have an effect on the preparation and planning that is required.

Read the extract from chapter three of the online book ‘Introduction to Crowd Science’ (Still 2014), which introduces the idea of proximate and distal causality.

Although the author applies the concepts to the science of crowd behaviour and management, the principles can be applied to all emergency management.

A proximate cause (of an emergency) is one that has an immediate and direct impact on the event.

A distal cause (of an emergency) describes the context and background to an event.

Your task

Looking at the previous case studies (Buncefield, BP Deepwater Horizon and the Californian bush fires), consider the causes of these events.

Categorise these into proximate and distal causes and explain the reason for the categorisation.


Still, G.K. (2014) ‘Proximate and distal causality’. Introduction to Crowd Science [online] available from https://www.gkstill.com/ExpertWitness/Causality.html [3 May 2018]

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This article is from the free online course:

An Introduction to Emergency Planning and Preparedness

Coventry University