The different types of emergency

In this section you will discover the different types and scale of emergencies that require preparation and planning.

Emergencies may be classified by type of onset:

  • rapid onset An emergency which develops quickly, and usually with immediate effects, thereby limiting the time available to consider response options.

  • rising-tide An event or a situation that develops into an emergency or major incident over a period of days, weeks or even months, the final impact of which may not be apparent early on.

(Cabinet Office 2013)

Additionally the scale of an emergency being prepared for can have different requirements during the planning process.

Site specific

A site specific emergency is contained to a specific site. This has the advantage of containment and so more detail of potential hazards, site plans and resources are available. However, sites that require specific plans are often required to do so because they contain more significant hazard or number of hazards, potentially placing them at greater risk of an incident.

  • the Flixborough disaster of 1974, an explosion at a chemical plant in the UK. (Rice 2014)


Emergencies occurring at sites containing important elements of infrastructure are often contained in terms of site locality but the effect of the incident is more widespread and so contingencies need to be put in place to account for this

  • the Esso Longford gas explosion of 1998 in Australia (Kletz 2001)


Regional ‘wide-area’ emergencies have a much broader area to be accounted for. They will often required multiple agencies and so the successful coordination of these is an important consideration.

  • the Somerset flooding of 2013 in the UK (Travers 2014)


National emergencies and beyond require the successful coordination of civil agencies at multiple levels of organisation from national and even international down to the local response.

  • The Haiti earthquake of 2010 (Pallardy 2010)

Your task

How does the type of onset of an emergency affect the preparation and planning required?

Further reading

If you are interested in further resources on this topic a useful introduction is available in chapter two of this book.

Dillon, B. (2014) Emergency Planning, Crisis and Disaster Management second edn. Oxford: OUP


Cabinet Office (2013) ‘Lexicon of UK civil protection terminology - version 2.1.1’. [online] available from [09 May 2018]

Rice, J. (2014) ‘Flixborough - 40 years on’. The Safety & Health Practitioner 32 (8), 13

Kletz, T. (2001) Learning From Accidents. Elsevier: London

Travers, T. (2014) ‘Dial 999 for the PM’. Public Finance [online] available from [11 May 2018]

Pallardy, R. (2010) ‘Haiti earthquake of 2010’. Encyclopedia Britannica [online] available from [11 May 2018]

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Emergency Planning and Preparedness

Coventry University