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The different types of emergency

An article analysing the relationship between different emergency and the relevant responses.
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0

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.


A site-specific emergency is confined to a specific location. 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 hazards, potentially placing them at greater risk of an incident.

An example of a site-specific emergency would be 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

An example would be the Esso Longford gas explosion of 1998 in Australia (Kletz 2001).


Regional ‘wide-area’ emergencies, as their name suggests, effect a much broader arear. They will often require multiple agencies to tackle them and so successful coordination is a vital consideration.

An example of this type of incident would be the Somerset flooding of 2013 in the UK (Travers 2014).


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

A perfect example wouldbe 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]

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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Emergency Planning and Preparedness: An Introduction

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