What is Emergency Preparedness?

Emergency preparedness is the capacity of the public health and health care systems, communities, and individuals to prevent, protect against, quickly respond to, and recover from public health emergencies, particularly those whose scale, timing, or unpredictability threatens to overwhelm routine capabilities.  Such public health threats can include weather-related disasters, bioterrorism, chemical and radiation emergencies, and infectious disease outbreaks, such as pandemics.

What Sort of Planning is Involved?

To properly plan for a public health emergency requires a continuous cycle of planning, organizing, training, equipping, exercising, evaluating, and taking corrective action in an effort to ensure effective coordination during incident response.  This “preparedness cycle” is pictured below.


What are the Elements of the Preparedness Cycle?

Each of the elements of the preparedness cycle are discussed briefly below but are described more thoroughly at the website of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).


Strategic and operational planning establishes priorities, identifies expected levels of performance and capability requirements, provides the standard for assessing capabilities, helps stakeholders learn their roles, and ensures that contingencies are in place for delivering the capability during a large-scale disaster.

Organize and Equip

Organizing and equipping provide the human and technical capital stock necessary to build capabilities and address modernization and sustainability requirements.  


Training provides public health professionals, first responders, security officials, emergency management officials, private and non-governmental partners, and other personnel with the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform key tasks required by specific capabilities.


Exercises assess and validate the speed, effectiveness and efficiency of capabilities, and test the adequacy of policies, plans, procedures, and protocols in a risk-free environment.  Aside from actual events, they provide the best means of evaluating capabilities.

Evaluate and Improve

Organizations develop improvement plans and track corrective actions to address the capabilities identified in plans and tested in exercises or real events.  Using this data to reassess and revise plans and protocols contributes to the beginning of the next Preparedness Cycle by ensuring that updated strategies and plans can be used to inform new preparedness-building activities.