Lesson 3: Understand the Situation, and Determine Goals and Objectives

Lesson Overview

This lesson covers the second and third steps of the emergency planning process. It explores the potential sources of information and the types of information needed for emergency planning. After completing this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Indicate the types of information that are needed for emergency planning.
  • Identify potential sources of information about threats and hazards that affect your community.  
  • Indicate the purpose of the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) as defined in CPG 201 and the information it provides.
  • Obtain and review existing threat/hazard analyses for your jurisdiction.



Our goal is to prepare our communities to be safe, secure, and resilient. Achieving this goal is only possible if our plans are based on information that is current, relevant, and accurate.

After forming the planning committee, the next step is to gather information about the characteristics of the jurisdiction, its potential threats and hazards, and the likely consequences. This information allows the team to analyze risks and assess current response capabilities and resources.

In this lesson you will learn about collecting and analyzing information for planning.


Getting Ready To Create or Update a Plan

In order to create or update an emergency plan, the planning team needs to develop an understanding of the situation by analyzing the jurisdiction and its risks.

Gaining an understanding of the situation then allows the team to determine the goals and objectives that guide the planning process.

The next part of this lesson covers these two steps.

Graphic depiction of Step 2, Understand the Situation, and Step 3, Determine Goals and Objectives


Emergency Planning Step 2: Understand the Situation

Graphic depiction of Step 2, Understand the Situation

Developing an understanding of the situation is accomplished by:

  • Identifying threats and hazards.
  • Compiling information about the jurisdiction.
  • Assessing risk.
  • Prioritizing threats and hazards.

Collecting and analyzing this information provides a basis for determining priorities, developing or comparing courses of action, and making decisions.


Identifying Threats and Hazards

Understanding the situation begins by identifying threats and hazards based on past experience, forecasting, expert judgment, and available resources. All types of threats and hazards should be considered, including:

  • Natural
  • Technological
  • Human-Caused


Types of Threats and Hazards

Jurisdictions face a variety of threats and hazards that can be the result of natural, technological, or human-caused incidents. Examples of each type of threat/hazard are shown in the following table.

Natural Technological Human-Caused
Result from acts of nature Involve accidents or the failures of systems and structures Caused by the intentional actions of an adversary
  • Avalanche
  • Disease outbreak
  • Drought
  • Earthquake
  • Epidemic
  • Flood
  • Hurricane
  • Landslide
  • Tornado
  • Tsunami
  • Volcanic eruption
  • Wildfire
  • Winter storm
  • Airplane crash
  • Dam/levee failure
  • Hazardous materials release
  • Power failure
  • Radiological release
  • Train derailment
  • Urban conflagration
  • Civil disturbance
  • Cyber incident
  • Sabotage
  • School violence
  • Terrorist act


Compiling Jurisdiction Information

Next, collect information about the jurisdiction that could affect emergency operations. This information is used to develop or update the jurisdiction profile. Examples of useful information include:

  • Population demographics.
  • Pet and service animal population.
  • Geographic characteristics.
  • Property types and locations.
  • Infrastructure.
  • Resource base.
  • Current capability levels.
  • Impact of threats/hazards on jurisdiction capabilities.


Build on Existing Assessments

Threat and hazard identification and analysis typically does not need to start from scratch.

Often the planning team can build upon existing risk assessments, such as Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessments (THIRAs) or Hazard Identification and Risk Assessments prepared by the States, major urban areas, and other government entities.


Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA)

THIRA is a process that can be used in collecting and analyzing threat and hazard information for all types of plans. It can be used alone or in conjunction with other types of assessments. THIRA focuses on:

  • Identifying the threats and hazards of greatest concern to the jurisdiction.
  • Determining what levels of capability are needed to manage those risks as well as any lesser risks that have been identified.


Benefits of THIRA

Information gained from THIRA contributes to a community’s ability to:

  • Estimate capability requirements, including identifying:
    • Existing capabilities/capacities and potential shortfalls.
    • Resources needed to meet capability targets.
    • Sources for addressing requirements.
  • Conduct strategic planning to manage risk (for example, in response to changes in the environment, emerging threats, and changes in community composition).
  • Justify investments.
  • Develop policy and doctrine.


Other Sources of Information

Many resources are available to support the research process. The planning team should consult a wide range of sources, including:

  • Federal and State sources.
  • Local agencies and institutions.
  • Nonprofit and other community organizations.
  • Private sector sources.

Examples of Federal and State Sources:

  • Census
  • Federal and State analyses that include data about historical incidents
  • Fusion centers
  • Facility regulators
  • State hazard assessments
  • Bureau of motor vehicles

Examples of Local Agencies and Institutions:    

  • Local records of past incidents (recent and historical) that have occurred in the jurisdiction and the region
  • Public works (or civil engineering) departments and utilities
  • Law enforcement
  • Public health, hospitals, and other medical care services
  • Building inspection offices
  • Local planning and zoning commission or department
  • Household pet licensing databases, and rabies vaccination records
  • Threat assessments prepared for or by agencies
  • Schools and universities
  • Homeless shelters

Examples of Nonprofit and Other Community Organizations:

  • Volunteer and service organizations
  • Academic, industrial, and public interest groups
  • Professional associations
  • Agencies and organizations that serve specific constituencies, such as people with disabilities and other access and functional needs
  • Places of worship

Examples of Private Sector Sources:       

  • Infrastructure owners and operators
  • Chamber of commerce
  • Local businesses that have developed emergency plans and continuity of operations plans


Organizing the Information

Information is most useful when it is organized in a way that will facilitate analysis. One effective method is to organize hazard information in a matrix that compares incident characteristics, such as:

  • Likelihood of occurring.
  • History of prior occurrences.
  • Potential consequences, based on:
    • Magnitude/intensity.
    • Speed of onset and available warning time.
    • Location and potential size of the affected area.
    • Duration (how long the threat/hazard will be active).


Assessing Risk

The next task is to compare and prioritize risks to determine which threats/hazards merit special attention. Considering the likelihood and the potential impact on capabilities allows the planning team to make comparisons and set priorities.

Many methodologies exist to understand, qualify, and quantify risk. For example, hazard attributes may be compared by:

  • Assigning mathematical values.
  • Assigning qualitative ratings (high/medium/low).
  • Placing attribute data on a scale based on defined thresholds.


Emergency Planning Step 3: Determine Goals and Objectives

Graphic depiction of Step 3, Determine Goals and Objectives

The next step in the planning process is to use information from the threat/hazard identification and risk analysis to:

  • Determine operational priorities.
  • Set goals and objectives based on the priorities.

This section of the lesson explains how a planning team develops goals and objectives.


Determining Operational Priorities

Operational priorities clarify what the responding organizations are to accomplish to achieve a desired end-state. A common approach is to create scenarios for the worst-case and most likely incidents.

During the scenario-building process the team:

  • Projects how the identified threats/hazards would evolve.
  • Determines what defines a successful outcome for responders, disaster survivors, and the community.
  • Identifies capability requirements—what the jurisdiction needs to be able to do to manage the situation.

These requirements then become the operational priorities.

Setting Goals and Objectives

Next, the operational priorities are used to establish goals and objectives.

  • Goals are broad, general statements that indicate the intended solution to identified problems. They help identify when major elements of the response are complete and when the operation is successful.
  • Objectives are more specific and identifiable actions carried out during the operation. They lead to achieving the response goals.


Example: Operational Priority, Goal, and Objective

Operational Priority Protect the public from hurricane weather and storm surge.

Complete evacuation before arrival of tropical storm winds.

Desired result: All self- and assisted evacuees are safely outside the expected impact area prior to impact.


Complete tourist evacuation 72 hours before arrival of tropical storm winds.

Desired result: Tourist segment of public protected prior to hazard onset, allowing resources to be redirected to accomplishing other objectives in support of this goal or other goals.


Additional Resources

You can use the following resources to learn more about collecting and analyzing information for planning:


Lesson Summary

This lesson presented information on Collecting and Analyzing Information for planning, including:

  • Identifying threats and hazards.
  • Collecting information about the jurisdiction.
  • Assessing risk.
  • Prioritizing threats and hazards.
  • Developing goals and objectives.