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Crisis Management Plans and Public Administration

Written by: Hilbert College   •  Nov 9, 2023
Team members meet to discuss a crisis management plan.

Crisis Management Plans and Public Administration

In 2022, the United States experienced 18 climate and weather disasters that individually cost more than $1 billion. Those disasters resulted in a total of 474 fatalities and a combined cost of at least $165 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But climate and weather disasters are just one type of crisis that can affect a significant number of citizens. Public administrators must plan for and address a host of natural and human-caused disasters that threaten the lives and well-being of the people they serve.

Developing crisis management plans is one of the most important responsibilities of individuals working in public service roles. Anyone who is considering enrolling in a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree program can benefit from learning about these plans and what preparing them entails.

What Is a Crisis Management Plan?

A crisis management plan serves as a road map for saving lives, reducing losses and protecting property in the event of a crisis or disaster. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends addressing each of the following topics in an emergency plan:

  • Prevention
  • Protection
  • Mitigation
  • Response
  • Recovery

Crisis management plans typically highlight specific actions that officials need to take before a crisis occurs, as a crisis is occurring and in the aftermath of a crisis.

These plans must address a wide range of types of events. The categories that FEMA uses to describe hazards include:

  • Human-caused hazards, such as terrorism, incidents involving hazardous materials and riots
  • Natural hazards, such as severe weather events, contamination of food and the spread of infectious diseases
  • Technological hazards, such as cyberattacks, power outages and the failure of building structures

Why Are Crisis Management Plans Important?

In addition to saving lives and minimizing damage, crisis management plans can:

  • Strengthen a public organization’s ability to respond to an event
  • Facilitate an orderly response to an event
  • Help to ensure continuity of organizational operations
  • Identify who is responsible for performing specific tasks and help those individuals understand their roles
  • Heighten public officials’ awareness of risks that could occur and the significance of risk management
  • Help to identify an organization’s capabilities in responding to an event

How to Create a Crisis Management Plan

FEMA suggests taking the steps outlined below to develop an effective crisis management plan.

1. Form a Planning Team

The first step is to establish a crisis management planning team including both internal and external stakeholders that will be responsible for creating the plan. In addition to internal organization staff, for example, a team should include individuals from relevant external organizations such as members of law enforcement, community leaders and representatives from the private sector.

2. Perform Risk Analysis

Analyzing potential risks to the community will help identify the specific risks that the crisis management plan needs to address. Risk analysis involves defining the characteristics of the community, as well as the infrastructure that serves it. The planning team will need to analyze the hazards and threats the community faces and their potential consequences. In analyzing those risks, factors such as their probability of occurrence, likely magnitude of effect and estimated duration need to be considered.

3. Identify the Goals and Objectives of the Crisis Management Plan

Defining what the crisis management plan should accomplish is key. Setting realistic goals with desired outcomes helps create unity among all stakeholders. After setting goals, the planning team can establish more specific objectives that will help to ensure achievement of the broader goals.

4. Specify a Detailed Course of Action to Accomplish the Goals and Objectives

The next step in creating a crisis management plan is to specify the detailed tasks that must be completed to reach the plans desired goals and objectives. In defining these tasks, it can be helpful to identify:

  • Tasks that need to occur immediately
  • Tasks that should occur during an incident
  • Tasks that are geared toward operations in the long-term

For each task, the crisis management plan should specify information such as:

  • Description of the task
  • Individual(s) responsible
  • Resources necessary to accomplish the task
  • When the task should be performed

In addition to specifying individual tasks, a timeline needs to be developed that contains decision points at which leaders may need to choose among various options.

5. Document and Review the Crisis Management Plan

All details of the plan need to be recorded in a final crisis management plan document. Using plain language and adding charts, tables and graphics as needed can help make the plan easier for all stakeholders to understand.

It’s a good idea to allow both internal and external stakeholders to review the draft plan. FEMA suggests that these reviews focus on five elements: adequacy, feasibility, acceptability, completeness and compliance with requirements and standards.

6. Provide Training on and Maintain the Crisis Management Plan

The process does not end when officials finalize the crisis management plan. Organizations should offer training and conduct exercises that educate stakeholders on the plan. They also need to maintain and revise it as conditions and circumstances change.

The Role of Public Administrators in Crisis Management

Careers in public service encompass a wide range of responsibilities; as a result, public administrators can play many direct and indirect roles in crisis management. But regardless of their specific role, all public administrators share certain obligations when a crisis occurs. For example:

  • A commitment to consistent messaging to the public regarding a crisis
  • The ability to adapt when the circumstances change
  • A willingness to collaborate with other agencies and organizations to address a crisis

Public administrators in positions of leadership have unique responsibilities during crises. An article in the journal Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior identified five competencies that leaders should cultivate to be able to manage crises well. Those competencies are:

  • Sense-making skills, which enable leaders to decipher disorienting and complex information and form an understanding of what is happening during a crisis
  • Decision-making skills, which help leaders make prudent decisions in a prompt manner
  • Communication skills, which can assist leaders in obtaining buy-in from stakeholders
  • The ability to facilitate teamwork, which can build trust and resilience on a crisis management team
  • The ability to learn from crises, which enables leaders to build on what they learn to establish new processes for addressing future crises

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic served as a global case study on the role of public administrators in managing a crisis. In a 2023 report, the United Nations reinforced the importance of public administrators’ obligation to build on the knowledge they gained in responding to the pandemic. The report suggested that the innovations forged during the pandemic (such as new processes for vaccine delivery) could form the foundation for new models of operation that public administrators can develop to improve access to public goods and services.

Crisis Management Planning: A Critical Component of Public Administration

On any given day, public administrators could be called upon to play a significant part in managing an emergency in their community. Having a sound crisis management plan in place can enable public administrators to respond effectively to a crisis.

If you have an interest in public administration, you might want to consider exploring Hilbert College Global’s online Master of Public Administration degree program to learn how it can help you achieve your goals. Offering both a general concentration and a concentration in health administration, the program could set you on your way toward a fulfilling career.

Take the first step on the public administration career path today.

Recommended Readings

Business Management vs. Business Administration: What’s the Difference?

How to Start a Career in Cybersecurity

How to Work in Public Finance


Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, “Crisis Leadership”

Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans”

Federal Emergency Management Agency, Three Types of Hazards

International Risk Management Institute, Crisis Management Plan

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “2022 U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters in Historical Context”

Public Administration, “Ideas and Crisis in Policy and Administration: Existing Links and Research Frontiers”

Science, “Post-pandemic: The Power of Crisis Management Planning”

United Nations, “World Public Sector Report 2023”

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