​​​Key Elements of Emergency Management

Legislation ​and the NSW State Emergency Management Plan (EMPLAN)​

The State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989 (SERM Act 1989) sets out the general legal and governance framework for emergency management in NSW.

The SERM Act 1989 provides the basis for emergency management in NSW. It specifies:

  • The responsibilities of the Minister
  • That Emergency management committees are established at State, Regional and Local levels
  • That Emergency Management Plans (EMPLANs) are prepared and reviewed at State, Regional and Local levels
  • Arrangements for controlling emergency operations
  • Responsibilities of emergency operations controllers

What do we mean by 'emergency'?

The NSW legislation, defines an 'emergency' as:

'an emergency due to an actual or imminent occurrence (such as fire, flood, storm, earthquake, explosion, terrorist act, accident, epidemic or warlike action) which:

  1. endangers, or threatens to endanger, the safety or health of persons or animals in the State, or
  2. destroys or damages, or threatens to destroy or damage, property in the State, being an emergency which requires a significant and coordinated response'.

SERM Act 1​​989

The EMPLAN is the New South Wales State Emergency Management Plan. It sets out the State level approach to emergency management, the governance and coordination arrangements and roles and responsibilities of agencies.

It sets out key principles that underpi​n emergency management arrangements in NSW. These are aligned to nationally-recognised and agreed concepts and approaches that are fundamental to ​managing emergencies:

  1. ​The Compr​ehensive​ approach to emergency management
  2. The All-Hazards approach
  3. The All-Agency approach​

Compreh​ensive approach to emergency management

Emergency management is not just about responding to an emergency.

Emergency management is a range of measures to manage risks to communities and the environment. It includes the development and maintenance of arrangements to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies.

It begins well before an emergency occurs, and continues through to well after the emergency has passed. The comprehensive approach is best remembered with the initials, PPRR:

Diagram, Prevention, Preparation, Response, Recovery Preventio​​n

To eliminate or reduce the level of the risk or severity of emergencies. It includes identifying hazards, assessing threats to life and property and taking measures to reduce potential loss to life or property.


To build the capacity of communities to cope with the consequences of emergencies. It includes arrangements or plans to deal with an emergency or the effects of an emergency.


To support individuals and communities affected by emergencies in reconstructing physical infrastructure and restoring physical, emotional, environmental and e​conomic wellbeing. It includes the process of returning an affected community to its proper level of functioning after an emergency

All-Ha​​zards​​ appro​ach

A hazard is a potential or existing condition that may cause harm to people or damage to property or the environment.

As New South Wales is faced with a diversity of hazards, emergency management arrangements need to be sufficiently robust to provide a common 'management' structure, systems and methods of operation that will cater for all- hazards which have the potential to impact on a community.

The all-hazards approach is based on the principle that those systems and methods of operation which work for one hazard are most likely to work for other hazards. It does not, however, prevent the development of specific plans and arrangements for hazards that require specialised approaches.

All-Ag​ency approac​​h

The EMPLAN provides for an all-agency approach. For all elements of PPRR to be effective, the arrangements will incorporate all government agencies and other organisations that are involved in emergency management.

The community and all agencies need to actively partner, be prepared for and work collaboratively to provide a safer community.

This approach recognises that no one agency can address all of the impacts of a particular hazard, either in a proactive or reactive sense. It is necessary for a lead agency to coordinate the activities of the large number of organisations and agencies that are involved in emergency management.

Diagram, All agency approach  

Emergency Services Organisations - means the NSW Police Force, Fire & Rescue NSW, Rural Fire Service, Ambulance NSW, State Emergency Service, NSW Volunteer Rescue Association or other agencies which manages or controls an accredited rescue unit.

Functional Areas - business units within NSW Government agencies that perform specific emergency management functions. They provide a category of services involved in the preparations for an emergency. They include: Agriculture and Animal Services; Telecommunications Services; Energy and Utility Services; Engineering Services; Environmental Services; Health Services; Public Information Services; Transport Services; and Welfare Services.

National Strategy for Disaster Resilience

  • In February 2011 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) endorsed the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience.
  • While the concept of resilience is not new, the endorsement of the Strategy marked a significant shift in Australia's approach to emergency management.
  • This shift came on the back of several devastating disasters, as it became clear that the Australian community needed to reframe its thinking and commit to a more sustainable approach. This meant rebalancing a 'response and recovery' mindset to one of 'preparation and mitigation'.
  • The Strategy is about better understanding risk and communicating with individuals and communities to help us all understand the risks we face and empower people to take responsibility.
  • Applying a resilience based approach cannot solely be the domain of emergency management agencies. In fact, many of the actions needed to improve disaster resilience sit well outside the emergency management sector. This is why the Strategy emphasises the principle of shared responsibility between governments, business, communities and individuals.
  • It also acknowledges that achieving a shift to disaster resilience will require long term behavioural change.
  • The Strategy provides high level guidance on disaster management to federal, state, territory and local governments, business and community leaders, and the not-for-profit sector.
  • The Strategy's Community Engagement Framework is also an important resource for those who work in emergency management. It provides a shared understanding of community engagement values, principles and practices.

Source: National Strategy for Disaster Resilience Companion Booklet.

 Diagram of Shared responsibility Cover of Community Engagement Framework