3.3. Managing available resources effectively to handle unusual and changing demands

Jump to: navigation, search
Provide feedback on this topic
The link takes you to a secure and anonymous Google form.

Light bulb icon tips.svg Open the link in a new tab or window if you want to see the guideline content in parallel

To better handle the unusual and changing demands of crisis situations and achieve critical objectives, organisations need to be able to use available resources effectively, sometimes creatively, and potentially to bring in additional resources. For the purposes of this card, resources refer to human resources, such as personnel in various roles and divisions of an organisation, as well as to material or immaterial resources, such as equipment and tools. In other words, to anything that is necessary or useful in order to accomplish the tasks at hand.



What is needed to manage resources

Crises will typically require additional resources to be handled in time, before they degrade further and lead to worse outcomes. Taking the example of personnel as type of resources, "additional resources" might mean more of the same type of actors as those operating in usual circumstances, or types of competences that are different from the ones usually available (or both). The general belief is that, in emergency situations, if additional resources are requested at the moment they are needed, it might already be too late. Conditions must therefore be created in advance for providing and enabling the necessary increased resources. In addition, while many efforts need to be put before crises occur in order to facilitate the effective use of resources during operations, what constitutes such effective use needs to be specified in the situation because it depends on context. Supporting the effective management of resources includes three main types of interventions:

  • Identifying the required resources: their types and amount necessary to respond to a given crisis, and where they exist, within or beyond the regular team, department and organisation
  • Establishing conditions to use resources in order to request, include or reallocate these resources
  • Assigning resources to objectives

The interventions proposed in each phase of crisis describe more specific activities for each type.

Before a crisis

Identifying the required resources

  • Build understanding of the resources required in challenging situations, especially based on the results from resilience assessment (see Noticing brittleness and Assessing community resilience)
  • Locate where adequate resources might exist, which might be identified based on past situations in the results from Identifying sources of resilience
  • Build lists of available resources, such as a roster of personnel, that includes their location(s)
    • For personnel, listed skills might include technical as well as non-technical skills
    • Such lists can be used to match resources with operational needs

Establishing conditions to use resources

  • Manage competences, skills, knowledge, capabilities
  • Establish conditions to share resources across departments, organisations: conduct joint training, develop letters of agreement
  • Leverage networks created through Establishing networks
  • Identify and implement in the organisation methods and strategies to bring in additional resources (see for instance the Front Line Anomaly Response in the Methods section)

Assigning resources to objectives

  • Anticipate authority issues in crisis events over national vs. regional vs. local control of resources
  • Ensure plans and procedures address how to prioritise activities, scale up situations and request and handle extra resources
  • Anticipate difficulties to add extra resources to existing operations, for instance related to coordination within and between teams (ensure the cards Establishing common ground and Understanding roles and responsibilities have been implemented)

Triggering questions

Establishing conditions to use resources
  • Are we have aware of human resources that can potentially be shared with other organisations or departments of our organisation?
  • Can we distinguish between human resources that can be shared with other organisations and human resources who cannot be shared in any circumstance?
  • Do we know who should be consulted to receive authorisation to take advantage of the human resources of another organisation or department?
  • To take advantage of the human resources of another organisation or department are we sufficiently aware of their level of training, skills and competences?

During a crisis

Establishing conditions to use resources

  • Clarify who controls resources, based on what information
    • Ensure local actors have some discretion for using resources due to their knowledge of local context
    • Ensure regional/national actors can monitor use of resources across larger scale

Assigning resources to objectives

  • Manage reallocation of personnel: tasks, location
  • Create and maintain buffers
    • Free up resources: changing priorities
    • Deploy resources
    • Avoid situations in which everybody is busy

Triggering questions

Identifying the resources required
  • Are all our resources currently committed?
  • What would be needed if the situation degraded?

After a crisis

Assigning resources to objectives

Triggering questions

Identifying the resources required
  • Could other resources have been deployed?
  • Where would have they come from?

Assigning resources to objectives

  • How were additional resources integrated to operations?


Understanding the context

Detailed objectives

In crisis situations, situations that fall outside of the norm, resources which organisations rely on daily are limited. These resources do not solely provide sufficient capacity to adapt to unusual demands and challenges (see for instance Woods and Branlat, 2011):

  • a crisis might require to address a difficulty in emergency, i.e. within a shorter time than usual, hence benefiting from additional resources
  • a crisis may confront personnel with a problem for which they lack expertise and knowledge, hence benefiting from the involvement of outside experts
  • a situation might degrade or evolve

CI organisations and emergency response agencies need to have mechanisms to address these different types of situations and handle a crisis. For instance, they need to be able to seize opportunities to bring in additional resources to handle a crisis situation. Seizing such opportunities requires that they create the conditions to do so, e.g., by planning for reinforcement and anticipating the needs for coordination. When mechanisms are not already in place or are not sufficient, strategies are needed to use available resources in creative ways, for instance by relaxing some goals in favour of more critical ones (as described in Cook and Nemeth, 2006). Resources exist within a team or organisation, but are not limited to those that were supposed to act. They can for instance be expanded through collaboration within departments of an organisation or between organisations or other agencies.

Targeted actors

  • Actors who have the responsibility to decide on the allocation of resources within CI organisations and agencies, such as operational managers and commanders who manage resources in their regular activity, as well as high-level managers who can authorise reallocation of resources.
  • Actors who can contribute resources to support crisis response.

Expected benefits

Through implementing interventions proposed here, the organisation will develop plans and strategies to better use its resources and leverage external ones in crises.

Relation to adaptive capacity

Woods and Branlat (2011) have discussed how failures to adapt successfully to adverse events can occur and identified three basic patterns of adaptive failure: (1) failure of adaptive responses to match the tempo of the disruptions faced (before events cascade and situations get out of control); (2) failure to maintain sufficient coordination while implementing adaptive responses; and (3) failure to recognise the novel character of the situation faced and devise new forms of adaptive behaviour. To handle adverse events, new forms of behaviour often require additional resources (amount, kind) and/or different uses of existing resources. The management of resources to provide such adaptive capabilities and avoid the traps described above (patterns 1 and 3 especially in the context of this card) are key to resilience.

Relation to risk management


The following case describes the use of a method for the rapid assessment of a challenging situation involving remote experts (see more in the description of the Front Line Anomaly Response method and in Lay and Branlat, 2013).

Context: maintenance of power plant turbines"'

Turbine maintenance involves the disassembling, inspecting, repairing, reassembling and re-starting of the turbine-generator system. Such maintenance is planned on a regular basis and involves the deployment of a field team at the plan location for several weeks. Turbine maintenance is a highly planned operation, but field teams regularly encounter situations that challenge the implementation of the plan. Challenging situations can arise from adverse events (e.g., incidents with power tools) or from unanticipated conditions (e.g., weather, particular site characteristics). Tight schedules allow operations to bring the power plant back to service as soon as possible because of the high cost from lost generation of a shut off power plant.

Vignette: Surprising conditions during maintenance operations

A field team is deployed on a maintenance site. Upon disassembling the turbine in order to conduct scheduled maintenance operations, they discover that the blades show an unusually high amount of oxidation. Fearing that it might impair their capacity to perform maintenance or might be an indicator of a more serious problem (compromised integrity), the project manager decides to conduct an assessment of the situation with the help of remote experts and contacts risk managers at the company’s headquarters. Risk managers rapidly identify and convene several people in various locations nationwide, who could provide technical or managerial expertise. Within a couple hours, documents about the situation are exchanged and a one-hour conference call between the field project managers and remote experts is initiated. During the call, risk managers facilitate the exploration of issues related to the diagnosis of the severity of the oxidation, to its impact on maintenance operations (e.g., cleaning process), to potential approaches and associated risks, and to impact on schedule. At the end of the conference call, the site manager decides how to move forward (e.g., find accredited contractors for specific cleaning process) and how to reorganise the maintenance operations, and has identified contacts for follow-up calls should the conditions change or an iterative solution be needed.

Analysis of the case

Maintaining control on the schedule of operations in the face of anomalies is a complex task for project managers: operations involve numerous tasks that are highly synchronised and interdependent, and anomalies represent multi-faceted problems often requiring specific technical expertise. Successfully and efficiently managing unexpected situations that arise is critical to the success of turbine maintenance operations and to the company’s larger business objectives. The assessment process described in the vignette above represents an organisation’s answer to the problem of responding to risky anomalies for which remote expertise might add significant value to the front line operations. This generic problem, experienced in a variety of work domains (e.g., healthcare, disaster response), relates to resource allocation trade-offs for organisations that spread operations across space. Anomalous situations in this domain typically represent complex problems for which no clear-cut path exists: affected sites often present specific characteristics, anomalies can be of novel nature, and different dimensions of the situations need to be considered. Often, the assessment process, rather than solving the problem at hand, serves as a means to expose and discuss the relevant aspects of problem and solutions. The process represents a form of distributed anomaly response that leverages external expertise and diversity of perspectives to handle the complexity of the problem and responses. The process represents a mechanism to implement appropriate adaptations to unanticipated situations, and managing interactions across the system due to interdependencies between tasks. The rapid conduction of the conference call supports the avoidance of a fast degradation of conditions into an even bigger problem. For its conduction, the organisation’s pool of experts represents the critical resources. However, participants are conflicted between being temporarily deployed for anomaly response or tending to their own, urgent work (since they are valuable resources, they are highly solicited). The assessment process requires that they are in a capacity to sacrifice other professional (or personal) activities, and that the organisation is willing to support the corresponding shifts in priorities. Organisational measures include creating the conditions for the involvement of the highly experienced members of the organisation, as well as of the divisions they belong to.

HC logo

Healthcare illustration

Response to bus bombing in Israel

Cook and Nemeth (2006) describe how the Israeli health system manages the high and unexpected demands of mass casualty events. Events such as suicide bombings in public places present a high potential for cascading into unmanageable situations: casualties are typically severe and high, requiring injured people to be transported and treated quickly; already busy hospital units face heavy disruptions in planned patient care and other tasks; families and friends search for potential victims, seek information and require psychological support; news media require the latest elements of information; etc. However, the Israeli health system has evolved into a system capable of very resilient management of such events. The system’s performance relies on the system’s capacity to rapidly mobilise large amounts of resources (from ambulances to social workers), on a general tendency to delegate authority at all levels rather than to centralise decisions (e.g., for the dispatch of ambulances to the scene), and on the successful reprioritisation of tasks to handle the emergency before returning to normal.

Implementation considerations


  • Link to needs to coordination, handover
  • How were "unusual" resources integrated to operations? Link to "Roles and responsibilities", "Common ground"

Implementation cost


Relevant material

Relevant Practices, Methods and Tools


The following practices all come the domain of urban firefighting. They illustrate different aspects about the management of resources in a domain for which this aspect is crucial to performance and safety - these practices can, however, serve as insight for other domains.

  1. Tactical reserves - extra personnel mobilised and present on the scene, ready to operate as soon as it is needed (Klaene and Sanders, 2008, p.127). If additional resources are requested at the moment they are needed, they might be operational too late by the time they arrive on the scene (even if it only takes a few minutes).
  2. "All hands" signal to dispatch - the signal is used by the Incident Commander to indicate all personnel on the scene is busy. This is a precarious situation, because if anything happens that complicates the situation (e.g., incident, or fire expanding), everybody is already committed and cannot easily take on new tasks without jeopardising the operations. The signal is used by the dispatcher to immediately send additional units on the scene.
  3. Fire company dynamic relocation - in urban firefighting, fire houses are positioned to ensure coverage of the area, i.e. to minimise the time necessary to reach an event location. However, coverage is challenged when an event occurs, because the units in fire houses nearby are committed to its location. To readjust and improve area coverage while some units are operating, other units will redeploy momentarily to the vacant fire houses.


  1. Front Line Anomaly Response (industrial maintenance) - TRL 9 - Lay and Branlat (2013). Mechanism to quickly bring in additional, remote experts in a conference call to support problem solving when operations on a site face unusual and challenging circumstances.
  2. Resilience Analysis Grid (RAG) - TRL XXX - Hollnagel (2010). "To be able to respond it is necessary either to have prepared responses and resources at the ready, or to be flexible enough to reconfigure the existing configuration so that the necessary resources become available." The method includes a set of questions to asses this ability.

HC logo

Healthcare Practices, Methods and Tools

  1. Health Care Coalitions (HCCs): staff- and resource-sharing (survey paper 168)
  2. Temporary dropping off non-critical tasks in hospital management of surge in demand (Cook and Nemeth, 2006)
  3. HESF database - record of personnel datas with information on expertise, availablity etc. for augmenting hospital surge capabilities through the reallocation of internal human resources. Includes employees' skill sets, credentials, certifications, licenses and current job description. This information can be critical to have during the occurence of a disaster in which medical help is needed. (Paturas et al., 2010)

ATM logo

Air Traffic Management Practices, Methods and Tools

  1. Use of a roster-based system (i.e. predefined lists of names, contact details and responsibilities of involved personnel) to manage resources during contingency situations.
  2. Decrease of airspace capacity (as part of flow management) is the standard solution if necessary in case of resource constraints: capacity goals are temporarily relaxed to allow for personnel to regain control on a challenging situation


  • Cook, R. I., & Nemeth, C. (2006). Taking Things in One’s Stride: Cognitive Features of Two Resilient Performances. In E. Hollnagel, D. D. Woods, & N. Leveson (Eds.), Resilience Engineering: Concepts and Precepts (pp. 205–221). Adelshot, UK: Ashgate.
  • Hollnagel E. (2010), How Resilient Is Your Organisation? An Introduction to the Resilience Analysis Grid (RAG), Sustainable Transformation: Building a Resilient Organization.
  • Klaene, B. J., & Sanders, R. E. (2008). Structural Firefighting: Strategies and Tactics (2nd ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
  • Lay, E., & Branlat, M. (2013). Sending up a FLARE: Enhancing resilience in industrial maintenance through the timely mobilization of remote experts. In Proceedings of the 5th Resilience Engineering Association Symposium. Soesterberg, Netherlands.
  • Lansing, J. S. (2006). Perfect Order: Recognizing Complexity in Bali. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.
  • Woods, D. D., & Branlat, M. (2011). Basic Patterns in How Adaptive Systems Fail. In E. Hollnagel, J. Pariès, D. D. Woods, & J. Wreathall (Eds.), Resilience Engineering in Practice (pp. 127–144). Farnham, UK: Ashgate.

HC logo

Healthcare references

  • Cook, R. I., & Nemeth, C. (2006). Taking Things in One’s Stride: Cognitive Features of Two Resilient Performances. In E. Hollnagel, D. D. Woods, & N. Leveson (Eds.), Resilience Engineering: Concepts and Precepts (pp. 205–221). Adelshot, UK: Ashgate.
  • Paturas, J., Smith, D., Smith, S., & Albanese, J. (2010). Collective response to public health emergencies and large-scale disasters: putting hospitals at the core of community resilience. Journal of business continuity & emergency planning, 4(3), 286-295.


  • Adaptive capacity
    "ability of systems, institutions, humans, and other organisms to adjust to potential damage, to take advantage of opportunities, or to respond to consequences" ISO 14080:2018(en), "The adaptive capacity of a system is usually assessed by observing how it responds to disruptions or challenges. Adaptive capacity has limits or boundary conditions, and disruptions provide information about where those boundaries lie and how the system behaves when events push it near or over those boundaries" (Source: Woods and Cook, 2006, p. 69)

  • Space (margin) for manoeuvre
    The space (or margin) for manoeuvre is the cushion of potential actions and additional resources that allow the system to continue functioning and adapting despite unexpected demands (Lay and Branlat, 2015). What creates such space varies, examples include: (1) procedures that leave room for interpretation, i.e. not extremely prescriptive; (2) available extra resources such as tactical reserves. Resilient systems are careful about creating and maintaining margins, because they correspond to a capacity to handle disruptions when they occur... without jeopardising the capacity to do so in the future (Woods and Branlat, 2010; 2011). Synonyms: margin of maneuver. Related notions: Buffer, slack, wiggle room.

  • Buffer capacity
    Size or kinds of disruptions the system can absorb or adapt to without a fundamental breakdown in performance. (adapted from Woods, 2006)

Navigate in the DRMG