3. Managing adaptive capacity

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Managing adaptive capacity

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3.1. Enhancing the capacity to adapt to both expected and unexpected events

Emergency situations occur suddenly and without warning. Therefore, organizations must be prepared and adapt their functions to respond to emergency events as quickly as possible. Among those situations, some of the events are expected while others, could be unexpected with different nature. Roles, training, strategies, and procedures must be in place to provide such capacity, using an all-hazards approach which considers the common denominator of emergency situations in different areas, building a generic response plans that can be adapted to a specific event.

Response plans should be based on everyday operations, and designed in line with the all-hazard approach, distinguishing between core components of response plans and specific elements of each scenario. In addition, it is important to appoint of a person in charge of the emergency field and, together with managers, of the definition of roles and responsibilities of involved actors, as well as the coordination with relevant partners.

Endorse familiarity of actors and personnel with response plans, together with conducting drills and exercise routinely, advance flexibility in building and applying plans; enhanced capability to interpret the real situation, to work out interventions accordingly, and enhanced capacity to adjust procedures in progress.

Organizations that build their response plans based on both everyday activities as well as the all-hazard approach, may increase their adaptive capacity to handle emergency situations by:

  • Enhancing the ability of organizations to build response plans for a wide range of emergency scenarios in a comprehensive way;
  • Increasing familiarity of actors with actions that should be conducted during emergency;
  • Simplifying the understanding of actors with rational of response plans;
  • Managing the emergency situation comprehensively, identifying the changing characteristics of the event;
  • Facilitating ways to deal with more complex incidents and emergencies potentially involving more than one type of hazard.

The implementation of response plans during an emergency situation is a key factor in handling unexpected situation. Therefore, organizations are expected to build response plans in a comprehensive way, paying attention to a wide range of emergency scenarios. In addition, familiarity of personnel with plans and their rational may increase implementation during emergencies.


3.2. Establishing conditions for adapting plans and procedures during crises and other events that challenge normal plans and procedures

Often, crises challenge the plans and procedures in place. As a result, organisations need to support and maintain a clear and legitimate space of manoeuvre relative to normative plans and procedures. Such space is important for actors engaged in crisis response in order to adapt to unusual (unanticipated) circumstances. After training or real events, investigating why these adaptations occur can feed the processes of revision of checklists, procedures and policies.

The guideline proposes interventions before, during and after crisis, distinguishing:

  1. Issues related to the nature of plans and procedures in the organization and how much flexibility they provide by design.
  2. Issues of authority and legitimacy of deviation in the face of existing plans and procedures (normative base) organizations expect operators to comply to.
  3. Issues of skills and expertise at the individual, team or organization levels, related to the capability to accurately assess the situation, and act in it, when plans and procedures are not obviously available to support operations.
  4. Issues of organizational learning when adaptations performed highlight the gaps and limitations related to the two previous aspects.


  • Improves understanding of adaptive capacity when exercised in the context of normative base and expectations of compliance.
  • Supports justification and legitimacy of resilient operation as deviation from normative preparations and plans.
  • Provides a basis for accountability, thereby facilitating authority and trust to enforce resilient operation according to needs (as perceived by Resilience Management), while deviating from the normative base
  • Contributes to a higher degree of predictability of which actors may be involved and when, as well as what they may do and how. In turn, it also contributes indirectly to an increased mutual understanding and calibrated mutual expectations among the actors.

Enhanced resilience, in complement to plans and procedures

During a crisis or emergency, it cannot be assumed that the AC can be managed in a detailed manner in terms of strict delegation or managerial approval at every breaking point. The foundation for trust is primarily laid down before in terms of training and rehearsal on the normative base and on different degrees of deviation according to need or severity of the situation, and after in terms of after-action-reviews or other activities of reconstruction in which the reasons for deviations are critically examined. Nevertheless, during a crisis, a capability of keeping track of the breaking points, preserving the essential cues for reviews, is also valuable.


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

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.

Supporting the effective management of resources includes three main types of interventions:

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


  • additional resources can help address a difficulty within a shorter time than usual
  • the involvement of outside experts can support organisation personnel with addressing a problem that falls outside of their established expertise and knowledge

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


  • The interventions require that appropriate coordination and synchronisation have been implemented
  • The strategies discussed require that organisations are willing to temporarily relax some objectives and assign resources to other tasks