A Scenario-Planning Approach to Emergency and Disaster Management

For the past several years, FSG has provided strategy and long-term planning support to a range of administrators, managers, and operators challenged with building preparedness in the face of increasingly complex and impactful emergency- and disaster-management situations.

Traditionally, the tools of choice have been tabletop exercises and war games that zoom in on “the problem” and allow participants to interactively explore optimal solutions. This has clear advantages when the planning horizon is short and when unknowns are limited and manageable. But beyond, say, five years, as uncertainties grow and assumptions about the future become less credible, traditional tools like war games are less reliable. Accordingly, FSG has innovated a range of “futures” processes, including scenario-based strategic planning, and applied these in emergency-management planning environments with promising results. These exercises have challenged planners to think expansively and dynamically about the full range of conditions that will shape the future – demographic, economic, fiscal, climatological, political, technological, etc. The goal in all cases is to be optimally prepared for the future, no matter what it brings, in terms of both downside risk and upside opportunity.

FSG has organized scenario-planning workshops at the federal government level, and in various inter-agency forums that have included regional, state and local planners and operators. We have also facilitated “Accelerator-Derailer” trend exercises as training for scenario development and strategy workshops. Federal officials have embraced custom-designed emergency-management scenarios to explore and risk-manage longer-term consequences of current investment plans and personnel decisions. FSG has supported a global financial services firm in its efforts to create robust business continuity plans in the face of terror, environmental and cyber risks.

In all cases, our clients have found scenario planning a useful and practical approach for anticipating future challenges. One exercise – held several years prior to the 2014 Ebola outbreak – identified pandemic outbreaks as a potential national vulnerability. Other scenario workshops have explored program and planning implications of long-term fiscal weakness at all levels of government, as well as the need for greater resource sharing, inter-state reciprocity in professional credentialing, and greater individual and community self-reliance.