Preparedness 2.0: a learning approach to new emergencies

Keywords: Preparedness, Crisis recognition, Emergency

In its essence, preparedness is intended as a repertoire of contingencies and related answers. Both contingencies and answers are identified and developed building on past crises, either directly, because contingencies have actually occurred and answers implemented, or indirectly, because contingencies are deemed plausible to occur in the future -building on time series, on the state of the art of contextual knowledge, on explanatory factors etc- and answers have to be developed. Specifically, “The preparedness process begins with hazard and vulnerability analyses that attempt to anticipate what problems are likely to occur and proceeds with the development of ways to address those problems effectively.”(Tierney et al., 2001: 32). This same idea of preparedness is pervasive across different fields and applications. For instance, preparedness to terrorism has risen as a prominent application post 9/11 (Kirschenbaum, 2006), whereas the 2009 aviary influenza pandemic provoked a burst of interest for preparedness in the epidemiological community (Fineberg, 2014). As such, preparedness is a centerpiece in strategies aimed at reducing disaster risk (Ejeta et al., 2015).

The work of some scholars has recently disputed this traditional take on preparedness. For instance, Braun (2015) has shown that preparedness can work properly for “expected”, well-known events -normal events in his jargon-, but it is ill-suited to address what he counterposes as abnormal events. This category is increasingly relevant and problematic. Recent big crises are typically abnormal events, as they look as “new emergencies” (Quarantelli 1989; Boin and Paul ‘t Hart 2006; Lagadec 2007) that substantially deviate from standard crises because their appearance, evolution, impact and consequences are “incredible” and “inconceivable” before they actually occur.

Frigotto (2017), articulated “abnormal events” across other labels and contributions in the literature: rare, extreme, unexpected, unthinkable events, black swans and predictable surprises, and argued that preparedness hardly tackles new emergencies, not only because it drives more attention to what is more likely and impactful, but also because such conception of preparedness reflects our experience of past emergencies, while new emergencies are disruptive both of past contingencies and answers. As such, new emergencies call for a Preparedness 2.0.

Moving from this observation, we invite contributions focusing both theoretically and empirically on new emergencies in its various nuances (rare, extreme, unexpected, unthinkable events, black swans and predictable surprises) that have hit the world, as well as those that have occurred to a single organization. Specifically, we welcome contributions that explore how learning has been reframed and recombined, as well as how new strategies have been developed to tackle new emergencies, promoting what we tentatively call Preparedness 2.0. A revision of the traditional idea of preparedness launches a challenge also to its various areas of competence such as crisis anticipation (Burns & Slovic, 2012), vulnerability assessment (Blaikie et al., 2014), knowledge integration (Mercer et al., 2010), community resilience (Patterson et al., 2010), asking for further developments and implications that we are also happy to welcome.


Blaikie, P., Cannon, T., Davis, I., & Wisner, B. (2014). At risk: natural hazards, people’s vulnerability and disasters. Routledge.
Braun, B. (2015). Preparedness, crisis management and policy change: The euro area at the critical juncture of 2008–2013. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 17(3), 419-441.
Burns, W. J., & Slovic, P. (2012). Risk perception and behaviors: anticipating and responding to crises. Risk Analysis, 32(4), 579-582.
Ejeta, L. T., Ardalan, A., & Paton, D. (2015). Application of behavioral theories to disaster and emergency health preparedness: A systematic review. PLoS currents, 7.
Fineberg, H. V. (2014). Pandemic preparedness and response—lessons from the H1N1 influenza of 2009. New England Journal of Medicine, 370(14), 1335-1342.
Frigotto, M. L. (2017). Understanding Novelty in Organizations: A Research Path Across Agency and Consequences. Springer.
Kirschenbaum A. (2006). Terror, Adaptation and Preparedness: A Trilogy for Survival. Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, 3 (1), 1-33
Mercer, J., Kelman, I., Taranis, L., & Suchet‐Pearson, S. (2010). Framework for integrating indigenous and scientific knowledge for disaster risk reduction. Disasters, 34(1), 214-239.
Patterson, O., Weil, F., & Patel, K. (2010). The role of community in disaster response: conceptual models. Population Research and Policy Review, 29(2), 127-141.
Tierney, K. J., Lindell, M. K., & Perry, R. W. (2001). Facing the unexpected: Disaster preparedness and response in the United States. Joseph Henry Press.
Panel chairs

Marco Zamarian. Marco is Associate Professor od Organizationa Theory in the Department of Economics and Management at the University of Trento, Italy. His main interests lay in organizational learning and knowledge in crises and emergency situations. He is part of the “RARE-Recognising and reacting to new emergencies: an organisational perspective” project.

Maria Laura Frigotto. Maria Laura is Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics and Management at the University of Trento, Italy. Her research focuses on novelty in organizations, and she is interested in new emergencies as a form of novelty for emergency management organizations. She is part of the “RARE-Recognising and reacting to new emergencies: an organisational perspective” project.

Morten Thanning Vendelø, Ph.D., professor with special responsibilities in organizational learning and improvisation, Copenhagen Business School (CBS), Department of Organization.  Co-founder and CBS coordinator of Copenhagen Center of Disaster Research (COPE).

Loris Gaio is Associate Professor of Business Management at the Department of Economics and Management, University of Trento. His research interests include the role of modularity in the division of intellectual labor, the dynamics of collaboration and coordination in the creation of collective knowledge, and the recognition and response to surprises and unexpected crises. He is member of the ‘RARE-Recognising and reacting to new emergencies’ research group.