How To Work Miracles: Emergency Preparedness and Management Concepts


If you’re reading this, you probably have some emergencies in mind that you’d like to prepare for. Some of them might feel impossible to prepare for, and you might feel like you need a miracle to stay safe if they were to happen. Before we get to the basic ideas and concepts you need to learn about, let’s start out by looking at some people who are widely considered to have worked miracles and how they did it.

“The Miracle On The Hudson”

Some of the younger readers and members here might not remember “The Miracle On The Hudson”, or U.S. Airways Flight 1549. It’s the time that a passenger plane taking off form New York went through a flock of Canadian geese and fried both of its engines. Instead of letting an aviation disaster occur, the pilot took smart and quick action. All aboard survived, and most only suffered minor injuries. Dozens walked away basically unharmed.

It was such a famous and amazing story that it became a Hollywood film. Here’s a clip of it that I found on YouTube:

It may seem weird that Tom Hanks acted so calm, but this was how it really went down. Here’s an accident reconstruction with real audio from aviation frequencies at the time of the accident:

If you’re still wondering how the pilot remained so calm in the face of such a grave danger and executed such a perfect crash-landing, this is something that he actually answered:

“One way of looking at this might be that for 42
years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in
this bank of experience: education and training.
And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so
that I could make a very large withdrawal.”
– Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger

Prior to the incident, Sullenberger was well-known for being a safety expert in the airline industry. He was one of the most safety and training serious pilots on the planet. He took potential risks extremely seriously, and was ready to produce a “miracle” on that day.

The Man Who Predicted 9/11 and Cut The Death Toll In Half

Let’s talk about another “miracle” that happened on 9/11 that cut the death toll in half.

One man, Rick Rescorla, saw it coming. After a long and decorated military career across several countries, Rescorla worked as head of security for Morgan Stanley. After helping respond to the 1993 World Trade Center attack, he studied the risks out and determined that the buildings were very likely to become a target again. He even guessed that they’d try to attack the buildings with planes, but thought they’d be packed with explosives instead of full tanks of jet fuel.

He was in charge of security for dozens of floors in the second building to bet hit. When the first tower was hit, government officials ordered everyone to stay put because they didn’t know it was just the beginning of a coordinated attack. But, he knew a second plane was very likely coming. For years, he had been conducting evacuation drills over and over, to the point where management and employees were getting unhappy.

Every employee he was charged with protecting, except for six people who worked with him on security, got out alive. He and his men only died because they ran back in to evacuate more people who worked for other companies in the tower.

Massacres Prevented

Before we move on, I want to briefly cover two more “miracles” that well-equipped and well-prepared people performed. Let’s start with a man who stopped a killing spree in only six seconds with one well-placed shot.


In another case, a would-be mass shooter opened fire in a mall in Indiana. Instead of running away or watching dozens of people die, one very prepared citizen with a pistol stopped the killing from dozens of yards away, ending the danger within 15 seconds.

How These “Miracles” Happened

Instead of being passive victims of the hazards of life, these heroes worked miracles by carefully managing future emergencies. They used well-established and well-studied techniques to get the job done right when it was needed most. But, they didn’t only prepare for the big emergencies. They prepared for as many of them as possible, and just happened to be there when a big one struck.

It’s best to develop a mental framework that can support all of the emergencies you might face, from the smallest ones to the “end of the world as we know it” ones. It’s also good to go beyond just preparedness, and work toward managing the complete lifecycle of a disaster or emergency to protect as many people as possible.

In this section of the Civil Defense Library, I’ll cover some of the basic concepts and proven ideas you can use to make your whole preparedness effort more effective. The skeleton we build here will hold up everything else in the library, so feel free to come back here to refresh yourself at any time!

The Emergency Management Cycle

The most important thing you can do is to manage your emergencies instead of just preparing for them. Why? Because your preparedness efforts should be a last resort and not Plan A. Let’s take a look at the Emergency Management cycle, a framework you can use to manage instead of just prepare.

Be sure to get your own scratch paper or computer document open and go through each of these four steps for any risks and threats you can identify (more on that further down).

Mitigation: Actions Taken to Prevent or Reduce the Impact of a Future Disaster

As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is very much true for emergencies. Your first focus should be on preventing emergencies, or at least softening the blow if it happens. This may seem like a “duh” moment, but mitigation is an easy thing to forget if you go straight to prepping.

The easiest way to find mitigation strategies is to break emergencies down into their biggest parts: hazards and vulnerabilities. If hazards never come in contact with a vulnerability, there is no emergency or disaster. So, keeping these two things apart is the most important thing you can do.

At the community level, mitigation includes things like not building houses where floods commonly happen. At the personal level, staying away from the “Three Stupids” (stupid people, stupid places, and stupid things) can keep an emergency from happening.

It’s at this stage that you have to identify the hazards. Your local or state emergency management agency’s website will have a list of community hazards they’re preparing for. Others will be common hazards everywhere, such as criminal attacks, medical emergencies, and house fires. More information on identifying hazards will be discussed further down in this section.

Once you’ve identified the hazards, look for information from past disasters and emergencies to see what others have done to mitigate them. Learning from the mistakes of others is key here.

“There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”               -Will Rogers

Preparedness: Actions Taken to Get Ready for a Future Disaster

Think about your bathroom. Do you keep a toilet plunger near the toilet? That’s preparedness. Not all emergencies can reasonably be prevented or avoided, so it still makes a lot of sense to prepare to respond to them. Getting equipment, getting training, and networking with others for mutual aid are essential here.

It’s wise to start preparing for the most likely emergencies first and then working your way toward the more wild ones. Fire extinguishers, first aid kits and classes, a concealed carry pistol you’re trained to use, and a supply of food and water are all great examples of preparedness.

Response: Actions Taken to Deal With a Current Disaster

The response phase is like a sink or bathtub that’s overflowing. Often, a neglected issue (the proverbial clogged drain or water left on and forgotten about) ends up becoming a problem. But, once you see the problem is a problem, it’s time to stop worrying about the drain (mitigation). When there’s an overflow, you’ve got to reach for the faucet and turn if off before you reach for the mop to clean up the mess or call the plumber to fix the drain.

When it comes to disasters, you’ve got to start by getting the vulnerabilities away from the hazards. Medics don’t run into burning buildings to treat people for smoke inhalation; they have to be removed from the building first. People sitting on a roof to avoid floodwaters aren’t given the number for a contractor to fix the house. Somebody gets them off the roof.

Once the supply of new problems is cut off, then you can get to work on fixing what got messed up (mopping up the mess). People with injuries need first aid, and possibly a ride to the hospital. Police arrest or detain any people who hurt other people. People who lack basic needs like food, water, shelter, and clothing need those immediate problems at least temporarily fixed.

Only after the faucet is shut off and the floor mopped can you turn your attention to the drain or plug again.

Recovery: Actions Taken After a Disaster to Get Back to Normal or Better Than Before

The recovery phase is often thought of as getting back to normal. People need to heal up and get rehabilitation as needed. Property needs to be repaired and/or replaced. Crimes are investigated and prosecuted. It’s all about setting things right again.

But, the temptation to rebuild things to exactly how they were before the disaster or emergency needs to be resisted. If we don’t learn the lessons of the disaster and keep it from being as bad next time, we’ll keep having disasters over and over and over. So, going back to the beginning and starting over at mitigation really starts during the recovery phase.

Using the sink/bathtub analogy again, this is like getting a better drain or adding an overflow drain.

What Emergencies Should Be Prepared For The Most?

The sad truth is that there are so many hazards and problems in the world that we can’t possibly manage them all. But, not all problems in life need to be managed. You can use a risk/frequency analysis to identify the ones that need your attention the most.

Let’s recap this real quick:

The problems that you encounter all the time don’t need a special effort to manage. You already manage them every day. Stupid people cut you off in traffic, for example. Even risky things usually go right when you’re dealing with them all the time.

You also don’t need to sweat the small stuff. You don’t need a comprehensive emergency management plan for small cuts and bruises or hangnails.

Even when you do come across a rare problem that’s big, you often can take a few deep breaths and take your time getting those right. But, when there’s a risk that presents grave danger and you won’t have time to think it through, those risks must be managed and prepared for ahead of time.

Identifying Risk Events: Strategic Foresight and Futuring

The next big question is how you can identify the high risk, low frequency events that you need to train and prepare for. In an ideal world, you could ask your friendly neighborhood time traveler to tell you what’s coming. As far as I know, nobody has ever met a time traveler, so we’ll have to come up with other options.

The next best thing is strategic foresight. You can learn a lot about strategic foresight by reading this PDF book by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, but I’ll provide a brief summary of the best ideas here.

In short, forecasting the future requires first looking at the past. For example, you know that the sun is extremely likely to rise again tomorrow morning because it has always done that.

But, the past doesn’t always continue into the future. Identifying trends and new things happening (technology, social changes, news, science) can help you come up with several alternative possible futures. It’s often best to come up with a best case scenario, a baseline “the past keeps happening” scenario, and a worst case scenario to come up with the limits of what you might need to prepare for.

It’s healthy to keep these scenarios within not just the possible, but the reasonably likely. You don’t have unlimited resources to use for preparedness and mitigation, so you need to not waste any on things that are extremely unlikely. Sadly, many preppers fall into this trap because they fall into an internet echo chamber where religion, conspiracy theories, politics, and biases disconnect people from reality. Keeping to what’s fact-based and evidence-based helps you avoid this.

It’s possible to stand on the shoulders of other people who have done work to identify hazards. Resources like and your local/state emergency management office website often have lists of common hazards in your area.

How Do You Prepare For These “HR/LF/NDT” Events?

Like Rick Rescorla and Captain Sully, we have to identify the risks, mitigate as many of them as we can, and then determine ahead of time what needs to be done for the ones that we can’t prevent. Then, we need to get serious about training and equipment for the ones that don’t give you time to think.

People who don’t do any of this will think you’re crazy for doing it, and they might get really annoyed if you get them to participate in planning, exercises, and “wasting” money on supplies. To get more buy-in, remind them about the “miracles” in the first section and how they happened. You MUST do this, because nobody can do it alone.

Optional Self-Quiz

Feel free to take a five-question quiz to see if you’ve got a handle on all this!

Basic Emergency Preparedness and Management Concepts