Emergency planning – A linear approach or ‘choose your own adventure’?

When creating deliberate emergency operations plans, and especially the associated standard operating procedures/guidelines (SOPs/SOGs) that accompany them (you do develop these, right?) there is always a consideration for how to progress through the written plan – chronologically or topically.  There are pros and cons to both approaches you should be aware of.

Chronological progression of your planning efforts assume that an incident starts at A and progresses to Z, in a particular order.  At a glance, this is a lot of structure for emergency management, but an analysis of most incidents will show that they generally tend to progress in this fashion.  It’s human nature for us to like order and to try to put things into a logical progression.  There are, of course, the outliers – those incidents which have tangential or cascading impacts which don’t necessarily have a linear progression.  It’s these unknown factors that make us stumble a bit.  How do we account for these disruptions of our orderly progression?  We have to skip around in the plan.  If our plan isn’t designed for skipping around, it can be rather awkward and not easy to use.

A Choose Your Own Adventure book

A Choose Your Own Adventure book

The other side of the coin argues that if you are likely to skip around in the plan anyway, why not build a topical, or ‘choose your own adventure’ style, plan?  Remember choose your own adventure books?  The story always starts the same, building a foundation for the adventure you will face, but you, the reader, eventually get to decide what the main character will do.  At some point, you will be faced with a choice.  Should your hero take the left tunnel or the right?  If you take the left, go to page X, if you go right, turn to page Y.

Non-linear planning will chunk the content of your plan so individual sections focus on each potential impact and major activity – be it hazard-specific or function-specific – with reference back to a core plan, kind of a hub and spoke approach.  (By the way, ‘chunking’ is an actual term.  We use it primarily in instructional design).  It can make for some flipping around through the plan, and sometimes a bit of redundancy if each section starts with the same concept of operations (thus the need to reference back to a core plan), but it more easily accommodates the unknowns of an incident by looking at separate impacts or major activities as individual components related to a central response.

What are your thoughts?  Do we try to keep things orderly, or do we give in to a modular, ‘choose your own adventure’ approach?  Which do you think is more complex?  Which do you think is more effective?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC