Measures of effectiveness describe the extent to which emergency operations accomplish our intended outcomes.

Thus, effective planning represents the foundation for accomplishing the intended outcomes of group deliberation and execution of a plan.

Here are eight principles for effective planning described in my new book entitled, “Disaster Planning” by Cambridge University Press. Here the 8 principles are offered in the form of a mnemonic, “TARGET-UP.”:

1. Targeted to the need

2. Accurately informed

3. Realistic

4. Goal-oriented

5. Efficient

6. Time-based

7. Usable

8. Position-centric


Principle #1: Effective plans are targeted to meet the need.

The first principle for effective planning involves targeting the plan to fit the need. More information is necessary to target the plan for the appropriate end-user. First, “Is there a need for overarching strategy, or tactical detail, or an operational-level mix of the two”? Second, “Are the end-users comprised of leaders, or workers, or both?” And finally, “If this is an operational-level plan, then which emergency management mission area is involved (e.g., prevention, protection, mitigation, response, or recovery)”?

Principle #2: Effective plans are accurately informed.

The second principle for effective planning is that the process must be accurately informed. Planning must be based upon valid assumptions regarding disaster risk, including probabilistic estimations of hazards, exposure, impact, and capabilities. Unfortunately, the availability of such “hard data” is relatively limited for non-material assets, such as the public health and safety of a population.
The most relevant information sources and techniques should be used when collecting information that informs disaster planning. Sources of information may include the following:
• Applicable authorities and statutes
• Pre-existing disaster plans
• Risk assessments, including intentional threats and unintentional hazards
• Planning guidance that is pertinent to the jurisdiction, hazard, and disaster phase
• After action reports of performance during prior simulations and real events
• Hazard and social vulnerability index maps for the geographical location or jurisdiction
• Points of contact and contact information for stakeholder organizations
• Mutual aid agreements and memorandums of understanding
• Reports of pertinent practice and relevant experience
• Relevant published literature
• The results of public or private consultations (e.g., townhall meetings, contracts)

Principle #3: Effective plans are realistic.

Plans must adhere to a third principle, realism. My good friend and CDC colleague, Erik Auf der Heide, has pointed out that planning assumptions must also be based upon “valid assumptions about human behavior”. We must plan according to how people will behave, not how people should behave. Our plans must offer realistic solutions based upon actual capabilities, not planned, or predicted or hoped-for capabilities of the future. When we write a plan today, it should be based upon today’s capability – as though we would have to implement the plan immediately. Otherwise, there is a risk of implementing a plan that is not entirely correct – when effectiveness is thwarted by yet-unrealized accomplishments (and therefore, false assumptions of capability). Plans must describe what we will do, not what we could or should do.

Principle #4: Effective plans are goal-oriented
The fourth principle for effective planning is goal orientation.
Goals are used to direct actions because (while the actions required to accomplish a task may change over time or location) the goal remains a much more stable representation of the plan’s intended outcome. Goals also form the coordinating connection between strategy and operations.

Goals also help to prevent “mission creep” – superfluous activities that expand the workload but not operational effectiveness in terms of outcome. Goal-oriented planning is fundamentally objective-based. Management by objectives is a system for comparing actual performance with expected (or planned) performance. Goal-oriented planning describes measures of success.

Principle #5: Effective plans are efficient


The fifth principle of effective planning is efficiency. Planning is a labor-intensive undertaking. It requires the participation and coordination of multiple organizations across different jurisdictions. More extensive organizational or community-based planning sessions routinely involve 30-50 stakeholder participants. These are busy people. It can be frustrating for stakeholders to participate in planning sessions that are not operated efficiently.

Principle #6: Effective plans are time-based

The sixth principle for effective planning is that objectives are time-based, meaning an exact deadline or expected timeframe for completion. It should also be noted that in most cases, it is quite tricky to predict the exact chronological or sequential order that many plan activities will be implemented according to any given scenario. For this reason, time-based planning seeks to measure the time duration needed to accomplish and objective (or each of its associated activities). It does not specify the exact timing for the initiation of each time-based intervention.

Principle #7: Effective plans are usable

Any intervention (including planning) is influenced by the effectiveness, efficiency, degree of satisfaction, and “freedom from risk” perceived among participants.  To be usable, the planning process must not only be effective and efficient, but the community must also perceive them to have a value that outweighs potential social, economic, environmental, or health risks.

Measures of effectiveness relate to the quality of outcomes. In comparison, measures of efficiency are related to the quality of performance (usually as a rate).  Effectiveness describes the degree to which objectives are achieved.  In simplest terms, it involves “doing the right things.” In comparison, efficiency describes a level of performance that uses the least number of resources (e.g., time, people, money) to achieve these objectives. It involves “doing things right.” For planning to be successful, it must be both effective and efficient.

Principle #8: Effective plans are position-centric

The eighth principle for effective plans is based upon the need for instructions targeted to the appropriate position of the end-user. The end-users of strategic plans typically differ from that of operational and tactical plans. The role of organizational leadership (chief executives, public information officers, and incident managers) typically involves implementing strategic goals. Whereas the role of organizational workers (e.g., line managers, operations staff, subject matter experts, support staff) typically involves implementing plan operations and the more detailed tactical activities of the plan.


As I often state, while facilitating such planning sessions, “Plans are best written by those people that actually ‘do’ the job.”

Plans must also be accurately informed so that decision-making is based upon the best evidence (not merely the most prevalent opinion in the room). Thus, the accuracy of group-based planning depends on the subject matter expertise (e.g., knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience) of the participants. The sources of subject matter expertise related to strategic planning often differ from that needed for detailed operational planning. Both strategic and tactical thinkers are needed.

Derived from: Keim M. Eight approaches to disaster planning. In Disaster Planning: A practical guide for effective health outcomes. Cambridge University Press, London, UK. Publication pending October 2021. pp.41-58.

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