Skip to main content

What Is a Disaster Management Cycle?

June 14, 2023

Disasters are not only emotionally devastating but also incredibly costly to both individuals and organizations. For example, the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, Katrina in 2005, caused an estimated $190 billion in damages. The next three costliest hurricanes all occurred within the last decade, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. 

The U.S. Geological Survey expects natural disasters to occur with greater frequency and severity in the future due to climate change. This makes the need for trained disaster management professionals even greater as communities across the country prepare for and respond to natural disasters of unprecedented intensity. While it is impossible to prevent natural disasters from occurring, professionals can take steps to minimize their impact. 

One such step is using the disaster management cycle as a guide for preventing or mitigating a disaster’s impact. Knowledgeable professionals utilize this cycle working alongside communities, local and federal governments, and organizations to develop the best strategies for reducing the damage and costs disasters cause. Those interested in taking the next step in their emergency management careers should consider the benefits of earning an advanced degree.

Why Disaster Management Is Important 

The disaster management cycle is a framework that defines the stages of a disaster. It can be used by both organizations and individuals to prepare for and respond to disasters of every kind, including natural disasters, technological disasters, and human-made disasters. It allows professionals to identify potential hazards, assess the risks, and develop plans to prevent, mitigate, and respond to them.

Unprecedented disasters can strike at any time. But, using the disaster management cycle as a guide, professionals can create plans that can help prevent the worst effects and lay the groundwork for a more effective recovery. With the loss of property, environmental damage, or fatalities on the line, the ability to respond to a disaster as quickly and effectively as possible is crucial. For instance, during a flood, a disaster plan may involve enabling communications, blocking off roads, organizing evacuations, or enabling victims to retrieve valuable items from flooded areas. 

Another crucial objective of disaster management is to ensure assistance to those who need it. When a disaster strikes, people may sustain injuries, require evacuation from dangerous locations, or need medical attention. Disaster management teams aim to assist and support those who require it, such as by contacting medical personnel, securing safe areas for people to evacuate to, and providing essential supplies such as water, food, and shelter. 

The disaster management cycle includes recovery from the disaster, both for the affected individuals and their property. The recovery process may involve rebuilding, providing medical attention, and creating a safe environment, and can also extend to an area’s infrastructure, economy, population, and ecosystem. 

Different disasters require different methods to ensure the highest chance of prevention and an expedient return to everyday life for everyone involved if the disaster becomes unavoidable. Trained professionals are key in this endeavor, as they can best determine the required level and type of assistance. For example, in a wildfire, disaster management may involve fighting the blaze, whereas, during a hurricane, the priority may be to search for survivors.

Stages of the Disaster Management Cycle

Disaster management typically is broken down into four stages: prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. Managing and responding to disasters effectively requires paying careful attention to each stage. Despite being separated into different stages, each with its own goals, the cycle is designed to be holistic, as each stage is interdependent and builds on the previous one to achieve better outcomes. 

As the cycle reaches its recovery phase, professionals can collect and analyze performance data to help them improve their plans and potentially prevent the disaster or some of the effects of the disaster from happening again. Thus, with each disaster, outcomes should improve, reducing costs and reducing future hardships for individuals, families, and communities. The nature of this “emergency management cycle,” according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is that all communities are in at least one stage of emergency management at any time.


The first stage of the disaster management cycle is about preventing or mitigating the potential effects of a disaster before it happens. It aims to identify potential risks and hazards that could lead to a disaster. It involves analyzing the environment, assessing vulnerabilities and risks, and developing measures to prevent or mitigate potential hazards. While prevention requires preparation before a crisis occurs, implementing permanent measures that reduce hazard risk can benefit all stages of disaster management. 

For example, preparation can involve mitigating or reducing the effects of a disaster by ensuring building codes are up to date to withstand and reduce damage from an earthquake or tornado.


Preparedness refers to developing strategies, plans, and procedures to effectively deal with potential disasters. Preparedness involves creating emergency plans, training, and exercises to ensure that people, equipment, and systems are ready to respond to a disaster. 

Examples of preparedness measures include active shooter safety drills in schools and other community areas that help staff and students know how to respond to such an event in ways that increase their safety and the likelihood of their survival. Fire drills are another example of a preparedness measure, as they are intended to ensure all students or employees have procedures to follow in the event of a fire, including knowing where the proper exits are and where to gather away from the building.


The response stage involves the immediate response to a disaster. Response measures include search and rescue operations, providing emergency medical assistance, and setting up emergency shelters. Response teams work to stabilize the situation and reduce the potential for further harm. 

Examples of emergency response would be deploying emergency workers to guide residents toward evacuation routes or moving emergency supplies to a predetermined safety area where community members can convene in the event of a displacing flood.


The recovery stage focuses on restoring the affected community to a state of normalcy. Recovery efforts involve rebuilding infrastructure, providing medical assistance and social services, and helping individuals and families recover financially. A recovery plan could include continued medical assistance, such as physical therapy, for individuals who sustained an injury during a disaster or a support group for those who experienced any emotional trauma due to the event.

Prepare for the Next Step of Your Career by Learning More About the Disaster Management Cycle 

The need for professionals who can prepare for and respond to disasters using the framework of the disaster management cycle is likely to continue to rise as catastrophic weather events become more common. Those who desire to become leaders in the field of disaster preparedness should consider the benefits of earning an advanced degree such as Tulane University’s Online Master of Public Health in Disaster Management

With coursework covering topics from disaster communication and environmental monitoring to risk assessment and response planning, Tulane University’s MPH in Disaster Management curriculum is designed to educate students about how to become leaders in the field of disaster preparation using evidence-based research and scientific principles. Discover how you can play a role in preparing for the unexpected crises of the future with Tulane University.

Recommended Readings

Benefits of Earning a Disaster Management Degree

Disaster Operations Specialist: Salary and Job Description

Emergency Preparedness Coordinator: Role and Requirements


Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts, Emergency Management Cycle

Federal Emergency Management Agency, Emergency Management in the United States

Indeed, “What Is the Disaster Management Cycle?”

National Centers for Environmental Information, Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters

National Centers for Environmental Information, Costliest U.S. Tropical Cyclones

U.S. Geological Survey, How Can Climate Change Affect Natural Disasters?