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Monday, March 12, 2012

Disaster and Emergency, What’s The Difference?

Original Article


The difference between disaster and emergency is fairly big, although an emergency situation can certainly feel like a disaster to those involved.

Disaster is defined as a sudden calamitous event bringing great damage, loss, or destruction; a sudden or great misfortune or failure.

Emergency is defined as an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action; an urgent need for assistance or relief.

A disaster will likely affect more people and/or will have more devastating consequences than that of an emergency. An emergency can turn into a disaster while a disaster is inherently an emergency situation, if noticed ahead of time. Not all bad results of an emergency will reach the level of disaster.

When I think of disaster and emergency, I consider a disaster to be widespread, regional, or wider. Examples of a disaster may be the consequences of severe weather such as a hurricane, tornado, or flooding. An economic meltdown followed by a rapid devaluation of currency would be considered a disaster, affecting countless millions of people.

An emergency is a situation that requires immediate attention, a situation that could lead to disaster if left alone or unattended. Or, maybe it won’t, although it may seem like it to you nonetheless.

A disaster does not have to be preceded by an emergency. A disaster may come on quickly and without warning, a black-swan event, but not necessarily so. An asteroid strike to the planet could bring about major disaster without an ‘emergency’ before it. If we saw the asteroid coming weeks ahead of time, you could say that we had an emergency on our hands.

An emergency is a situation which may be an impending crisis, and is always something that requires quick or immediate attention. A disaster is a done deal, in that the damage is done, while it may leave behind countless emergencies as the damage unfolds into subordinate events which may themselves last for a long time until they are cleared up or written off.

Examples of Disaster and Emergency


A solar flare / CME event unleashes an EMP (electro-magnetic-pulse) which takes down the electrical power grid of 2/3 the United States. A disaster for sure.

The Hayward Fault in California rips a magnitude 7.5 earthquake which destroys tens of thousands of homes, injures thousands, and kills hundreds in a highly populated area outside of San Francisco. The electrical power, natural gas, and water utilities are all damaged and offline in the region. A major regional disaster affecting millions.

A declared ‘Greek default’ triggers an economic tsunami as credit-default-swaps are called to perform while the issuers of the insurance do not have the assets and liquidity to pay the bondholders. The major banks and institutions are too leveraged and all fall like dominoes, setting off a new Greater Depression that lasts 13 years. While not a geophysical disaster, a man-made disaster such as this can be just as devastating or even worse.


You are at work and rioting has broken out in the streets outside from an angry mob who has lost their government cheese and are smashing storefront windows and lighting cars on fire in protest. It is an emergency and you need to bug-out safely or ‘bug in’.

You are awakened in the middle of the night as an intruder has just invaded your home in search of valuables, or worse… Your heart is pounding as you realize what is happening, and you reach for your firearm. It is an emergency.

It is winter and you are traveling in your vehicle through the snowy mountains on the way to your destination. You are not on the main roads, and you swerve to avoid a deer which suddenly leaped out from the side of the road. You skid off the road down a moderate embankment, you’ve been injured, and you know that they won’t be able to see you from up on the road. It is an emergency.

Disaster and Emergency are two different things, they are sometimes confused, but they are often related. At Modern Survival we often speak of these words, while they each have their place and context with regards to survival and emergency preparedness.
Be Prepared.

If you enjoyed this or topics of emergency preparedness, or are planning for disaster,
Read our current articles on Modern Survival Blog – surviving disaster and emergency

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