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Ukraine Conflict Through the Lens of Emergency Management

Feb 21, 2022

If you are reading this, then you have likely already heard of the rising conflict in and around Ukraine and the Russian Federation. To set the discussion, a short summary from The Council on Foreign Relations is here:  

While the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine transitioned to a stalemate after it first erupted in early 2014, shelling and skirmishes still regularly occur, including an escalation of violence in the spring of 2021.

In October 2021, Russia began moving troops and military equipment near the border with Ukraine, reigniting concerns over a potential invasion. Commercial satellite imagery and social media posts from November and December 2021 showed armor, missiles, and other heavy weaponry moving toward Ukraine with no official explanation. By December, more than one hundred thousand troops were in place near the border and U.S. intelligence officials warned that Russia may be planning an invasion of Ukraine in early 2022.

Against that background understanding, let’s now look at this conflict and the potential impact through the lens of Emergency Management. At CBI, we use FEMA’s Lifelines as one tool in our toolkit for Institutional Capacity Building and national preparedness assessments. While not fit for every purpose, we can adapt the Community Lifelines to measure the potential impact of a conflict in Ukraine as a result of an attack by the Russian Federation. Given the complexity of this topic and the scope of the lifelines, we are only going to focus on just one topic, which is Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s) or what we may view as “evacuees” from a prolonged disaster. First, let’s establish a very basis of the potentially impacted environment itself, which is Ukraine.

Quick Facts About Ukraine[1]

Ukraine, a country located in eastern Europe, is the second-largest on the continent after Russia. The capital is Kyiv (Kiev), located on the Dnieper River in north-central Ukraine. Ukraine’s total population is near 44 million people with a size of over 233k square miles. Ukraine is bordered by Belarus to the north, Russia to the east, the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea to the south, Moldova and Romania to the southwest, and Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland to the west. In the far southeast, Ukraine is separated from Russia by the Kerch Strait, which connects the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Ukraine was worth 155.58 billion US dollars in 2020, according to official data from the World Bank[2]. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s focus on overall agricultural exports to the EU from Ukraine, and overall population density/impact from the prolonged conflict since 2014. In 2021, Ukraine increased agricultural export to the EU by 26% y/y to 8.4 bln USD, declared the deputy director at the National scientific center Nikolai Pugachev. As for population, according to the World Bank[3], the total population of Ukraine is just over 44 million people. A key point here for our discussion is that following the start of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Government of Ukraine reports some 1.5 million IDPs. Internally Displaced Persons have fled their homes to find safety. They have not crossed the international border but remained within their home country. IDPs legally remain under the protection of their government. They keep all their rights and protection under international human rights law[4]. This point is specifically relevant when we discuss issues such as recovery, insurance, and rebuilding communities.

FEMA Community Lifelines

If you’re from the emergency management community or similar field, then you likely know what the FEMA Community Lifelines are. If not, here is a great overview of what they are in terms of the lifelines overall and components.

There are essentially two ways to view the Community Lifelines within the context of international crisis and conflict. One is the impact of a conflict on the community itself. Second, is the view of secondary effects of conflict in one nation and the impact on other nations in the region. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s focus just on the latter of the two – the secondary impacts. This would allow us the mental flexibility to just presume that any large-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation would be significantly damaging across all communities and lifelines, with devastating effects. We can presume that internal crisis management systems (emergency or disaster management) would be operating in full contingency mode and functioning 24/7 to mitigate all sorts of issues from communications systems (damaged or hacked) to critical infrastructure, power, to continuity of government – and all at one time most likely.

IDP’s and Evacuees

Given the size and complexity of conflict, we need to select a disaster of similar proportions. In this short analysis, we will use Hurricane Katrina, mostly because of the similar numbers of the population that were moved from their communities either by force or by nature.

The affected area of Hurricane Katrina covered three states and approximately 90,000 square miles. In the state of Louisiana alone, approximately 1.7 million people were affected by the storm and needed to be evacuated. This was a daunting task that required evacuating the most densely populated area of the state to unaffected regions both within the state and in other states around the country. The state of Louisiana evacuated approximately 1.5 million people before Hurricane Katrina made landfall. However, approximately 150,000 to 200,000 individuals (accurate numbers were difficult to attain) remained during the storm. While many people chose to stay, others did not have an opportunity to evacuate because of unavailable resources, noted Jimmy Guidry of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals[5].

Conflict Through the Lens of Emergency Management – 3 Very Real Examples

In taking the two very real-world scenarios, and looking into the details of displaced populations, evacuations, and overall impact on communities – all impacts are devastating. We start to see similarities in terms of scope, scale, and community impact, however in terms of conflict the effects are far more complicated. The reason being is that there is often a lack of a return to “normalcy” for those who are displaced because of conflict. Whereas in a natural disaster, hurricane, or another event, there are often pathways to recovery to include government assistance, loans, and what is mostly used in the United States – insurance.

In thinking of insurance, there is always the “force majeure” clause in the insurance contract that means that essentially no one is covered in the event of a conflict. So, property damage, life insurance, and many other policies are then rendered void unless specifically linked to a conflict or hazard zone. However, unless you live in a conflict zone you do not need that insurance – and if you are a national of those areas, and from those areas – you wouldn’t buy that insurance anyway because 1) you don’t believe in it, 2) you can’t afford it or it’s not available, and/or 3) there is no belief that you would ever need it!

Next, let’s look at a unique aspect of the conflict, which is property ownership. If your house is destroyed by floods, hurricanes, or fires, there is very little disagreement that you own that property, you have property records, and you can establish legal ownership. However, in conflict, local, state, or even national administrations are at times rendered void. Your land and your house are now in question, and it is near impossible (at times) to validate ownership of land due to the lack of government records, corruption, or other exigent circumstances such as no government administration. Leaving many in conflict with an issue of – from an EM perspective – how to “recover” with no ownership of property, validation of documents, and in many cases, property may be in dispute.

And finally, with a view to the current crisis in Ukraine and overtures or threats of invasion from the Russian Federation, let’s briefly look at mass migration. While in EM we view a return to normalcy, or at least a better version of “normalcy” – adapted to lessons learned, and communities return. Ideally, communities return to work, the local economy starts to recover, and people go back to their lives. Comparatively speaking, during times of conflict, not only has there been a complete loss of “normalcy” but then there is only a protracted and prolonged “recovery” during conflict resolution and negotiations. During that time, there is a mass migration occurring where the affected population is moving within the country. In terms of the Ukraine crisis since 2014, over 1.5 million persons have relocated within the country. Imagine an escalation of the conflict in 2022, which would – with “back of the napkin math” – would lead to up to 10 million persons moving through the country to avoid conflict. This includes disproportionately impacted populations such as women, children, and the elderly. With those internal pressures inside a country, there is also pressure externally on neighboring countries. Mass migration is not only having a significant impact on local communities in terms of resources, stresses, and pressures but also neighboring countries which are then influenced by humanitarian issues – which of course require economic investment, resources, and long-term thinking and support.

This is very complex and could take up an entire dissertation into what makes more resilient communities for both conflict and disasters. For the emergency management community, my aim here is to draw upon the lenses we use in disaster management and apply those to areas of conflict. In addition, by looking through the lens of emergency management we can draw upon decades of experience and knowledge in recovering from massive disasters and apply solutions to help communities recover from conflict. If this is a topic that you’re interested in, or you have an experience worth sharing in this thematic area – feel free to reach out to me at info at, and let’s discuss! Or you can also just message me on LinkedIn.