This paper describes a scenario-based, table-top exercise which was given to a variety of postgraduate university classes in emergency preparedness and to some groups of trainee disaster managers. Participants in the exercise were asked to draw maps of a developing crisis situation and suggest a set of tactics for managing it. The results were analysed using theories of cognitive mapping. They showed that seven distinct kinds of map emerged from the sample of 67 collected. These were labelled well-defined, systematic, emblematic, ill-defined (cryptic), compressed, diagrammatic (ideographic) and mirror image. About 60 per cent of the maps depicted the majority of the elements, while the remaining 40 per cent were lacking in detail to varying degrees. The cognitive maps therefore introduced distortions into the representation of elements, and these were negatively correlated with the abilities, experience, knowledge and training of their authors, as manifested by their other work in the classroom. The extraordinary variety of perceptions of space and place during emergencies has considerable implications for how such events are managed during the crisis phase.
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