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Adaptive management comes from the study of complex adaptive systems. Concepts of adaptive management have begun to be considered for disaster mitigation and emergency response. It is suggested that fire in buildings is a complex adaptive system, and therefore subject to adaptive management techniques. This paper outlines criteria that can be used to test the applicability of adaptive management concepts to various regulatory, emergency planning and mitigation issues, with an exemplar application of the criteria to challenges of fire regulation, protection and emergency response planning for buildings.