This article argues that cognition is central to performance in emergency management. Cognition is defined as the capacity to recognize the degree of emerging risk to which a community is exposed and to act on that information. Using the case of Hurricane Katrina to illustrate the collapse of the standard model of emergency management without a clear focus on the role of cognition, the author reframes the concept of intergovernmental crisis management as a complex, adaptive system. That is, the system needs to adjust and adapt its performance to fit the demands of an ever-changing physical, engineered, and social environment. The terms of cognition, communication, coordination, and control are redefined in ways that fit the reality of practice in extreme events. A reframed intergovernmental crisis management system may be conceived as a dynamic interorganizational system that is characterized by four primary decision points: (1) detection of risk, (2) recognition and interpretation of risk for the immediate context, (3) communication of risk to multiple organizations in a wider region, and (4) self-organization and mobilization of a collective, community response system to reduce risk and respond to danger.