Purpose The purpose of this paper is to argue that there is still much scope for improvement in planning and training, for both actors and disaster victims, in the front line of disaster management in Malaysia. Although the established ethos of Malaysia’s public service sector has tended to be one of control from above, there is promise and virtue in seeking to promote a professional culture. Ideas and recommendations in finding new solutions to old problems can move upwards as well as downwards due to the technical design in rules and regulations which is now to be accompanied by organisational design. Design/methodology/approach Research was undertaken to determine attitudes of actors in disaster management mechanism in Malaysia. Findings The actors in public service sectors in Malaysia had a negative attitude towards disaster planning implementation because they are usually not familiar with the Standard Operational Procedure in handling land disaster management in Malaysia called the MNSC Directive 20. Social learning is about initiative of organisations and policy makers in learning through actor’s interactions with others and through the knowledge and expertise of others. Originality/value The paper shows that the MNSC Directive 20 document is not available for public scrutiny and restricted for reasons of national security, which limits the policy’s effectiveness. Even then, documents were circulated for office use only. Learning from status of current policy implementation and suggestion will promote awareness raising and capacity building from the inside of organisations.