Manual definition of models for emergency management scenarios is a demanding activity due to the huge number of different situations to be considered. It requires knowledge related to the crisis and emergency domains, to the context (e.g., a specific city and its current regulations) and to modelling techniques. In this paper, we propose to tackle this problem according to a lateral thinking perspective and, following this line, we present a framework supporting automatic creation of conceptual models concerning emergency management scenarios by means of semantic techniques. In particular, this framework relies on an ontology and on a set of semantic rules to manage, respectively, the domain and contextual knowledge, and on the design patterns approach to support the modelling activity. A software experimentation of the framework based on SPARQL and applied to emergency scenarios in smart cities is proposed to demonstrate the viability of the approach. © 2014 Springer International Publishing Switzerland.