The global failure to respond effectively to mass atrocity crises in Rwanda, Bosnia, Syria and many other man-made catastrophes, can be understood as a result of failures of analysis, of a lack of preparedness and of limited political will to prevent or protect. This article offers an analytic innovation in the form of a classificatory typology in order to better consider civilian protection crises (in non-permissive environments) in terms of the estimated risk to civilians and the feasibility of protection. It should be seen as one tool in a developing set of analytic instruments for protection purposes. The civilian protection typology proposed here draws on a range of factors relevant to risk and feasibility, simplifying a hugely complex area of human activity to enable types of protection crisis to be established, permitting prioritisation of cases. The case of Syria – the worst humanitarian crisis since wwii – is examined using this framework, illustrating where this crisis might lie in the typology.