Monday, 24 March 2008

Disaster Management for Whom?

This paper reviews contemporary trends in the management of the crisis phase of disasters. It charts the recent history of emergency preparedness in the light of a basic distinction between civil defence and civil protection. As the former has metamorphosed into homeland security and the latter into civil contingencies management, so a distinction has grown between devolved and centralized management of disasters. This has been accompanied by differences in the strategies employed to bring relief to stricken populations, including the extent to which military and paramilitary forces are involved. Having considered the question of devolved versus centralized emergency management in the light of its impact on welfare, the paper examines the question by reviewing some aspects of the management of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in August-September 2005. It seems reasonable to conclude that symbolic aspects of the media and political response tended to provide impetus to discrimination in the provision of aid. In economic terms, disaster involves a complex process of negotiating for resources, in which the marginalized sections of society are almost automatically disadvantaged. The solution lies in making emergency preparedness more democratic, which is a major challenge for the present century. The article ends by establishing ten principles for fair and democratic civil protection.

On December 25th, 1972, an earthquake of moderate power and shallow focus situated under Lake Managua devastated large parts of Nicaragua's capital city. Of the population of 405,000 people, 4000 were killed, 16,000 were injured, 200,000 were rendered jobless and 280,000 became homeless (Kates et al. 1973). As was to be expected in the second poorest country of the western hemisphere, most of the victims were poor and landless. With access to capital and insurance, the small cohort of middle- and upper-class survivors rebuilt their homes and businesses in no more than six months. In contrast, a good many of the poorest victims never acquired the resources to rebuild (Bolin and Bolton 1983). The Managua earthquake was neither the first nor the last of what Blaikie et al. (1994, 2003) termed a "class-quake". On the other side of the great wealth divide of the Americas, the differential effects of disaster are equally visible in the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans in 2005 (Rydin 2006).

Questions of equity and access to resources can be raised about any of the phases of the disaster cycle: risk reduction (disaster mitigation), preparation, emergency management, recovery and reconstruction.1 While recognizing the importance of social justice in the other phases (Richardson 2005), this article will concentrate on the issue of fair access to resources and services during the emergency phase of sudden-impact disasters. Specifically, the paper will:-

(a) examine the origins and growth of modern emergency preparedness, with emphasis on their implications for social justice and the apportionment of resources (my aim here is to explain how the present situation arose and what current trends might signify);

(b) consider some of the shortcomings of the response to Hurricane Katrina in terms of the implications for the further development of emergency response in the international arena; and

(c) on the basis of this analysis of development and trends, suggest some basic principles for the fair and healthy development of emergency preparedness.

Governments have a moral duty, and usually also a legal and constitutional one, to protect their citizens against foreseeable sources of harm (Beatley 1989). Thus society has acquired a complex set of laws, regulations, codes, norms, protocols, and regulatory bodies and agencies charged with the application of these instruments. The parts of this arrangement that relate to disaster prevention and response make up a system that is variously known as emergency preparedness, disaster management, emergency response or civil protection (Gillespie and Streeter 1987). Its history varies from country to country in line with the political system, type of state, dominant hazards, and--often--ideological considerations that affect public administration (Aguirre et al. 2003). One of the most common and significant differences between systems in different countries is that what works in a federal republic is not likely to be perfectly transferable to a unitary nation-state in which there are different divisions of legislative powers and sovereignty. Thus in many cases it is difficult to make emergency preparedness compatible between neighbouring countries; for example, the 25 national systems of the European Union vary between federal and unitary states, republics and constitutional monarchies, and centrist and devolved administrations (Sperling 2006). Differences are also evident between the levels of commitment and preparedness among the various US states and Canadian provinces (Scanlon 1995, Redlener and Berman 2006).

Despite the heterogeneity of disaster management arrangements around the world, there are some common themes and they are of particular relevance to the question of equity. The next section will trace the emergence of broad trends in emergency preparedness and consider them in terms of their implications for protecting society's most vulnerable members.

The origins of modern disaster preparedness

In recent decades there has been a gradual separation between civil defence and civil protection2 (Alexander 2002). The former has military or paramilitary origins and was created in order to protect civilian populations against armed aggression by a foreign power. The latter, which evolved 40-50 years later than civil defence, was devised to protect citizens against natural and technological disasters.

Modern civil defence has several progenitors. Prototype arrangements were made to protect the civilian inhabitants of large cities under threat during the First World War, possibly even during the American Civil War. No doubt there were many antecedents in the sieges and military campaigns of the more distant past. However, the clearest example of a prototype civil defence organization emerged, somewhat spontaneously, during the aerial bombardment of Guernica in 1937 in the Spanish Civil War. When many European and Asian cities were subject to intense aerial bombardment during the Second World War arrangements quickly became more widespread, universal and highly organized (Hewitt 1997).

Civil defence based on air raid precautions (ARP) gradually metamorphosed into a system intended to protect people and their governments against a possible thermonuclear bombardment. In reality, the consequences of nuclear war are both devastating and difficult to imagine. Hence the arrangements tended to be based on incomplete scenarios. There was little sense of continuity in terms of what would happen when people emerged from underground bunkers into a post-nuclear world, or perhaps a nuclear winter, in which life-support systems had collapsed. In any case, opportunities to protect the general public were extremely limited. Probably only Switzerland came anywhere near to achieving the goal of democratic access to radiation shelters: most other countries, and especially the poorer ones, would only have sheltered a tiny group of elite personnel, and in the event of a war the general public would have been left to fend for itself (Kerr 1983).

Hence, whereas ARP was generally broadly based, the civil defence arrangements of the Cold War were highly discriminatory. Restricted privileges were complemented by highly draconian forms of command and control, many of which were present in the arrangements for coping with natural disasters (Waugh 1993). Secrecy was paramount and, although it may have helped deny intelligence to hostile foreign powers, it also served to protect government officials against recrimination for their sins of omission or commission. Given that it was physically, logistically and financially impossible to protect whole populations against nuclear war, the emphasis shifted to protection certain groups--VIPs, political leaders and key government personnel--against the perceived threat (Blanchard 1994). In their most developed form, such arrangement could have been used to protect political leaders against the democratic rights of their own populations, or for various other abuses of power.3

By the 1970s civil defence had become an increasingly inefficient mechanism for tackling disasters, especially large natural catastrophes. It was excessively centralized, rigid and poorly adapted to the rigors of natural disaster response.4 Gradually, under the duress of repeated natural disaster, a new system emerged (Alexander 2002). Civil protection is amenable to development at the "grass roots" level of communities, neighbourhoods or local authorities (Boughton 1998). It recognizes that the local area is the "theatre of operations" when disaster strikes. However, it is not exactly a "bottom-up" form of organization, in that guidelines are needed from higher echelons of government, preferably originating at the national level (Perry and Lindell 2003). To a certain extent the growth of civil protection has been coeval with the relative decline of civil defence, though its reinvention in the form of homeland security has yet to determine a new status for civil defence or its potentially broader development, civil contingencies management.

Given the growing imperative of large disasters, civil protection has been relatively slow to develop. In part this reflects the universal tension between centralized and devolved government. A good civil protection system involves arrangements for tackling emergency situations that are harmonized across a wide variety of political units at various levels within a particular nation, but that are simultaneously adaptable to specific local needs--and of course sensitive to the needs of the most vulnerable sections of the community (McEntire and Myers 2004). The next section will examine the question of how disaster management powers are apportioned between different levels of government.

The tension between centrism and devolution

A consistent theme in the emergency preparedness activities of government--indeed in most aspects of civil administration--is the tension that arises between central control and devolution. The balance between these two opposing tendencies varies considerably from one country to another and in many cases also over time with the evolution of the political process. It also tends to vary with the prevailing system of emergency management. For example public administration in France is strongly centrist, with power vested in the prefectures as representatives of the national state in the regional Departments (Lagadec 2002), while federal nations allow varying degrees of autonomy to be held by their constituent states (Scanlon 1995). The centrist-devolution dichotomy has profound implications for emergency preparedness.

The dictates of intelligence gathering, counter-terrorism policy and military participation ensure that civil defence is usually a highly centrist function. It thus tends to reinforce the tendency to manage major emergencies from the leading seat of government. Moreover, participation in counter-terrorist activity by civil protection forces is necessarily limited. However, there are several reasons why this strategy is inefficient and risky. To begin with, the local authority area is usually the "theater of operations" when disaster occurs. It is very easy for incomprehension to creep in when experience and problems on the ground have to be matched with orders from a distant seat of government (Hilhorst 2003). Secondly, disaster response really requires the support of its beneficiaries, and that can best be achieved by making them active stakeholders in security management, not mere passive beneficiaries (Kumar et al. 2005). Thirdly, when disaster strikes, local knowledge, expertise and resources should not be supplanted by imported assistance, which is usually relatively slow to arrive, often insufficient or inappropriate and seldom a match for what can be generated locally if communities and local administrations are supported in their fight against disaster (Milliman et al. 2006). Fourthly, failure to strengthen the local response is likely to have negative repercussions for the ability of communities to recover effectively from disaster, especially where careful co-ordination and substantial resources are required (Lindell 1994).

Some of these organizational questions are well illustrated can be seen in the response to Hurricane Katrina, as the next section illustrates.

Hurricane Katrina and the protection of the poor

As most Americans are only too well aware, two recent events have revolutionized--or at least galvanized--US emergency preparedness: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (Calhoun et al. 2002), and the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf of Mexico coastline on September 29-31, 2005. They were, of course, radically different catastrophes. The first had immediate emergency management implications that stretched around the world (Scanlon 2003). It stimulated the largest reorganization of the US Federal government for almost 55 years and established homeland security as a national strategic priority.3 The resulting configuration of 150 federal agencies may have been adequate to face the terrorist threat, but faced with a large natural disaster it collapsed into what one researcher has called a 'bureaucratic nightmare' (Bier 2006) and another described as "the worst mishandled disaster I've ever seen in my life, and I've been studying disasters since 1949" (Walker 2005).

With the benefit of hindsight, the balance sheet for Hurricane Katrina is roughly as follows:-

(a) a well-developed system designed to forecast hurricane landfall timing and position had little effect on actual emergency management

(b) scenarios had been written that accurately predicted the effects if a hurricane were to make landfall at New Orleans, including estimation of emergency management needs (Laska 2004), but they had not had sufficient impact on disaster preparedness

(c) structural protection of large urban areas was patently inadequate (Foster and Giegengack 2006)

(d) evacuation needs were underestimated and operations were badly organized

(e) shelter requirements were underestimated and shelter was structurally inadequate, especially at the Superdome, where an estimated 20,000 people sought refuge

(f) some breakdown in law and order occurred, though it is difficult in the welter of mass media exaggeration and distortion to ascertain to what extent violence and anarchy actually prevailed (Walker 2005)

(g) relief operations were poorly co-ordinated, with distinct hiatuses between the actions of various levels of government and jurisdictions6

(h) imported assistance was badly managed and inefficiently used

(i) fraud was allegedly widespread in the handling and use of relief goods and money

Wealthy, mobile people with adequate financial resources fared relatively well; the poor and handicapped and people without cars fared badly. This was also a geographical problem of discrimination between rich, well-connected neighbourhoods and poor, vulnerable ones (Rydin 2006). One could argue that the same processes of social differentiation and marginalization were at work as had been present in Managua 33 years previously. Tierney (2006: 127) saw the neglect of the poor of New Orleans and the anarchy that prevailed when they were left to their own devices as indicative of the fact that "intergovernmental institutions [in the USA] are wholly incapable to responding to the needs of diverse publics during disasters." In a negative sense this observation is probably untrue, as the following section seeks to demonstrate.
The value--and perils--of a symbolic interpretation

The disaster movie as a genre likes to portray major emergencies as events that cause the breakdown of civil society and the emergence of the egotistical savage that is presumed to be latent in each of us (Mitchell et al. 2000). The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was no exception (Arnold 2006a). In the end the situation is supposedly saved by the forces of altruism in this straight battle between 'villains' and emergent 'heroes'. Such a grotesquely black and white interpretation of human behaviour is greatly at odds with the kinds of 'therapeutic community' that sociologists have identified time and time again in disaster situations (Barton 1970). However, it has gained symbolic significance to the extent of becoming almost a self-fulfilling hypothesis: the mass media frequently prefer the Hollywood version of disaster to the more sober, objective one presented by the sociologists. The following quotations from news bulletins issued on September 1, 2005, illustrate the media's addiction to "breakdown of society" scenarios:-

"Looters rampaged through flooded streets and survivors scrambled to get out on Thursday as shell-shocked officials tried to regain control of the historic jazz city reduced to ruin by Hurricane Katrina." [Reuters]

"Some 4,000 National Guard troops fought an uphill battle to restore order to the largely submerged jazz Mecca plagued by gun-battles, fist-fights, gangs of roving thugs, looters and carjackers. Residents reported survivors dropping dead in shelters or gunned down outside the local convention centre. Hospitals were evacuated after power ran out and helicopters ferrying patients and babies drew gunfire. 'This is a war zone,' said Melissa Murray, 32, a Louisiana state corrections officer helping in the relief effort." [AFP]

"Gunshots were reportedly ringing out and fires flaring around New Orleans last night as looters broke into stores, houses, hospitals and office buildings - some in search of food, others looking for anything of value." [CNN]

Whether or not looting, sniping, theft, violence, rape and other forms of anti-social behaviour were a significant element in the reaction to Hurricane Katrina, they were a policy gift to the new cold warriors, who were handed a bonus when Hurricane Katrina struck (cf. Berman 2003). Although later reports led to some rewriting of the script in favour of a more objective, sober interpretation, there is no doubt that considerable anarchy reigned (and it was not restricted to the public, as field reports of police behaviour include some bizarre stories). But it was centred on the poor. In the words of Tierney (2006: 119): "If current trends continue, disaster victims will increasingly be seen as 'problem populations' requiring strict social control, and immigrants and minority group members will feel even more marginalized and fearful."

There are various possible combinations of forces in disaster management, with configurations that are either more or less reliant on military support (Wright 1997). The tendency over the last half-century has been to demilitarize civil emergency operations, particularly in European countries. Yet Hurricane Katrina was managed--at great expense and with monstrous inefficiency--by a combination of military and paramilitary forces.7 At the most superficial level this represented a triumph of authority over anarchy, albeit achieved slowly and laboriously. Delving somewhat deeper, it represented the triumph of authoritarianism over representative local democracy. "Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area" as Aaron Broussard, President of Jefferson Parish in the South New Orleans area, famously commented in a television interview during the early aftermath. Though not discussing his own agency's shortcomings, he produced some precise examples of Federal and state failure to provide support for local actions; indeed, their tendency to hinder them (cf. Somers 2005).

Mitchell et al. (1989) taught us to assess the significance of disaster in the light of what else is important at the time it occurs. In 2005, the seriousness with which the terrorism threat was treated led to a considerable momentum in favour of bringing back civil defence at the expense of civil protection. Whereas one might interpret the failure of city-, county- and state-level emergency preparedness as a good reason to strengthen democratic participation in restoring it to effectiveness, the federal response was clearly to supplant local initiatives with those generated far away in the main seats of power (Eisinger 2006). Moreover, a report on Katrina written for the White House and published in February 2006 advocated bringing homeland security directly under the command of the Pentagon (Townsend, 2006: 54, 71).8

Several authors have commented that problems of the kind exemplified by Hurricane Katrina will not go away in the future (Winterfeldt 2006: 37, Foster and Giegengack 2006). In the meantime the terrorism threat has, in effect, scared administrations into swinging the balance back from civil protection to civil defence (Alexander 2002), despite the evident fact that counter-terrorism preparations are quite unsuited to the task of managing a large natural disaster. Moreover, this has occurred despite the fact that between September 11, 2001, and September 11, 2005, there were only five deaths from terrorism in the USA. Nevertheless, vast sums have been spent on preparing for CBRN attacks. Granted that their consequences could be spectacular and that they are at least partly preventable if prior preparedness is sufficient, there have nevertheless been remarkably few CBRN incidents in modern history (and very many natural disasters).

Parker et al. (2006) noted that the US Federal Emergency Management Agency had strong prior awareness of the hurricane risk to New Orleans but saw Louisiana as "a terminally ill patient", incapable of preparing itself for the impending event. Perhaps deficiencies in the middle and upper ranks of emergency management are inevitable unless there is a solid base of preparedness at the grass-roots level. This suggests that the questions of welfare and relevance to people's lives need to be made much more central to preparations for catastrophe (Kirschenbaum 2004).

Welfare and resources for emergency preparedness

This section offers some select observations on the question of the extent to which poverty is diagnostic of lack of protection in the emergency phase. Economists have viewed the impact of disaster as a form of accelerated consumption of resources (Albala-Bertrand 1993, Jones 1987). Accordingly, disaster relief and recovery involve replacement of the assets that have been consumed. The balance between the profit function of market capitalism and the welfare function of social assistance is temporarily altered in favour of the latter. However, the relative scarcity of resources for relief, recovery and reconstruction means that these are subject to complex transactions. In general, local government negotiates support from regional and national, regional from national, and national from the international community, if appropriate. Faced with scarcity relative to demand, higher levels of government must ration resources and apportion them between the competing demands from lower levels (Figure 8). Local authorities must ensure that resources are fairly distributed among beneficiaries (Lee and Low 2006). The degree to which this happens may be a measure both of how effective government is and of how committed it is to the welfare of its citizens. Variations from case to case tend to reflect the following factors (cf. Hogg 1980):-

(a) degree of political connectedness, influence and patronage: communities that are well connected with the national political hierarchy fare best;

(b) effect on voting patterns: places containing significant proportions of the electorate are most easily listened to;

(c) geographical proximity to the centres of power: not merely actual geographical connectivity (the ease with which communities can be reached in times of crisis), but the perceived remoteness or centrality of places;

(d) national strategic significance;

(e) economic power;

(f) how vocal citizens' associations are (Superamanium and Dekker 2003).

The question of whether disasters accentuate the division between rich and poor or do something to bridge the gap has frequently been debated (Maxwell 2003, Varley 1994). The consensus is that temporary patterns of social welfare and solidarity under emergency conditions soon give way to a widening gap as the poor are left behind in the race to rebuild livelihoods and structures (Arnold 2006b). In the worst cases, the plight of the poor is such that the term 'disaster' becomes entirely relative: normal daily life can hardly be distinguished from emergency conditions (Bradbury 1998). Yet poverty and vulnerability are not exact synonyms however much they tend to go hand in hand. That being stated, disasters must not be used to consolidate power over the poor and disadvantaged (Tierney 2006).

Conclusion: a manifesto

The hypothesis that disasters tend to reinforce the power structures that create and maintain poverty, disadvantage and marginalization has been powerfully argued (Wisner 1993, 2003). One antidote may be a cogent agenda to empower the excluded groups. Emergency preparedness needs to be made more democratic, or at least that its democratic underpinnings need to be defended vigorously. I believe that disaster management services should respond to the following ten principles:-

1. Civil protection must be a service explicitly provided for the population, not merely for the state in any of its forms.

2. It must be responsive to the security needs manifested and expressed by ordinary people.

3. It must involve people, in a participatory manner, in the maintenance of their own security.

4. It must give priority to satisfying the needs of disadvantaged groups.

5. It must be organized primarily at the local level, while higher levels of government must provide coordination, harmonization and support but not supplant local crisis response capability.

6. The service must be fully demilitarized and must be as professional as possible.

7. It must involve scenario-based, generic emergency planning, which is designed to reduce the vulnerability and tackle the fundamental needs of the general population of the geographical area in which the plans apply.

8. It must define sustainable emergency management and risk reduction and work towards achieving them.

9. It must be compatible with ecological sustainability and urban and regional planning that pertain to the local area.

10. It must keep the public well informed of any risks and contingencies that may require people to take action.

As principles 4 and 7 indicate, the welfare function of emergency management should not be allowed to decline under the duress of neo-liberal ideology (Wisner 2003). I believe that making emergency preparedness more participatory and more democratic is the fundamental challenge of the 21st century (cf. Quarantelli 2004). This means that significant effort must be devoted to encouraging local preparation, especially among the most vulnerable groups and neighbourhoods in society.


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End notes

1. As the phases are not necessarily strictly sequential (Neal 1997), people may be disadvantaged simultaneously in a variety of ways, for example by lacking access to resources needed to face both the emergency and the long-term aftermath.

2. For the sake of consistency and clarity, I am using the European terms, which are widely accepted elsewhere in the world, particularly in Russia, Canada and Latin America (Horlick-Jones et al. 1995). Their relationship to emergency preparedness and homeland security, partial synonyms in the USA, will be discussed forthwith.

3. In the 1960s several western European states were close to coups d'├ętat, though in each case the news was suppressed for years or decades.

4. According to Beresford (2004), organized civil defense in the USA began as a local, civilian responsibility and became a national one as it was militarized during the Cold War.

5. Beresford (2004) noted that the term "homeland security" had been used by the Federal government since 1998. However, not until four years later did it become premium currency.

6. In the words of Bier (2006, p. 253): "many of the problems in the aftermath of Katrina were not due to any one person or organization, but rather were problems of coordination at the interfaces between multiple organizations and multiple levels of government."

7. Within a week of Hurricane Katrina 14,200 military personnel and 50,000 National Guard personnel were providing logistical support, search-and-rescue capability and security in the Hurricane Katrina disaster area. However, they suffered from fragmented command and incompatibility of equipment (Townsend, 2006).

8. There have, however, been some powerful dissenting voices (Mitchell 2003, Handmer 2006).

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Do You Want to be Commanded and Controlled? Reflections on Modern Emergency Management

It has long been clear that people react to circumstances on the basis of their perceptual models of reality, and that these may or may not reflect how things actually are (Burton and Kates 1964, Saarinen et al. 1984). Over the last half-century a considerable body of information has been accumulated on the ways in which people perceive and react to disaster (Drabek 1986). Emergency managers who know their field are well aware that public perceptions of hazard and risk present both opportunities to improve disaster management and constraints upon it (Scanlon 1991).

There are also wider questions of how events are perceived; indeed how the course of human history is envisioned. We tend to have a short-term view of things. For example, capitalism has become so powerful and pervasive around the world that it is often treated as if it were the result of some natural law of human organisation. Yet for much of human history it has not been the dominant force. The polarisation of society and competition between its members may to some extent be natural, but they are not the only alternatives for humanity. Relying as it does on competition, capitalistic organisation is something of an anathema to the welfare functions that go with managing emergency situations. This may explain why it is difficult and unwise to privatise disaster management (cf. Horwich 1993).

Secondly, there is nothing particularly immutable about the modern nation state. Sovereignty, fixed boundaries, territoriality, patriotism and national defence may have ancient antecedents, but their modern interpretations are not subject to any natural law about how societies should be organised. Many of the moral and legal principles on which they are based could be interpreted in radically different ways without loss of basic freedom or democracy. Terrorism has its origins and causes in questions of statehood and governance: on the other hand, natural catastrophes show no respect for political boundaries. Hence, both forms of disaster call into question the modern concept of statehood (Hewitt 1994).

In emergency management, the political problem boils down to a question of centrism versus devolution (Wolensky and Wolensky 1990). In principle, disaster management systems need to be organised on a local basis, with regional and national coordination of the many separate local systems (Sink 1985). In fact, despite decades of hard work by many different pan-national agencies, the world disaster management system remains in its infancy, poorly coordinated and unable to make the crucial effort to stop the relentless rise in impacts and losses.

Thirdly, there are broad questions about how knowledge is perceived and managed. The practise of dividing it up by department and degree is a remarkably modern one. It is also becoming increasingly counter-productive, especially in emergency management, a field which requires some level of synthesis of anything up to 35 academic disciplines. Moreover, in the present decade it is becoming increasingly clear that risks can only be reduced successfully by using holistic, integrative methods. This calls into question the basic framework of emergency planning and management (Alexander 2000).

Management and disaster management

In the modern world, the academic and practical discipline of management has its roots in capitalism (the organisation of production, distribution and consumption) and the nation state (through civil administration). However, disaster management has more diverse roots, and for this reason it may enter into conflict with its nominal parent discipline (Greening and Johnson 1996). Let us examine how.

To being with, in disasters, order does not spring from chaos by management alone. The essence of managing an emergency is to apply available resources to urgent problems in the most timely and efficient manner: in this respect ordinary management principles should be followed. However, there is also a vital need to understand and anticipate contingencies before they materialise--in other words, to reduce the level of improvisation in a disaster to a minimum. Thus emergency planning is at least as important as emergency management and should always precede it (Alexander 2002). The field is strongly allied to urban and regional planning, not least because both should tackle the question of the 'hazardousness of place'--i.e. reducing the risks of human settlements and activities (Britton and Lindsay 1995). Disaster management is thus much more than a technique to be learned in advance and applied ad hoc. It requires careful consideration of the scenarios for hazard, vulnerability, risk, impact and emergency action (Alexander 2000). It adds up to a need to develop techniques of "thinking the unthinkable" and "foreseeing the unforeseeable". This can, and should, be done.

The essence of disaster management is therefore not leadership in chaos--management as reaction--but rather the application of procedures that have been carefully worked out in advance. The degree of maturity of a country's emergency preparedness system can therefore be judged by the extent to which it is based on detailed (but flexible) planning and to which it is participatory. In my opinion, low levels of development are represented by the command and control approach (Waugh 1993).

Command and control has its origins in both warfare and colonialism. It divides participants into a disaster into commanders and commanded, and sets ground rules for how the former will control the movements and activities of the latter. Granted that some degree of control must be exercised over public safety and the efficiency of emergency operations, it is nevertheless easy to take this approach too far.

The challenge of the 21st century is to democratise emergency preparedness in such a way that ordinary people take more responsibility for their own safety. This will require them to know the risks, face up to them and make informed choices (Platt 1999). In extreme situations, it will also involve safeguarding their rights, not setting these aside.

Much progress has been made in designing and implementing civil systems for the management of civilian emergencies. The civil defence that grew up in response to 1940s air raid precautions and subsequent Cold War attack scenarios has mercifully ceded ground to civil protection against floods, storms, earthquakes, toxic spills and so on. But the cold warriors have not disappeared, they are in fact ready to stage a come-back. The terrorism threat is drastic enough to require more authoritarian methods of management than do most civil emergencies. It also involves different levels and criteria of predictability than most other non-military hazards. But need it require the suspension of participatory emergency management? Has anyone asked the general public whether it wishes to be commanded and controlled, and if so to what extent? Is authoritarianism really the way to manage great crises? These questions remain largely unanswered.

In addition, there are both small and large issues of democracy. With regard to the former, public support for emergency management must depend to some extent on sharing information and guaranteeing rights. The large issue is that command and control structures may in extremis be used either to safeguard the chosen few, rather than the public in general, or to safeguard the state against the demands of the public. At present there is a serious risk that civil protection services, which prize their own neutrality, could inadvertently be drawn into situations of extreme polarisation and forced to side with one party or the other. This is a risk that has loomed very large at recent anti-globalisation protests.

Command and colonise

A 1979 United Nations report on disaster management in developing countries observed that technologies and management techniques developed in Western countries are often inappropriate for managing emergencies in the world's poorer countries (U.S. National Academy of Sciences 1979). Knowledge and expertise are not necessarily directly transferable. Despite this, there has been a tendency to assume that such methods are etic--i.e. independent of specific cultural referents. In reality they are emic--dependent on assumptions about cultural acceptability and feasibility (Brislin 1980). Thus, in local indigenous circles, the foreign expert who arrives in an unfamiliar country and seeks to apply his or her knowledge to local problems has become something of a detested obstacle to good emergency preparedness (Allinson 1993).

The problem has its origins in the colonial epoch in such historical events and the British mismanagement of famines in the Indian subcontinent (Hall-Matthews 1996). It has persisted in the extraordinary poverty of solutions offered by countries that purport to manage disaster well and transfer their expertise to those that lack appropriate knowledge and structures. For whom are disasters being managed? By educating a professional class and diffusing a universal body of know-how are we pitting professionals against local people (Beatley 1988)?

At its worst, globalisation can be interpreted as an integrated system of commercial exploitation that has had the effect of increasing the world's income differentials, concentrating wealth in few hands, and spreading poverty, marginalisation and polarisation. If that is so, then it is a situation that facilitates the return of the colonial approach to emergency management, in which dissent, as much as disaster, has to be managed, order and stability have to be restored at any cost.


Is it inevitable in a divided world that we be separated into those who manage and those who are managed? In terms of preparedness for disasters the problems have steadily worsened, despite decades of hard work on devising new solutions. Besides the importance of well-known factors such as increased risk-taking, rising urbanisation and burgeoning populations in hazardous areas, the problem is also a result of the primacy of science, management and autarchic establishments (Wisner 2001). We may talk, not about policy, which ought to be sensitive to real, fundamental needs, but about "policy metaphors", which impose parameters where variables are warranted.

Civil protection against the peacetime emergencies that threaten populations need to be managed from a grass-roots perspective. The key words are 'participatory' and 'empowerment' (Wisner et al. 1977). Volunteer groups need to be trained and encouraged to improve their professionalism; ordinary people need to take more responsibility for their own safety (Wolensky 1979; Bowenkamp 2000). Modern information flows need to be the catalyst for sharing the burden of disaster. The technical component of disaster management is set to increase in both developed and developing societies. There will thus be a convergence of problems and solutions, but not one in which there will be any right or other justification for imposing solutions upon people.

In synthesis, the prospects for democratising civil protection worldwide need to be evaluated in the light of global trends in exploitation, diplomacy, hegemony and the uses to which new technologies are put. We must differentiate structure from mentality or mind-set. It is vital that the former not be conditioned by outdated forms of the latter. Neither at home nor abroad should risk and emergencies be managed by excessive use of command and control, or excessively technocratic management systems, or of excessive economic management by monetarism (Butler and Doessel 1981; May and Burby 1996). New paradigms of global security should not be used as an excuse for reintroducing forms of exploitation under the guise of preventing terrorism or forcing the pace of development.

In future years there will be an increasing convergence in emergency management systems between rich and poor countries, as both will have to cope with the growing complexity of modern disasters and the international dimensions of their impacts. It is essential that the convergence be based, not on rigid crisis management systems, but on a management process that emphasises planning to foster flexibility, co-operation and co-ordination.


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