Trends in conceptualising and dealing with emergencies and disasters
The fundamental issue of responsibilityIt may be considered that, over time, society has moved from a traditional position, in which emergencies and disasters are considered to impact society, from a position that is essentially separate from society. For example, as acts of God, or the belief that events are driven by ‘forces of nature’.Instead, practice is moving to a position in which, increasingly, it is considered that the effect of disasters on society are generated by humans, including slowly developing disasters such as environmental pollution with consequences for human health.
Policy contextIt could be said that, as visibility, coverage and public knowledge of emergencies and disasters increases, so do public expectations of both public and private organisations.There is increased scrutiny from the media and by the public of government policy and implementation failures and, particularly since 2001, concern has grown around the consequences of terrorism and with security and counterterrorism activities. Because of this emergency and disaster intervention activity is now increasingly located within the mainstream of governmental policy concerns.
Problem ownership and framing
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Emergencies and Disasters: Trends and Issues
Policy styleThere is also the aspect of what could be termed ‘policy style’. Although, in this case, the overall trend is arguably much less clear than for the other aspects. It may, somewhat controversially, be argued that society is moving away from emergency and disaster management being dominated by uniformed services towards an increased role being played by civilian organisations. This then leads to an increased emphasis on transparent, consensual, and routinely publicly-accountable decision-making.However, in authoritarian states and in respect of matters of national security, the military arguably continues to have a predominant role.
Policy emphasisFinally, there is policy emphasis. It may be considered that society is gradually moving from the sole use of hazard-focused managerial and technical policies for loss reduction and prevention, to endeavouring to deal with the underlying causes of emergencies and disasters and people’s vulnerability to them. This includes placing more emphasis on increasing resilience and on community safety.The new emphasis reflects an understanding that solutions to emergency and disaster problems lie in the organisation of society and that, at a local level, they may require community development processes.
What are the implications of these important trends?One implication is that many of the traditional assumptions that have guided emergency and disaster intervention in the past need not only to be made explicit but be challengedAnother implication is that we need to ask ourselves, afresh: what is the nature of the emergency or disaster problem? We shouldn’t assume that either our past answers to this question, or our current intervention practices, based on those previous answers, are still appropriate.We can then ask, what we are trying to achieve in terms of dealing with a potential emergency or disaster’? and we should focus our thoughts and consider what objectives we want to set to guide society’s activities, so that we may appropriately address our newly-defined emergency and disaster problems.
Your taskWatch the video titled Environment Agency’s Lord Smith ‘will not resign’ over floods response from the Guardian Newspaper in which Lord Smith, Chairman of the Environment Agency defends the actions of his agency during a press conference, following the floods that occurred in Somerset, UK, in 2014.In the video you can see the minister facing angry questions about what was considered to be a poor response to the flooding as result of bad planning and preparation. This highlights inadequacies in understanding and acting on the basis of the trends noted above.Can you think of a specific emergency or disaster for which the intervention proved to be inadequate or inappropriate because the understanding of what was required for successful intervention did not take into account the changing trends highlighted?
Emergencies and Disasters: Trends and Issues
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