Storytelling is a common and pervasive practice across human history, which some have argued is a fundamental part of human understanding. Storytelling and narratives are a very human way of understanding the world, as well as events, and can serve as key tools for crisis and disaster studies and practice. They play a tremendously important role in planning, policy, education, the public sphere, advocacy, training, and community recovery. In the context of crises and disasters, stories are a means by which information is transmitted across generations, a key strategy for survival from non-routine and infrequent events. In fact, the field of disaster studies has long relied on narratives as primary source material, as a means of understanding individual experiences of phenomena as well as critiquing policies and understanding the role of history in 21st-century levels of vulnerability. Over the past several decades, practitioners and educators in the field have sought to use stories and narratives more purposefully to build resilience and pass on tacit knowledge.
Storytelling and Narrative Research in Crisis and Disaster Studies
Disaster Risk Reduction
Disaster risk reduction (DRR, or disaster reduction) is an umbrella term for processes of preparing for, responding to, recovering from, and managing the risk of disasters. It refers primarily to the acts of setting the policy and strategic agendas for these tasks. It reflects a long-standing need to reorientate priorities from merely responding to disasters once they have struck to reducing or avoiding their impacts. To be achieved, DRR requires a combination of physical and social measures, with full participation of affected populations and other stakeholders. Academically, disasters have been studied systematically for more than 100 years. During this period, the emphasis has changed from analyzing natural hazards as the primary drivers of disaster to a more pluralistic approach in which vulnerability and exposure to hazards and threats are viewed as playing vitally important roles. Disasters can have natural, technological, social, or intentional (i.e., terrorism-related) causes, but they are increasingly composite events that involve combinations of factors. Hence there is now much emphasis on “natech” events, in which natural hazards affect technological systems, and cascading disasters, in which escalation points caused by interacting sources of vulnerability may have the power to make the secondary effects more important than the primary trigger. Root causes and contexts have assumed a greater salience in the explanation of disaster, which tends to involve complex interactions among social, economic, political, and physical factors. Resilience has come to the fore as a positive concept for organizing processes of DRR. It is usually defined as a mixture of adaptation to hazards and threats and the ability to resist or overcome the negative effects of disaster. DRR concepts and strategies have been mainstreamed in modern society by international action under the auspices of the United Nations and the Sendai Framework for DRR, 2015–2030. The challenges of applying UN frameworks include uncertainty about whether the underlying concepts are durable, whether they can be applied rigorously, whether they have enough support among policy and decisionmakers, and whether they can acquire a sound practical basis. The future of DRR depends on humanity’s ability to implement solutions to conflict, migration, and environmental change, not merely the impact of disasters per se. In an era in which population is rising, wealth disparities and human mobility are increasing, and environmental change has begun to lead to major upheavals, DRR has gone from being a rather esoteric, specialized field to one that is central to the future of human existence.
Hurricane Sandy: A Crisis Analysis Case Study
Spontaneous, so-called emergent groups often arise in response to emergencies, disasters, and crises where citizens and relief workers find that pre-established norms of behavior, roles, and practices come into flux because of the severity and uncertainty of the situation. The scholarship on emergent groups dates to 1950s sociological theory on emergence and convergence, whereas contemporary research forms part of the wider disaster scholarship field. Emergent groups have been conceptualized and theorized from various angles, ranging from discussions around their effectiveness, to their possibilities as channels for the positive forces of citizen’s altruism, as well as to more skeptical accounts detailing the challenges emergent groups may pose for established emergency management organizations in relief situations. Scarce scholarly attention, however, is paid to the role of emergent groups when it comes to empowering marginalized and vulnerable communities. The few empirical studies that exist suggest linkages between active participation in emergent groups and empowerment of otherwise marginalized communities, as shown in an ethnographic study of the work of Occupy Sandy that emerged in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that struck New York City in 2012. Although more systematic research is warranted, such empirical examples show potential in terms of shifting emergency and disaster management toward more inclusionary, participatory, and empowering practices. As low-income communities, often of color, experience the increasingly harsh effects of climate change, important issues to ponder are inclusion, participation, and empowerment.
Social Media in Emergency Management
Social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter enable the rapid transmission of public warning messages in the event of a disaster. This augments traditional channels such as television and radio and may indeed save lives. The interactive nature of social media enables other types of information exchange beyond the one-way broadcast of warnings and guidance that has long characterized risk communication. Authorities monitor social media data for situational awareness, and they can solicit input from the public and engage in more deliberative conversations. In turn, the public initiates communication by asking questions, providing input, and requesting help. They expand the reach of official messages by sharing with friends and followers. Therefore, from an emergency management perspective, social media applications can disrupt the traditional one-way mode of communication and improve the efficacy of efforts to communicate risk. Research from across academic disciplines (e.g., computer science, communication, information systems, public administration, and sociology) illustrates: (a) the need for social media in emergency management; (b) the related benefits of use; and (c) the best practices used to attain those benefits. This offers a roadmap for authorities to effectively implement social media in their organizations while avoiding potential pitfalls.
Crisis Governance, Emergency Management, and the Digital Revolution
Patrick S. Roberts, Shalini Misra, and Joanne Tang
Digital technologies have fundamentally altered emergency and crisis management work through increased potential for role ambiguity, role conflict, distraction, and overload. Multilevel approaches to improve congruence between crisis managers and their environments have the potential to reduce cognitive and organizational barriers and improve decision making. The future of crisis management lies in reducing the misalignment between personal, proximal, and distal environmental conditions.
Whole-of-Government Crisis Management: From Research to Practice
Kathryn H. Floyd
When a crisis manifests, the problem or situation is often at a terrible point where sage and timely decisions are of critical importance. Ideally, the particular emergency has been known previously and various challenges, roadblocks, and solutions workshopped in a tabletop or other exercise. Whether in advance or at a sudden precipice, a whole-of-government approach can navigate, mitigate, and alleviate the disaster in a holistic and comprehensive manner that is tailored to the task at hand. Whole-of-government crisis management—at the local, state, national, or international level—involves several elements. First, those in command need to know the myriad of players who may have roles and responsibilities to play at pivotal moments. Every organization will not be required in every crisis, and a strategic mix and match is often valuable. Second, each agency needs to understand how it fits into the larger puzzle and adjust their internal culture accordingly to support interagency operations, regardless of who is providing a lead function and who is supporting. Then, the agencies must have the staff available to fulfill their tasks and surge capacity, making provisions for alternative personnel or a “backbench” to execute everyday operations while the frontlines are busy. Elements of whole-of-government approaches appear throughout all aspects of crisis management. A relatively recent term, whole of government is an expansive framework for coordinating interagency responses that is often invoked in policy documents, as well as examined in academic studies. As it is adopted by various administrations and organizations during times of calm and emergency, the whole-of-government approach has aspects that are enduring, countervailing, and aspirational. The instruments of national power—diplomatic, information, military, and economic (DIME)—provide one lens through which to examine whole-of-government crisis management. Past interagency responses demonstrate best practices and difficult lessons learned for future whole-of-government operations. A broad analysis of whole-of-government crisis management enables government leaders, practitioners, scholars, researchers, and others to create comprehensive and flexible strategies with delineated roles for dedicated interagency partners in advance of the next hurricane or terrorist attack.