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Hurricane Sandy: A Crisis Analysis Case Study  

Sara Bondesson

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.


Disaster and Crisis Preparedness  

David Alexander

Preparedness involves initiatives designed to mitigate or reduce the impact of major risks and disasters and thus create resilience. It requires foresight and planning. One can distinguish between long-term and short-term preparedness activities. The former can be divided into structural, semi-structural, nonstructural, and environmental categories. Structural preparedness involves building defenses and strengthening buildings and infrastructure against the physical impact of disasters. Although widely used, it is expensive and usually does not provide complete protection against the effects of disaster. Semi-structural measures include flood barriers that can be dismantled and the designation of areas for the storage of floodwater. Nonstructural measures comprise land-use planning (including interdiction on settlement and other uses in areas of high hazard), insurance, and emergency planning. The last of these is designed to ensure that resource usage in crisis situations is optimized in favor of responding effectively to the impact. Nature-based or ecological measures involve enhancing the power of natural systems to amortize the impact of disaster. Emergency preparedness configures the “architecture” of response, including command centers, control systems, hazard monitoring networks, systems designed to warn the public, and plans to evacuate people. In parallel to emergency planning, business continuity management is a form of preparedness that is designed to ensure the continued functionality of organizations. It may include measures to protect their reputation among clients, customers, and suppliers, and their market position or stock market quotation. Preparedness for pandemics can be considered as a special case, in which medical and epidemiological preparations are accompanied by preparedness measures to deal with the profound socioeconomic changes that a pandemic brings to society. Preparedness is also important during the phase of recovery from disaster. This period involves a “window of opportunity” in which official and public sensitivity to the problem can be used to improve safety by reconstructing to higher standards than existed before the disaster and incorporating new safety measures. In terms of resilience, this is a “bounce-forward” strategy, sometimes known as “build back better,” rather than a “bounce-back” one that would risk restoring preexisting vulnerabilities. Disaster risk is particularly dynamic in the modern world, thanks to major changes in the magnitude and frequency of environmental hazards, large increases in the vulnerability of people and assets, and anthropogenic degradation of natural environments. Preparedness is thus a major imperative that is greatly needed if very large losses are to be avoided.


The Myth of Disaster Myths  

Benigno E. Aguirre

The term “disaster myth” was initially used as a rhetorical device to help establish the study and management of disasters on firmer ground in the often unwelcoming political context of the Cold War. In the aftermath of World War II, social science research and theorizing eventually supplanted a civil defense perspective of disaster management. Some of the “myths” (or inaccuracies) social scientists refuted centered on assumptions that disasters brought about an increase in crime, panic, psychological dependence and shock, looting, and price gouging. This new perspective adopted a pro-social view to explain the perceived lessening of crime in the immediate post-impact periods of disasters, for credible scholarship indicated that most persons who experienced disaster firsthand as victims became involved in helpful, accommodating behavior. As time went on, ever more topics were dismissed as “myths,” and the word became a term of opprobrium. The present-day use of myth to mean untruth occurs in many of the fields that are interested in the study of disasters, such as public policy, meteorology, economics, sociology, and public health. Nevertheless, this use reveals a profound lack of appreciation of the classical view of myths as the foundational basis of societies, where they provide justifications for rites and customs. The cumulative consequence of the term’s rise may be the narrowing of substantive matters that researchers consider worth pursuing, for one hitherto unforeseen effect of this rise is that the ever increasing number of disaster myths is very likely to discourage the research needed to establish the generalizability and validity of many of these and other knowledge claims. The popularity of the term myth influences research in disaster science even as it facilitates the lack of robust, reproducible empirical knowledge from studies in different developing societies and cultures. The result is that there are not enough cross-cultural tests of the empirical propositions in disaster studies, tests which could show that some of the myth claims lack validity. Moreover, in the absence of any cross-cultural empirical basis to sustain them, the unsubstantiated myth claims fall into stereotyping and perpetuate a self-serving ideology of professional expertise that interprets the viewpoints of others as misunderstandings, or “myths.” The widespread use of the word myth in disaster research shows dubious epistemological reasoning, for it ignores the technical aspects of myths as hypotheses, and the effects of time, counterfactuals, lack of content validity, and insularity, as well as the unmet need for replication. Myths and disasters point to liminal states, to the experience of going through change and passing thresholds, in which both structure and identity are re-imagined. Admitting insufficiently examined myths into this research area is of great consequence because it could assist in the development of an interdisciplinary dialogue and more theoretically discerning approaches. Myths, a central topic for studies in anthropology, are valuable on their own terms, for their research—not as untruths but as essential parts of the world of symbols, beliefs, and ideologies—can guide theorizing and help in obtaining more incisive research findings in disaster studies.


Networks and Crisis Management  

Ryan Scott and Branda Nowell

Managing complexity requires appropriate governance structures and effective coordination, communication, and action within the incident response network. Governance structures serve as a framework to understand the interrelated relationships that exist during a crisis. Governance structures can be classified as either hierarchical and managed, autonomous and networked, or a hybrid of hierarchies and networks, and represent a continuum of crisis response systems. As such, effective crisis management is first a function of a leader’s ability to leverage hierarchical, hybrid, and network forms of crisis management governance to manage complex disasters. Second, it hinges on the proficiency of the disaster response network in managing distributed information, coordinating operations, and collaborating among jurisdictions. Combining these two points results in high-performing disaster response networks that operate fluidly between governing structures and across jurisdictions, thus increasing our national capacity to manage complex disasters.


Disaster Risk Reduction  

David Alexander

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.


Policy Success and Failure  

Allan McConnell

How can we know if policies succeed or fail, and what are the causes of such outcomes? Understanding the nature of these phenomena is riddled with complex methodological challenges, including differing political perspectives, persistent mixed results, ambiguous outcomes, and the issue of success/failure “for whom”? Ironically, the key to understanding policy success and failure lies not in downplaying or ignoring such challenges, but in accepting politicization and complexity as reflective of the messy world of public policy. Gaining insight from such messiness allows a better understanding of phenomena like “good politics but bad policy,” the persistence of some failures over time, and widely differing perspectives on who or what should claim credit for policy success and who or what should be blamed for policy failure.


A Disproportionate Policy Perspective on the Politics of Crisis Management  

Moshe Maor

Disproportionate policy response—which is composed of two core concepts, namely policy overreaction and under-reaction—is typically understood to be a lack of “fit” or balance between the costs of a public policy and the benefits deriving from this policy and/or between a policy’s ends and means. The disproportionate policy perspective introduces an intentional component into disproportionate response. It represents a conceptual turn whereby the concepts of policy overreaction and under-reaction are reentering the policy lexicon as types of intentional policy responses that are largely undertaken when political executives are vulnerable to voters. In times of crisis, disproportionate policy responses may be intentionally designed, implemented as planned, and sometimes successful in achieving policy goals and in delivering the political benefits sought by the political executives who design them. The premise underlying this argument is that crises vary in many respects, some of which may incentivize a deliberate crisis response by political executives that is either excessive, or lacking. For example, when crises occur at times of electoral vulnerability, the relevancy of policy instruments’ visibility, theatricality, spectacularity, and popularity may dominate the calculus of crisis management decisions. The same applies in cases where strong negative emotions emerge, and subsequently, political executives may opt to overwhelm hysterical populations cognitively and emotionally, trying to convince them that the policy system is viable.


Public Opinion and Public Support in Crisis Management  

Zoe Ang, Benjamin S. Noble, and Andrew Reeves

In times of crisis, citizens look to their leaders for aid and assistance. In the democratic context, the focal figure is likely the chief executive accountable to the whole of the nation. With a specific focus on the American president and the incidences of natural hazards, public opinion and governmental response to these crises are analyzed. While one may expect such a universal actor to aid each according to their need, new scholarship finds that voter behavior and electoral institutions incentivize the president to support only a small slice of the electorate. Empowered by federal disaster relief legislation in the 1950s, the president targets electorally valuable voters when disbursing aid or allocating resources in response to disaster damage. Voters in those areas respond myopically and tend to vote for the incumbent for reasons ranging from economic to emotional. Thus, elites anticipate voter reactions and strategically respond to disasters to mitigate blame or punishment for the event and capitalize on an opportunity for electoral gains.


Social Media in Emergency Management  

Clayton Wukich

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.


Hurricane Katrina: Analyzing a Mega-Disaster  

Arjen Boin, Christer Brown, and James A. Richardson

The response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has been widely described as a disaster in itself. Politicians, media, academics, survivors, and the public at large have slammed the federal, state, and local response to this mega disaster. According to the critics, the response was late, ineffective, politically charged, and even influenced by racist motives. But is this criticism true? Was the response really that poor? This article offers a framework for the analysis and assessment of a large-scale response to a mega disaster, which is then applied to the Katrina response (with an emphasis on New Orleans). The article identifies some failings (where the response could and should have been better) but also points to successes that somehow got lost in the politicized aftermath of this disaster. The article demonstrates the importance of a proper framework based on insights from crisis management studies.


Hurricane Maria: Disaster Response in Puerto Rico  

Havidán Rodriguez and Marie T. Mora

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck the island of Puerto Rico with great ferocity. The impact and outcomes of this event were devastating for the population of over three million American citizens. The electrical grid was decimated, the transportation infrastructure was significantly impacted, and an already deteriorating healthcare system was further eroded. Furthermore, the local, islandwide, and especially the federal response to Hurricane Maria failed to meet the emerging and critical needs of those impacted by the catastrophic event and left island residents and isolated communities on their own. Official estimates placed the death toll close to 3,000. Hurricane Maria also accelerated the largest migratory movement in Puerto Rico’s history from the island to the continental United States and decimated an already weak and deteriorating economy after more than a decade of a severe economic crisis. Recovery efforts remained slow in many parts of the island, and the social, economic, and healthcare impacts of the hurricane will be felt for decades to come. The disaster research literature shows the disasters are not “natural,” but socially constructed or produced events. Indeed, a number of preexisting factors contributed to the disaster situation in Puerto Rico, including the severe economic crisis, which was also reflected in high levels of unemployment and poverty; the island’s complicated relationship with the U.S. mainland; massive net outmigration; and a frail and deteriorating healthcare system. Furthermore, the political relationship between Puerto Rico and the mainland affected federal-level disaster response and recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria.


Agenda Setting and the Policy Process: Focusing Events  

Thomas A. Birkland and Kathryn L. Schwaeble

Agenda setting is a crucial aspect of the public policy process. Sudden, rare, and harmful events, known as focusing events, can be important influences on the policy process. Such events can reveal current and potential future harms, mobilize people and groups to address the policy failures that may be revealed by such events, and open the “window of opportunity” for intensive policy discussion and potential policy change. But focusing events operate differently at different times and in different policy domains. Although the idea of focusing events is firmly rooted in Kingdon’s “streams approach” to the policy process, focusing events are an important element of most contemporary theories of the policy process. But not every event works as a focusing event. The process by which a focusing event can yield policy change is complex and involves attention to the problems revealed by the event as well as evidence of learning from the event on the part of policymakers. Although focusing events are important, in many ways the concept remains underdeveloped, with few researchers seeking to understand the dynamics of these important events.


Recovery From Disasters  

Jane Kushma

Recovery from disasters is a complex and multidimensional phenomenon. The impacts of disasters are felt by individuals, families, business and industry, communities, regions, and countries. Many factors influence the quality and pace of recovery, and recovery processes will vary widely. Scholars from many academic disciplines (e.g., anthropology, economics, political science, public administration, geography, planning, psychology, sociology, social work) study various aspects of recovery, which makes the discovery, integration, synthesis, and application of findings more challenging. While research about recovery has been limited as compared to other phases of the disaster cycle, research has progressed to make analytic distinctions for various disaster impacts, recovery activities, and recovery outcomes (National Research Council, p. 147). This conceptual clarification has expanded the knowledge base for recovery in a number of important areas. As recovery scholarship has evolved, research has examined such areas as synthesis research and emphasized the connection between recovery policy and practice, but critical needs remain on the horizon.


Storytelling and Narrative Research in Crisis and Disaster Studies  

Alessandra Jerolleman

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.


Multilateral Crisis Responders: United Nations and Its Partners in Humanitarian Crisis Management  

Bok Gyo Jeong and Jungwon Yeo

A humanitarian crisis is the main focus of the United Nations’ (the UN’s) primary organizations and its special agencies since its foundation in 1945. The UN refers to a humanitarian crisis as an event or series of events that represents a critical threat to the health, safety, security, or well-being of a community or other large group of people. The nature of a humanitarian crisis is complex, signifying the importance of the collaboration and coordination among the UN and its multilateral partner agencies in the crisis management process. The UN takes the approach of “disaster risk management” that aims to enhance (a) resilience, the ability of people, societies, and countries to recover from negative shocks; and (b) prosperity, derived from successfully managing positive shocks that create opportunities for development. The UN’s emergency measures aim to ensure a transition from relief to rehabilitation and development. The UN suggests a humanitarian coordination model. In particular, the UN established guiding principles for the international community’s response to humanitarian crises that were built based on the General Assembly resolution 46/182. The resolution provides the foundation for the establishment of the Office of the Emergency Relief Coordinator and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, which facilitates interagency analysis and makes major decisions in humanitarian emergency responses. The resolution also identifies a range of other organizations and entities that could contribute to an international humanitarian crisis management system. The UN’s multilateral partners in humanitarian crisis response include (a) the UN’s special agencies including the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Program (WFP), World Health Organization (WHO), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA); (b) civil society and government of affected countries; (c) both national and international Red Cross and Red Crescent societies; (d) domestic and international nongovernmental organizations; and (e) international governmental organizations.


Flood Damage Assessments: Theory and Evidence From the United States  

Laura Bakkensen and Logan Blair

Flooding remains one of the globe’s most devastating natural hazards and a leading driver of natural disaster losses across many countries, including the United States. As such, a rich and growing literature aims to better understand, model, and assess flood losses. Several major theoretical and empirical themes emerge from the literature. Fundamental to the flood damage assessment literature are definitions of flood damage, including a typology of flood damage, such as direct and indirect losses. In addition, the literature theoretically and empirically assesses major determinants of flood damage including hydrological factors, measurement of the physical features in harm’s way, as well as understanding and modeling protective activities, such as flood risk mitigation and adaptation, that all co-determine the overall flood losses. From there, common methods to quantify flood damage take these factors as inputs, modeling hydrological risk, exposure, and vulnerability into quantifiable flood loss estimates through a flood damage function, and include both ex ante expected loss assessments and ex post event-specific analyses. To do so, high-quality data are key across all model steps and can be found across a variety of sources. Early 21st-century advancements in spatial data and remote sensing push the literature forward. While topics and themes apply more generally to flood damage across the globe, examples from the United States illustrate key topics. Understanding main themes and insights in this important research area is critical for researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners to better understand, utilize, and extend existing flood damage assessment literatures in order to lessen or even prevent future tragedy.


Disasters and the Theory of Emergency Management  

David A. McEntire

Disasters and the theory of emergency management are vibrant subjects for scholars. Researchers have focused on a variety of topics, including the definition of disasters, human behavior in extreme events, the nature of emergency management, ways to make the profession more effective, the pros and cons of various paradigms, and new areas of research. In studying these subjects, scholars have employed a variety of methods, including observation, field research, and comparison, among others. Findings from research reveals that humans are responsible for disasters and that vulnerability must be reduced. Studies reveal that antisocial behavior is less likely to occur than more common activities to support victims of disasters. The principles of emergency management have been elaborated, and scholars have argued that the phases of disasters are more complex that initially meets they eye. Research also reveals that bureaucratic approaches to emergency management are based on false assumptions and are too rigid. Scholarship also explores how to make emergency management functions more effective, and a number of articles have been written to explore paradigms to guide research and practice. Theoretical work on disasters and emergency management has examined planning, improvisation, and spontaneous planning. Research has also explored humanitarian logistics, the use of social media, the scholarship of teaching and learning, cultural competency and the culture of preparedness. Going forward, more research is needed on the complexity of disasters and the use or impact of technology in emergency management. A greater understanding of public health emergencies is warranted due to the challenges of Covid-19.


The Poliheuristic Theory of Crisis Decision Making and Applied Decision Analysis  

Inbal Hakman, Alex Mintz, and Steven B. Redd

Poliheuristic theory addresses the “why” and “how” of decision making. It focuses on how decision makers use heuristics en route to choice by addressing both the process and the choice related to the decision task. More specifically, decision makers use a two-stage process wherein a more complicated choice set is reduced to one that is more manageable through the use of these heuristics, or cognitive shortcuts. In the second stage, decision makers are more likely to employ maximizing and analytical strategies in making a choice. Poliheuristic theory also focuses on the political consequences of decision making, arguing that decision makers will refrain from making politically costly decisions. While poliheuristic theory helps us better understand how decision makers process information and make choices, it does not specifically address how choice sets and decision matrices were created in the first place. Applied decision analysis (ADA) rectifies this shortcoming by focusing on how leaders create particular choice sets and matrices and then how they arrive at a choice. It does so by first identifying the decision maker’s choice set or decision matrix; that is, the alternatives or options available to choose from as well as the criteria or dimensions upon which the options will be evaluated. ADA then focuses on uncovering the decision maker’s decision code through the use of multiple decision models. Combining poliheuristic theory with ADA allows researchers to more fully explain decision making in general and crisis decision making in particular. An application of poliheuristic theory and ADA to decision making pertaining to the Fukushima nuclear disaster reveals that even in this high-stress crisis environment decision makers followed the two-stage process as predicted by poliheuristic theory. More specifically, in the first stage, decision makers simplified the decision task by resorting to cognitive heuristics (i.e., decision making shortcuts) to eliminate politically damaging alternatives such as voluntary evacuation. In the second stage, decision makers conducted a more analytical evaluation of the compulsory evacuation options.


The Politics of Crisis Terminology  

Allan McConnell

The politics of crisis terminology is rarely examined directly. Crisis is an “umbrella,” under which resides a multitude of terms such as accidents, emergencies, fiascos, disasters, and catastrophes, as well as variations such as natural disasters, transboundary crises, and mega-crises. Yet the sheer diversity and frequent ambiguity among terms reflects the “politics” of how societies and political actors seek to cope with and address extreme events, which often pose a mixture of threat and opportunity. Central to an understanding is how (a) different terms are means of framing issues such as the scale and causes of the crisis, (b) crisis terms are part of governing strategies, and (c) nongovernmental actors (opposition parties, media, lobby groups, social movements, and citizens) can seek to influence government. A pivotal point in developing an understanding of crisis terminology is that rather bemoaning the lack of singular meanings for crisis and associated terms, or criticizing actors for “abuse” of the terms, one should recognize and accept that complex and contested crisis language and definitions are in themselves manifestations of politics in political societies.