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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.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

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.