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John Minnery and Iraphne Childs

Natural hazards governance varies across Australia for two critical reasons: first, the country’s large size and latitudinal range; and second, its divided federal government structure. The first feature—the magnitude and latitudinal spread—results in a number of climatic zones, from the tropical north, through the sub-tropics, to temperate southern zones and the arid central deserts. Consequently, state and local government jurisdictions must respond to different natural hazard types and variable seasonality. In addition, the El Niño-La Niña southern oscillation cycle has a strong impact. Flooding can occur throughout the continent and is the most frequent natural hazard and most extensive in scope, although extreme heat events cause the greatest number of fatalities. In summer, cyclones frequently occur in northern Australia and severe bushfires in the southeast and southwest. Hence, governance structures and disaster response mechanisms across Australia, while sharing many similarities, of necessity vary according to hazard type in different geographical locations. Climatological hazards dominate the range and occurrence of hazard events in Australia: floods, cyclones, storms, storm surge, drought, extreme heat events, and bushfire (but local landslips and earthquakes also occur). The second major reason for variation is that Australia has three formal levels of government (national, State, and local) with each having their own responsibilities and resources. The national government has constitutional powers only over matters of national importance or those which cross State boundaries. In terms of hazards governance, it can advise and support the states but is intimately involved only with major hazards. The six States have the principal constitutional responsibility for hazards planning, usually with a responsible State minister, and each can have a different approach. The strong vertical fiscal imbalance among the levels of government does give the national government powerful financial leverage. Local governments are the front-line hazards planning and management authorities, but because they represent local communities their approaches and capacities vary enormously. There are a number of ways in which the resultant potential for fragmentation is addressed. Regional groupings of local governments (usually assisted by the relevant state government) can work together. State governments collaborate through joint Ministerial meetings and policies. The intergovernmental Council of Australian Governments has produced a National Strategy for Disaster Resilience, which guides each state’s approach. Under these circumstances a clear national hierarchical chain of command is not possible, but serious efforts have been made to work collaboratively.


In the Federal Republic of Germany, with its parliamentary system of democratic governance, threats posed by natural hazards are of key national relevance. Storms cause the majority of damage and are the most frequent natural hazard, the greatest economic losses are related to floods, and extreme temperatures such as heatwaves cause the greatest number of fatalities. In 2002 a New Strategy for Protecting the Population in Germany was formulated. In this context, natural hazard governance structures and configurations comprise the entirety of actors, rules and regulations, agreements, processes, and mechanisms that deal with collecting, analyzing, communicating, and managing information related to natural hazards. The federal structure of crisis and disaster management shapes how responsible authorities coordinate and cooperate in the case of a disaster due to natural hazards. It features a vertical structure based on subsidiarity and relies heavily on volunteer work. As a state responsibility, the aversion of threats due to natural hazards encompasses planning and preparedness and the response to disaster. The states have legislative power to create related civil protection policies. The institutional and organizational frameworks and measures for disaster response can, therefore, differ between states. The coordination of state ministries takes place by activating an inter-ministerial crisis task force. District administrators or mayors bear the political responsibility for disaster management and lead local efforts that can include recovery and reconstruction measures. The operationalization of disaster management efforts on local levels follows the principle of subsidiarity, and state laws are implemented by local authorities. Based on this structure and the related institutions and responsibilities, actors from different tiers of government interact in the case of a natural hazard incident, in particular if state or local levels of government are overwhelmed: • states can request assistance from the federal government and its institutions; • states can request assistance from the police forces and authorities of other states; and • if the impact of a disaster exceeds local capacities, the next higher administrative level takes on the coordinating role. Due to the complexity of this federated governance system, the vertical integration of governance structures is important to ensure the effective response to and management of a natural hazard incident. Crisis and disaster management across state borders merges the coordination and communication structures on the federal and state levels into an inter-state crisis management structure. Within this governance structure, private market and civil society actors play important roles within the disaster cycle and its phases of planning and preparedness, response, and recovery/reconstruction, such as flood insurance providers, owners of critical infrastructure, volunteer organizations, and research institutions. • critical infrastructure is a strategic federal policy area in the field of crisis management and is considered a specific protection subject, resulting in particular planning requirements and regulations; • volunteer organizations cooperate within the vertical structure of disaster management; • flood insurance is currently available in Germany to private customers, while coverage is considered low; and • research on natural hazards is undertaken by public and private higher education and research institutions that can form partnerships with governmental institutions.