International emergency management

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Students of emergency management are exposed to a great deal of information on what is being done in the United States and, to a lesser degree, the English speaking world. However, they are often unaware of the different approaches to emergency management used in other regions. This chapter identifies some of the ways in which countries differ systematically in their hazard vulnerability, economic resources, government organization, quality of the built environment, civil society, role of the military, and role of international organizations. The chapter then turns to six case studies of emergency management capabilities in East Asia, South Asia, South America, Oceania, and Europe.


Research on emergency management suffers from the same problems as much social science research; most of it has been done in the English speaking countries and much of the remaining work has been done in former colonies of these nations (Heady, 1996). Students of emergency management are thus exposed to a great deal of information on what is being done in the English speaking world, yet are often unaware of the different approaches to emergency management used in other regions. A few scholars have examined the applicability of emergency management principles developed in rich countries to other areas. They have concluded that the principles of an all hazards, integrated, and comprehensive approach covering all phases of emergency management and integrating relevant agencies, together with a focus on building community resilience at the local level, are viable and useful in a wide variety of settings (Martin, et al., 2001). However, resources, both human and technical, are frequently lacking for the development of adequate programs (Vatsa & Joseph, 2003).

One reason to study policies and programs used in other countries is that, increasingly, countries are learning and borrowing policies from each other (Dolowitz & Marsh, 2000). Globalization has had two important effects. First, it has exposed all countries to an increasingly competitive economic system. Second, advances in the technology of communications have made it possible for policymakers to communicate quickly and easily. Because of these changes, policymakers increasingly look beyond their national borders for ideas on how to address problems at home.

Governments are not the only institutions looking for ideas abroad. NGOs of all sorts are also engaged in learning from a wide range of institutions outside of their host countries’ borders (Stone, 2000). Indeed, many NGOs such as Greenpeace are multinational organizations, that routinely engage in cross-national policy transfer. Corporations, independent policy institutes, and less well organized transnational social movements can also engage in cross-national policy transfer.

The transfer of policy across national borders is complicated by the presence of “national policy styles” (Howlett, 1991). These policy styles are based on the different characteristics of the governments involved, as well as the ways in which the governments relate to civil society. As a result, policy transfers are not always successful. Dolowitz and Marsh (2000) identified three ways in which policy transfers can fail.

  • Uninformed transfers fail because the borrowing country does not understand the policy it is adopting;

  • Incomplete transfers fail because the borrowing country does not transfer the necessary elements of the policy; and

  • Inappropriate transfers fail because there are too many differences between the social, political and economic contexts of the two countries.

Factors That Cause Variation in Policy Choices

Countries can be compared on the basis of many characteristics including regime type (roughly on a continuum from totalitarian to democratic), political culture (traditionalistic, moralistic, and individualistic), orientation toward modernity (Inglehart, 1997; Barber, 1997), and level of economic development (Gross Domestic Product per capita1, Human Development Index2, or Gini coefficient3) Yet, administrative structures are relatively similar across a broad range of countries because the function of an administrative structure has an effect on the shape it takes (Peters, 1995). In addition, organizational models are frequently shared among groups of countries. For example, former colonies frequently have administrative structures that closely resemble those of their former colonial masters. Countries that share membership in a multinational organization such as the European Union (EU) frequently come to share forms of administrative organization in order to simplify crossnational cooperation. In disaster management, the influence of the UN through programs such as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) and its successor program, the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) has contributed to the diffusion of common models, while encouraging countries to adapt these models to their own realities. Regional emergency management organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Centro de Coordenación para la Reducción de los Desastres Naturales en América Central (CEPREDENAC), and the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) have also influenced the evolution of emergency management across a wide variety of nation states.

When comparing emergency management policies, the most relevant dimensions of comparison must include the “propensity for disaster, local and regional economic resources, organization of government, and availability of technological, academic, and human resources, … level of local responder training, resilience of infrastructure, public opinion of the government’s ability to manage the crisis, and the availability of specialized assets” (Haddow & Bullock, 2003, pp. 165-166). In other words, the most relevant dimensions of comparison arise from what emergency managers know as hazard vulnerability (recall Chapter 6) and local capability (recall Chapter 3). The rest of this chapter will consider the dimensions listed above, but will also examine the role of the military in society, the development of civil society, and other factors affecting the various programs throughout this chapter. These factors are linked in complex ways to produce a unique profile of hazard vulnerability and emergency management in each country.

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