The Contributions of Management Theory and Practice to Emergency Management

The Overlap between Management Theory and Disasters

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The Overlap between Management Theory and Disasters

A major goal of emergency management is to minimize the adverse impact of a disaster on a business, community or large geographic area. The efforts of many organizations to build a more sustainable community, business or country are consistent with emergency management goals of hazard mitigation. Sustainability: In 1987 the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development coined the term “sustainable development”. It defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This means that while we are harvesting natural resources and developing our land we must do so in a manner that will allow other generations to have at least the same opportunities that we currently have.

Sustainable development is more of a compromise between the traditional standards of conservation and preservation. Conservation suggests that we should use the earth’s natural resources while at the same time replacing them for future use. It focuses more on the renewable resources while for the most part ignoring exhaustible resources such as oil and natural gas. At the other extreme is preservation, which suggests that we leave nature alone. These two viewpoints are at opposite ends of the spectrum, which lends itself to small numbers of supporters from the general public. Sustainable development is a kind of middle ground between these two ideologies that is more likely to be accepted by a larger group of people. It is based upon a logical viewpoint that people will not want to diminish their quality of life or standard of living to preserve the environment. It takes into account that the economy will continue to grow and develop but also encourages ways to do this that will have as little negative impact on the environment as possible.

For many years society, the economy, and the environment were all seen as separate entities. The key to understanding sustainability is understanding the way in which these three issues link together. Sustainability deals with quality of life issues as well as achieving balance between the three. In order to be sustainable we must learn to manage economy and society in a way that doesn’t harm the environment while at the same time learning to live within our limits and divide resources equitably.

Sustainability also is a fundamental theoretical contribution to our understanding hazards, disasters and their impacts (FEMA 2000, Livable 2000, and Burby 1998). Making rational choices concerning land use, development, and economic development has tremendous implications for dealing effectively with hazards and disasters.

Crisis Management:

Management theory has embraced as a part of the planning process the preparation of contingency plans and crisis management to address threats and hazards (Pearson 1998). The development of a crisis audit including “What if” questions and contingency plans when things go wrong are critical elements of business planning and analysis (Roberts 2001). The management literature reflects an appreciation for the need for business to grow more aware of the need to provide some level of protection against an unplanned disaster (Myers1999). Management needs to know how to structure strategic planning to include plans to minimize disruptions in operations in times of crisis and disasters. The Harvard Business Review published a crisis management series on the best articles relating to disasters and business interruption (2000). Laye’s assessment of how to keep business going when catastrophe strikes (2002) is a reflection of the attention that hazards and disasters have had on the literature since 2001.

Values Diversity and the Legal Environment: A critical element in the emergency management is the development of an understanding of potential impacts of a disaster. Vulnerability analysis focuses on physical, political, economic and social vulnerability (Cutter 2001). Mileti (1999) states that disasters can do more than impose deaths, injuries and economic losses, they can redirect the character of social institutions, alter ecosystems and impact the stability of political structures. Blaikie et al (1994) note that some groups in society are much more vulnerable to disaster losses and suffer differently; variations of impact from disasters evolve from class, caste, ethnicity, gender (Enarson 1997), religion (Bolin 1986), disability, or age (Bolin 1983). Vulnerability is the susceptibility to hazard, disasters, or risk. And, it can also be a measure of resilience.

In emergency management, there needs to be a balance in examining vulnerability and understand the social, economic and environmental impacts from disasters. Too often we see the damage to structures rather than the immediate and long term impacts of disaster to our environment or social systems. Our organizations must be inclusive and offer balanced perspectives rather than just a single perspective. It is not enough to just examine the economic impacts of flooding or earthquakes on local communities but examine other impacts such as social or environmental. We need to encourage faculty to seek out alternative views in the forms of books, journals, and research reports and expose students to these perspectives.

Management theory shares this view and encourages diversity and non-discrimination in employment and contracting. An appreciation of organizational values and potential conflicts in international operations must be acknowledged and addressed. In the traditional sense, equal opportunity in organizational performance can be applied both internally and externally in business affairs (Thomas 1990 and Hall 1993).

Many disciplines have stressed individual privacy in their programs and activities. State and federal privacy provisions are common in health care statues to protect the privacy of individuals. Emergency managers must understand and ensure that staff and volunteers know what personal identification information may be released to the public in disaster response and recovery. Public information cannot be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that provides any indication of the health and well-being of individuals in a community. Much of the data is only released in groups of 100,000 or greater. The aggregation of data is intended to protect the privacy of individuals.

A fundamental element of the practice of emergency management that is also present in the field of management is its evolution from many disciplines from engineering, business, sociology, psychology, political structures, and urban planning to name only a few. Management also grew from many disciplines, especially from engineering (scientific management), psychology, sociology, and quantitative methods. Emergency management draws from many disciplines and suggests that emergency management is an interdisciplinary process. An appreciation of organizational and group dynamics, individual motivation, leadership, program and organizational assessment, and planning are all elements of both the emergency management and the management process.

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