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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By James E. Wright, II
March 18, 2016
If you examine the scene surrounding the presidential race in the United States, there is a growing narrative around the role of government. Many times, you hear such phrases as “make government more efficient,” “make government accountable to the people,” or the recent phenomenon, “get government out of activities it can’t do well.” While this burgeoning sense of lack of efficiency is not new, (circle back to the New Public Management movement in the early 1990s) many candidates are hedging their bets on creating a faster, more efficient and effective government, all while cutting state and federal funds. What many fail to realize is this “new” government creates many unintended consequences in the 21st century.
While the discourse around effective and limited government has continued to grow, public administrators are tasked with wearing many more hats. One of the most arduous tasks for 21st century management is emergency management. While many local, city and state governments have seen budget cuts in an effort to make government more responsive to people, these same administrators have taken on more responsibility. The dichotomy of limited and resource deficient budgets combined with increased responsibilities and roles has left administrators at a tough impasse to navigate. The great caveat is that public administrators have responded the best way they can: through collaboration and innovation.
Emergency management in the present age requires more work than ever before. Since the turn of the century, with the attacks on the World Trade Center and twin towers, there has been an increased focus on emergency preparedness. While many residents see this task as falling on trained and specialized individuals, cities and states rely upon public administrators as the “emergency preparedness specialist.” As public administrators take on this role, they are burdened with creating plans in the event of a disaster. There is no algorithm to predict when disaster will happen. Nevertheless, public administrators must be ready. For administrators to be ready, many have to learn on the job through trial and error. More importantly, many have created collaborations and partnerships with outside agencies to be responsive to their new job function.
As the field of public administration has transitioned, public administrators have adapted. Many cities and localities have collaborated with local police and fire departments and private companies to help create contingency plans in the event of an emergency. Public administrators understand the need to be prepared in the case of an emergency. They also realize their resource capacity lacks the flexibility for them to do most preparation in-house. This has resulted in increased collaborations. Many of these collaborations are through similar public organizations but many have found outside organizations willing to donate their time and services to help better prepare in the case of an emergency.
While many cities have engaged in these collaborations, it is important to highlight best practices to create a base of knowledge for other public administrators to use in their own cities. Through research and practice there are several important factors that go into emergency preparedness that have proven to be successful so far. One of the foundational factors for any public administrator is to create an environment where there is an open line of communication between all key stakeholders. This is important because increased communication amounts to increased participation, improved response times and increased transparency between all parties. Secondly, their needs to be proper pilot training were all individuals know what to do in case an emergency was to happen. Routine training that involves all individuals can help improve preparedness and give instantaneous feedback loops to improve services.
While the list is not exhaustive, one of the final components of effective emergency preparedness is to have community input and increased citizen participation. This is essential in two ways. First, it creates a more inclusive environment where the community feels its input is valued, which leads to higher morale. Second, the more able-bodied individuals that are willing to volunteer, the better a city will be in dealing with any ramifications from a disaster.
It is important to understand the role of a public administrator has shifted in recent times. Many of these shifts are the result of increased roles, limited budgets and changing responsibilities. One growing area of concern is emergency preparedness. Public administrators have the opportunity to rise to the challenge and ensure the public they are the most qualified individuals to do the job.
Author: James E. Wright, II, is a doctoral student at American University. Email: [email protected]