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Ethical Public Administration in Emergency Management

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Adesanya Omoniyi Adekoya
February 16, 2016

Emergency management is an important aspect of public policy. Its objective is mainly to find an effective, efficient, appropriate and coordinated response to disasters. In the United States, there has been a drastic change in the political and legal environment of emergency management since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the Hurricane Katrina flooding of 2005. The perspective of public administration has been refocused toward the profession and practice of emergency management. More attention has been on the prevention and control of disasters across the country. The resources for training and developing emergency management officials have also been reviewed and upgraded.

However, there are salient ethical issues that are required for effective management of the disaster. Stakeholders, including public officials, crisis managers, safety personnel, security agents and others involved, are aware that they are confronted with compelling, crucial and forced ethical choices in the discharge of their duties. These issues should form the thrust of policies made for disaster management. However, the reverse seems to be the case. There has been a limited participation of moral and analytical philosophers in the process of making policies for effective management of emergencies. This is contrary to the active involvement of other professionals like engineers, economists, geologists, insurers, among others.

One reason for sidelining philosophers in official matters is that they do not often provide quantitative analysis in their presentations. While philosophers are concerned with values, conceptual clarity and logical validity, policymakers border themselves with the clarity of facts. Further, administrators seek practical solutions to issues while the inclination of the philosopher tends more toward raising questions than finding solutions to them.

However, the above are not sufficient grounds for excluding scholars from the process of policymaking. Not seeking their opinions amounts to a big mistake in disaster management because the philosopher is in a better position to formulate ethical standards for a results-oriented emergency management practice. Such standards (formulated by philosophers) are required in disaster management because public officials must be guided by moral principles in the discharge of their duties. They will work with a clear conscience and derive a sense of satisfaction in the discharge of such responsibilities.

Involving ethical principles in the public administration of disaster management will also ensure stakeholders operate within the confines of a results-driven and objective set of specified rules. These rules can be articulated in the form of a code of conduct, which will be the guideline that defines the terms, standards and procedures for the prevention, control and management of hazard in American society.

The code of conduct will also specify, in detail, the rights, duties, responsibilities and expectations. It will enhance personal, professional and public advantages because practitioners will be fully equipped with knowledge of the implications of their actions.

Besides, a code of conduct states explicitly claims against other professions, as well as conditions and contingencies for interagency and interprofessional interactions during emergency management.

The code of conduct can also serve social functions. It can act as a compact that define and regulate professional behaviors, and set standards both within and beyond the emergency management professions.

The importance of an effective and efficient policy for emergencies cannot be swept under the carpet. Policy should spell out the roles and functions of each government institution and agency, as well as individuals, in the management of disasters. Such policy should involve the contributions of all stakeholders in response to hazards before, during and after an emergency. Items such as victim rehabilitation, finances and reconstruction should form components of the policy. It must also involve a coordinated effort that defines the functions of each agency and harmonizes these functions into a central system. It should also be well-ordered, well-considered and well-articulated. The policy should also be enacted as an act of the U.S. Congress and must be domesticated in every state and county to strengthen its efficacy.

Support and cooperation of the mass media and schools, as agents of information dissemination, should be sought if ethical standards will be successfully incorporated into emergency management.


Author: Adesanya Omoniyi Adekoy, an administrator, economist, business advisor, politician, development activist and doctoral student of Public Policy Analysis at Walden University, can be contacted via [email protected].

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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