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A Practical Review of Disaster Mitigation Strategies

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

By Shardai Collins
May 31, 2016

There are agencies within the federal government that exist to assist American citizens. For example, the Social Security Administration was created so Americans would have a safety net for retirement. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was created as the nation’s criminal investigation agency, tasked with keeping Americans safe from domestic terrorism.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was created to provide relief to disaster victims and has helped Americans recover from natural disasters such as Hurricanes Sandy and Joaquin. While it might take a smaller agency a few weeks to clear away debris, FEMA has the resources to do it much more efficiently. FEMA operates within the complex world of emergency management to diminish, plan for, respond to and recover from catastrophic events. Its responsibility is to make sure the negative effects of emergency situations have a minimal negative impact upon the inhabitants of an affected area. Emergency management handles an array of variables but public managers must understand these variables to perform effectively for the public. 

What defines a disaster?

tornado-112768_640We know disasters happen to communities destroyed by major storms or catastrophes. Henstra defines a disaster as widespread social or economic impact that creates vulnerable conditions that are hazardous for a community. Hazards are categorized as floods, train derailments or industrial accidents. States are responsible to provide guidelines for emergency programs through preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery concepts. Their policies undergo an evaluation process using performance measures that determine the strength of effectiveness and have an obligation to demonstrate that funds allocated were used effectively and resourcefully.

What is the practice of mitigation?

The practice of mitigation requires basic integration of emergency management systems. Strong mitigation aids public managers in coordinating strategies in hazard management. Godschalk and Brower found that strong programs need three goals to have effective strategies:

  1. Seek ways to prevent a threat. For example, aim to reduce the likelihood of damages before disaster occurs.
  2. Create programs that make quality service a priority.
  3. Consider ways to prevent exposure to threats by incorporating components of warning systems, public education, dangerous goods routing bylaws and risk-based land-use planning. 

These goals guide administrators to tailor their mitigation strategies and tools for area plans, zoning ordinances, risk mapping, building codes, land acquisition, use of public facilities and taxation. Future legislation can then fund programs aimed at mitigating hazards as preventive measures for floods and earthquakes.

Mitigation can be broken down into the following phases: preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation.

  • Preparedness involves planning, warning and public activities that prepare for the onset of a disaster response. This phase obviously takes place before disaster strikes.
  • The response phase occurs after a disaster. Mobilization and evacuation efforts are executed, as well as emergency assistance for victims.
  • Recovery phase activities are meant to restore a community back to its natural condition. This phase can mean long-term or short-term recovery efforts.
  • The mitigation phase intervenes before the next disaster strikes to minimize its effects. 

What about policy formation?

Policy formulation tends to be a complex challenge for emergency management. The process of gathering information to gain endorsement for policies under consideration goes through in-depth scrutiny. The book, Managing Human Behavior in Public and Nonprofit Organizations, explains that organizations can look to organization change as a technical and emotional tool in public management. Managers are agents of change who have the responsibility of communicating current problems related to the situation at hand and must first open their constituents’ eyes to the possibility of change. Organizations can use feedback to incorporate new inputs, more or less, into services or regulations. Feedback becomes valuable to any organization. The new inputs from feedback can also convert into products and services.

Managers in organizations should learn as much as possible about the context in which their roles will take place because it can become a mechanism for driving change and control.


Author: Shardai Collins is a graduate student at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Email: [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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