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Disaster Management, Inclusion and Representative Bureaucracy

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

By Geoffrey West
January 29, 2016

Introduction

In my last article, I discussed how if disaster managers are to more fully rely on citizens to be able to provide for themselves during and after a disaster, the government must be more involved in developing those communities. In the coming articles, I will discuss in-depth strategies in which this community development can take place through inclusion, advocacy and competency. This article will further describe what inclusion would look like in disaster management.

Community Development and the Need for Representation

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There is discussion within disaster management of bottom-up strategies that strive to build local communities’ capabilities to face disasters. This often is spurred on by the realization that disasters often disproportionately affect the poor due to geographical factors, lack of strong infrastructure and overall lack of personal resources. For instance, in times of evacuation, some may want to leave but not have the ability. In terms of preparation, some may not have the knowledge or means to properly prepare. There may be barriers to their ability to prepare or evacuate.

These barriers need to be addressed and sought to be overcome by government. However, government may not be the best representation of the general public and thus unaware of how best to help. Many public administrators may cognitively understand how poverty increases vulnerability in times of disaster, but never experienced this firsthand. Put another way, the government may not know the finer details of what it is like to be in that vulnerable spot. Due to the gap between the community and government, the government ought to strive to include the community in its decisions.

Inclusion and Why It Is Important

Inclusion can be as simple as ensuring that members of the community are integrated into the government’s decision-making processes. This can manifest itself by community leaders and members being a part of a citizen review board that discusses how local disaster planning policies can meet community needs. Local leaders and members may better be able to see how policies may be made more effective, as they are subject area experts on the community’s unique struggles.

For example, a municipality may heavily rely on social media or the Internet to distribute disaster preparedness information. This may be effective for some subgroups of the U.S. population, but according to the Pew Research Center, 15 percent of U.S. adults do not use the Internet. People of color, the elderly, citizens in rural areas, the poor and those without high school educations are less likely to have Internet access. (Check out this infographic for a breakdown on Internet access across populations.)

Those who are in poverty lack access to computers and high-speed Internet. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than 40 percent of those who make less than $25,000 a year have a computer at home and a little over half have some access to high-speed Internet. The elderly, Black and Hispanic Americans are also less likely to have computer and high-speed Internet access.

While these disparities are narrowing over time, the current state of Internet usage necessitates a balance of Internet and non-Internet methods for disseminating information. Disparities in Internet usage may be better understood by community members, thus, government should bring them into the planning process. The community members may have firsthand knowledge of how an Internet campaign for disaster preparedness may fall on deaf ears. By including the community in government decision processes, more effective communication methods can be devised.

Other Methods of Inclusion

Liza Ireni-Saban, in “Challenging Disaster Administration: Toward Community-based Disaster Resilience,” outlines a number of strategies for public administrators to include community members. In addition to involvement in the disaster planning process, public administrators ought to attend various community events such as festivals and church meetings to better have a voice within the community. This can be done by making strategic partnerships with leaders within the community, such as clergy or well-known business people. These community leaders may know the ways to best communicate with citizens on how to access government resources in times of emergencies.

These leaders can help facilitate discussions on the resources the community needs, for which the government, in turn, can advocate. Government can benefit from making strategic partnerships with these trusted community leaders to help bridge the gap between the community and the government.

Representative Bureaucracy

By including individuals from various backgrounds represented in a community into the disaster management process, community members can be active participants in the governmental and bureaucratic process. An increase in government efficiency and effectiveness ought to result from this increase in representation, as community members can serve as knowledge experts for the needs of their community. Increase in effectiveness and efficiency will positively influence the abilities of government to represent and assist their communities in times of disaster.


Author: Geoffrey West received a MA in Public Administration from the University of South Florida. His areas of interest include education policy, emergency management, poverty, political economy and nonprofit management. He can be reached at [email protected] 

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  1. Pingback: Government as Advocate in Disaster Management | PA TIMES Online

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