This paper is the research on disasters and some other issues concerning this topic. Calamities and disasters are common occurrences in modern world, which is why they have to be managed and given proper attention by the authorities. Programs that could manage such phenomena should be developed and effectively implemented since the world is already experiencing the adverse impacts of natural and man-made disasters on property and people. These disasters, regardless of their nature, have to be addressed and their consequences should be managed by suitable programs and policies. This is why disaster management programs should be coordinated properly both at the local and national levels. But, prior to the development and implementation of any disaster programs, intensive research should be conducted in order to acquire reliable and accurate information.
Unfortunately, natural disasters such as hurricanes and tsunami are given reality, especially in the United States. That is why institutions that are responsible for assisting the victims of such calamities should effectively respond to the situation and be held accountable if they prove to be ineffective. Consequently, the structure of the decision-making process and leadership style of the heads of the respective governmental institutions would certainly play an important role in lessening the impact of a calamity.
In this paper, the structure of the decision-making process that includes organizational structure of the agencies involved in managing disasters will be evaluated and investigated. In addition, effectiveness of a particular organization will be proven to be highly dependent on the leadership style adapted by its head or leader. This is an aspect of disaster management that needs serious research and attention from the government. Certainly, the leadership style and organizational structure of the agencies concerned are among the most important issues to be researched in disaster management.
Background and Problem Statement
Disaster management programs will certainly cushion the impacts of any disastrous events whether it is a terrorist attack or a natural calamity. Indeed, if analyzed carefully, the impact of disastrous events could often have been prevented and mitigated if the managing programs had been effectively implemented at the local level. For that matter, the leadership style and the structure of the organization that would manage the said program should be researched thoroughly, since they have a tremendous impact on the operation of line agencies. This was one of the major problems that had been detected in the way the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coped with various disastrous incidents.
Certainly, studies in crisis management have neglected the aspect of leadership style and organizational structure. In particular, the US Government failed to systematically and appropriately respond in order to lessen the impact caused by Hurricane Katrina. The problem was caused by the structure of the government agencies’ response, as there were too many bureaucrats who were responsible for the decision-making. The overlapping power and authority when it comes to making decisions complicates the actions of the government agencies in an emergency situation. In response to a disastrous event, the government is still structured in a centralized manner, making it slower to make a decision because one needs permission of higher authorities and sometimes officials unrelated to the situation at hand.
Accordingly, the proposed research will seek to answer the following questions:
- What leadership style is best suited to managing the decision-making process in a disaster management program?
- What is the most effective organizational structure that should be applied to a disaster management program?
There is research that supports the claim that the organizational structure and leadership style are the factors that may lead to an ineffective disaster management. It has been emphasized by Demiroz and Kapucu that leadership style has tremendous impacts on crisis management. In fact, the two are inseparable and most of the time complementary. It is the main responsibility of the leader to make the response management fast and effective regardless of facilities and availability of funds.
However, Canton is questioning the compatibility of the leadership style and crisis management. The main issue that the said author has raised is the fact that crisis managers may not apply certain leadership style in a response situation. This has been very evident in the case of Hurricane Katrina in which the financial damage has reached almost $60 billion because of floods. Because of that, said hurricane was recorded as the most devastating in terms of the degree of damage to residential property in the recent hurricane history.
Waugh added that leaders in managing crisis management institutions should be qualified and professionals. They are supposed to have passed specific certifications in order to guarantee the accuracy and reliability of decision making. This is a crucial aspect of the leadership style since knowledge and skills are dependent on the qualifications of the leader. This would imply that crisis management has strict criteria and qualifications and should not be handled by just anybody.
Rhodes, J. et al state that the disaster was really a tragedy not because the hurricane was quite strong. The tragedy was attributed to the failure of the government agencies to create an effective plan to cushion the catastrophic effects of the natural disaster in the impacted areas. It is empathized by the authors that, in contrast to the government institutions, the private sector responded immediately and with effective measures to minimize the unpleasant impact of the hurricane. It is mentioned that prior to the strike of Hurricane Katrina, private companies such as Home Depot, State Farm Insurance and Wal-Mart prepared ahead to the coming of the said hurricane. The mentioned firms provided their resources to lessen the impact of the impending hurricane in their area. These companies reacted before the government agencies made their own preparations.
Subsequently, Birkland and Waterman notice that federal decision-making is highly centralized. Policies are established regardless of the perspectives coming from the local authorities. Local expertise is basically ignored, while, in fact, people in the local area know more about the actual situation. Apparently, the extent of the damage and loss of many people’s lives caused by Hurricane Katrina could be attributed to the policy of the federal government. The hurricane revealed that there were many flaws in the governmental policy that resulted in the slow action of the leading agencies responsible for mitigation of the disaster.
In fact, the survey conducted by Pew Research Center revealed that people are pessimistic on how the government institutions would handle disasters based on their experience on the Hurricane Katrina. It seemed that the government should be blamed for the serious damage that the said hurricane caused to the country. From the said survey, it was clear that the majority of the respondents blamed the federal government, FEMA and President Bush for the severity of the damage. They were followed by officials of the city government, residents of New Orleans, other government agencies and, lastly, Mother Nature.
If analyzed carefully, the issue of centralization when it comes to organizational structure is one of the major problems. In the case of FEMA, DHS and the president, the central authority figure in deciding on disaster mitigation is a hot issue. Who among the mentioned institutions is supposed to decide in such disastrous situations? All line agencies are basically dependent on a particular command in the execution of any plan that would alleviate the conditions of the victims. That is why too many people making decisions in such a situation would only make things worse, as it would hamper execution of any plans. Accordingly, the existing structure of government agencies, which is centralization, may seem to be inappropriate to respond effectively in a disastrous situation.
As it has been analyzed in the literature, one significant problem identified in disaster management is organizational structure of the government agencies responsible for the said task. The highly bureaucratic nature of FEMA, DHS and the Federal State has proven ineffective in many cases, especially magnified by the Katrina incident. The leadership style appears to be too traditional, which makes the reaction of the government too slow and full of hesitation because of the centralized nature of the decision-making process.
For that matter, the kind of research that should be conducted is both quantitative and qualitative. Survey questionnaires and the focus group discussion would be highly recommended in order to determine the most appropriate organizational structure and leadership style for the disaster management program. The respondents should be from the concerned agencies and NGOs that are tasked with disaster management.