Intellectual Traditions in Emergency Management

Subject: Management
Pages: 12
Words: 3390
Reading time:
13 min
Study level: PhD


Disaster research is a relatively new scientific trend in comparison to the studies in the sphere of general emergency management. In terms of funding of this research it was scarce in inconsistent for the most time of its existence. However, for all that time, a large incentive for studying social sciences in the sphere of disasters at the federal level was supported by many sociologists. At the end of the 1950s, these sociologists served on the Disaster Research Group, then they worked in the Advisory Committee on Emergency Planning, and are now involved in the Contingency Planning and Emergency Services Group. Charles Fritz, one of the sociologists who was also a researcher and possessed knowledge of the federal agencies and the scientific community played a crucial role in all the groups mentioned above (McEntire, 2007). He was as a mediator in connecting research community with potential sponsors and users of research.

In fact, the majority of federal agencies have been research consumers instead of being research supporters. Moreover, due to the fact that disaster responsibility is not organized on the federal level, the lack of interest in favoring disaster research was predominant. In addition, this diffusion was reinforced by another fact that federal technical staff supported research in those areas that are similar to their own expertise. Therefore, sociologists, being poorly represented by the majority of agencies, had many difficulties in promoting their work to those agencies that supported disaster research. Among them were the Office of Civil Defense, the National Institute of Mental Health, and a couple of others (Quarantelli, 1994). Overall, there were very few of them.

However, recently, more disaster research trends at the federal level have appeared. They have caused a major interest in and accelerated the provision of the additional support for disaster research. A small part of these trends including the increased support from the government for development and research and a much more important status that the National Science Foundation (NSF) has received, have been only remotely connected with the content of research. In spite of that, this increased NSF’s role has allowed this organization to provide support for applied research, and sociologists with the extensive experience in the studies devoted to disasters has been assigned to a new program in the field of disaster (Quarantelli, 1994). Other trends have had an even greater influence on the disaster area. The government began to express concerns with managing emergency situations at the end of the 1960s when there were many civil disturbances that gave rise to a set of questions which could be answered by means of a thorough sociological research (Cutter, Boruff, & Shirley, 2003). The increase of the role of the federal government in the provision of disaster services at a more local level has resulted in the rise of the interest of some agencies in the contemporary sociological studies and what they could offer.

Furthermore, even with the absence of direct support of the government, some trends have managed to draw the attention of various agencies to sociological studies so that they could ask for recommendations and advice in this sphere. Thus, some technological breakthrough in the prediction of earthquakes resulted in appointing of a National Academy of Science (NAS) Panel on the Public Policy Implications of Earthquake Prediction that was governed by a former president of the American Sociological Association (ASA). Uncertainties regarding the policies that should be pursued and the efficaciousness of the provided assistance has made the Agency for International Development ask the NAS to create a committee that would investigate the issue of the USA’s aid in foreign disasters (Kreps, 1990). The committee was called International Disaster Assistance and chaired by a sociologist.

At first, sociological research on natural disasters in the US focused on a small set of questions, which were the primary concern of the government and military leaders of the 1960s (Dynes, 1990). The main focus was placed on the possibility of a nuclear war and the resolution of the potential problems of such an event. Additionally, they believed that technological and natural disasters created the appropriate environment for exploring social behavior in the conditions of social disturbances and physical destruction (Quarantelli, 1987). Later, the researchers in the area began to consider disasters as different contexts, in which they could analyze various research opportunities on such topics as collective and organizational behavior in the stressful environment.

Currently, the status of disaster research is certainly much higher than it was sixty years ago. In fact, the field already began rapidly developing after the establishment of the Disaster Research Center (DRC) in 1963 at the Ohio State University. One of the founders, E. L. Quarantelli, was influenced by the traditional studies in symbolic interactionism and collective behavior. The two other founders, J. Eugene Haas and Russell Dynes were organizational developers. In several years, DRC introduced a research that was focused on emergent and organizational social behavior during and immediately after disasters. This research was a major milestone in the development of emergency management (Tierney, 2007a). Overall, each of the discussed sociologists made great contributions to the development of emergency management. Particularly, they emphasized on the importance on these issues and provided the foundation for future research and systematization of the core principles of emergency management.

Hazards Tradition

For more than half a century, hazards researchers have tried to resolve a set of fundamental problems concerning emergency management. They have tried to find out how societies and individuals respond to environmental hazards and what the main factors that have a great impact on their choices are. Another question they have been attempting to answer is the ways of minimizing the risk of the occurrence of environmental hazards and reducing their impact (Cutter et al., 2003). One more important question that concerns the researchers is whether the vulnerability of people to environmental hazards increases or remains unchanged.

In general, vulnerability is the potential for loss. This concept is essential to hazards research and is one of the main concepts in the development of hazard reduction strategies at the international, national, and local levels. According to the UN’s International Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), the assessment of the level of vulnerability is used to identify the potential losses from extreme natural events. Currently, vulnerability serves as a cornerstone of the global attempts to eliminate poverty and reverse population, environmental, and developmental degradation. Such an approach to the reduction of vulnerability, is vividly illustrated in Cuny’s (1983) work entitled Disasters and development (Cutter, 1996). Notwithstanding these efforts, the concept of vulnerability still needs much research.

In the 1960s, the topic of hazards research began to rapidly develop. It was also one of the most thriving topics in social sciences with many works devoted to methodological and theoretical issues and those written on the environmental indicators development following thereafter. In terms of the current research, quality-of-life studies and social indicators are developing rather slowly. Nevertheless, there are many specialized scholarly journals such as Social Indicators Research that serve as reliable sources of the research on the topic (Quarantelli & Dynes, 1977). However, one of the best national evaluations that integrated environmental quality, public health, and demographic indicators was made in 1991 by B. A. Goldman. Since that time, no such comprehensive assessments have been performed.

Although significant research examining the elements of biophysical vulnerability has been conducted, many details of the social aspects of vulnerability still remain uncertain. Socially created vulnerabilities are often neglected or completely ignored, primarily because of the difficulties in calculating them, which also provides an explanation why social losses are usually absent in the reports written after estimating the costs after a disaster. Instead, the personal characteristics of people such as age, health, income, race, culture, and others, are used to describe social vulnerability (Tierney, 2007b). In fact, social vulnerability partly results from social inequalities, namely, those factors that have an impact on the susceptibility of different groups of people to harm and that influence their response (Harrald, 2006). So far, there has been little research aimed at the comparison of the social vulnerability between different places.

Today, environmental and social indicators research is developing faster, especially in the sphere of sustainability science. A vivid example is the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index which indicates the overall human wellbeing, gender inequality, and poverty. A special index has been created to determine the environmental sustainability level in national economies. At the same time, a number of indicators for monitoring and evaluating ecological conditions for the public policy decisions has been introduced (McEntire, 2007). For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses a set of certain environmental indicators in order to monitor progress in processing hazardous waste.

Additionally, the social capital incorporated into different communities has been surveyed in the chosen communities to define the main criteria and to provide a comparative assessment of American civic and social engagement at the local level (Cutter, 1996). Although these efforts have been rather effective, there are still no reliable methods of assessing vulnerability to environmental hazards.

As far as the factors that influence social vulnerability are concerned, there is still no general consensus about them among the social science community members. These factors include: the type of infrastructure, physically limited people, building age and stock, customs and beliefs, and social connections and networks. Since these factors have a major impact on the results of hazards assessment, they must be taken into account (Cutter, 1996). In general, the contributions made by the discussed scholars in the sphere are significant. They managed to introduce effective practices in the area of emergency management that now serve as a framework for the contemporary studies.

The History and Current Status of Emergency Management in the USA

The History of Emergency Management in the USA

In fact, emergency preparedness to war first appeared at the time of the World War I, when it was possible, for the first time in human history, to attack civilian industrial factors by air. However, at that time, only a small effort was made to enhance emergency preparedness. The problem of civil defense was thoroughly explored during the World War II, which provided the United States with significant experience in terms of military and industrial mobilization in an emergency situation. Understandably, that experience was the main reason for the creation of the National Security Resources Board (NSRB), which reported to the President (White, 1974).

After the World War II, the government began to pay less attention to the problem of civil defense. Although in 1948, An Office of Civil Defense Planning was created in the Department of Defense (DOD), it was dismissed in a year by the President. The reason for this was that the government decided that it was not needed in peacetime (White, 1974). However, in approximately three years, the concerns about a nuclear war stimulated the creation of the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA).

In 1961, another reorganization in emergency management followed. The majority of civil defense responsibilities was assigned to the Department of Defense (DOD). However, certain civil defense functions along with other emergency management responsibilities were retained by the Office of Civil Defense Mobilization (OCDM) and the Office of Emergency Planning (OEP). In 1962, at the peak of the Cuban missile crisis, a fallout shelter program was introduced (Dynes, 1990).

The reorganization in 1973 presupposed that all the three emergency management agencies (DCPA, FDAA, and FPA) had their own local offices. This meant that local and state officials had to handle three federal regional officials on important issues (Quarantelli & Dynes, 1977). The dissatisfaction that arose from this, caused Congregational activity in 1977, which led to the most recent restructuring and the establishment of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

FEMA was created in 1979 and provided disaster assistance to impacted communities. The agency still performs this function focusing on the provision of specific help and the coordination of similar efforts carried out by voluntary agencies and other federal agencies. The agency offers a great variety of assistance ranging from various grants to the complete rehabilitation of key public facilities and community loans. It also provides temporary housing, unemployment aid, individual grants, food coupons, and so on (Harrald, 2006). The amounts and the types of assistance available in case of an emergency situation have increased exponentially since 1950.

In 2001, after the events of September 11, many significant changes were made in the sphere of emergency management. The most prominent response to those events was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This major reorganization merged different agencies or their parts with diverse organizational missions, cultures, structures, and ideas concerning the management of domestic emergencies and threats (McEntire, 2007). In the sphere of emergency management, the general effect from the reorganization was to extend the role agencies focused on law enforcement and defense, which concerned themselves exclusively with terrorism issues, and, at the same time, diminished the prestige of those organizations that were responsible for managing all kinds of hazards.

Since agencies were based on the principle of control and command became more important in the process of local preparedness, the influence of agencies that focused on various types of hazards rather than terrorism and that operated on the basis of coordination, rather than control were in decline. In the middle of 2004, these tensions became obvious, when Attorney General John Ashcroft instead of Tom Ridge, Homeland Security Secretary, revealed information emphasizing on a high terrorism threat against large financial organizations.

Thus, by 2006, law enforcement agencies had managed to assume influential positions in homeland emergency preparedness at both the local government level and the federal government level, in certain cases completely replacing local emergency management institutions (McEntire, 2007). However, some professionals in the sphere of emergency management severely criticized this tendency and considered it a community crisis highlighting that they weakened management programs instead of strengthening them.

In addition, the organizational systems that can provide a quick response to extreme events must be open systems, which would allow information to be collected from nongovernmental organizations as well as usual governmental sources. It should be recognized that response to an emergency and the recovery from it cannot be successful if only the first responders and emergency managers are prepared to it (Tierney, 2007b). Therefore, it is imperative to reorganize the emergency management system in a way that it is most efficient.

The Principles of Emergency Management

Emergency Management is the utilization of the available resources and responsibilities for handling humanitarian aspect of contingencies, namely, preparedness, response, and recovery, with the purpose to minimize the pernicious effects of all kinds of hazards. In 2007, in the framework of FEMA’s Emergency Management Higher Education Project, Dr. Wayne Blanchard gathered a group of experts in the sphere of emergency management in order to systematize and document the core principles of emergency management (Haddow, Bullock, & Coppola, 2017). For the first time in the history of emergency management, the principles of this discipline were codified.

Overall, the academics came to a consensus and decided on eight principles, which are actively used now as a guide for the development of the theory of emergency management. Thus, the first principle is called comprehensive. Generally, it denotes that all impacts, all stakeholders, all phases, and all hazards pertinent to disasters must be taken into account. The second principle is called progressive and implies that the potential disasters must be anticipated and the preparatory and preventive measure must be taken in order to build disaster-resilient and disaster-resistant communities (Haddow et al., 2017).

The third principle is called risk-driven and focuses on the importance of the use of solid risk management principles, namely, impact analysis, risk probability, and hazard identification, when establishing priorities and allocating resources. The fourth principle is called integrated and presupposes that the efforts of all governmental institutions along with every element of the community are united.

The fifth principle is called collaborative and highlights the importance of creating and sustaining transparent and broad relationships between organizations and individuals, thereby encouraging trust, creating a team atmosphere, building agreement, and facilitating communication (Haddow et al., 2017). The sixth principle is called coordinated and emphasizes that the activities of every relevant stakeholder must be synchronized in order to attain a common purpose. The seventh principle is called flexible and stresses on the significance of utilizing innovative and creative approaches in the process of solving disaster challenges. Finally, the last and the eighth principle is called professional and claims that the primary approach in emergency management must be based on science and the reliable information, which, in its turn, results from proper education, training, public stewardship, ethical practice, experience, and continuous improvement (Haddow et al., 2017).

Thus, nowadays, professional emergency managers can fully rely on these principles and implement them in case of a contingency. Certainly, following these principles requires special knowledge and skills, which can be obtained at educational institutions and practiced in different kinds of organizations (Bennett, Phillips, & Davis, 2017). Furthermore, today, the area of emergency management is much more diverse and there are many managers coming from numerous different backgrounds, whereas in the past, the field was extremely narrow and was mainly used by people with a military background.

In addition, professional certifications such as Certified Business Continuity Professional (CBCP) and Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) are regarded as professional standards and are becoming more popular (Bosomworth, Owen, & Curnin, 2017). There are also a number of professional organizations such as the International Association of Emergency Managers and the National Emergency Management Association that make great contributions to the development of this field.

Recent Trends and the Future of Emergency Management

Overall, for the past thirty years, the U.S. emergency management community has significantly increased its ability to control, develop, and manage a response. The result of such an acceleration of this process lies in the establishment of a National Response System which is based on the National Incident Management System and the National Response Plan. However, this program was greatly modified after showing its inefficiency in providing a correct response to Hurricane Katrina (Tierney, 2007b). Thus, over this period of time, disaster researchers and social scientists have been analyzing the nonstructural factors including creativity, adaptability, and improvisation that are crucial to communication, successful problem solving, cooperation, and coordination.

One of the most recent initiatives in the sphere of emergency management was the introduction of the prototype of Smart Emergency Response System (SERS) in 2014. The prototype was developed by a team consisting of nine organizations headed by MathWorks. This project was presented in June 2014 at the White House and considered a significant achievement in the area of emergency management (Bennet et al., 2017). The system provides the emergency staff and the survivors with the information that helps the former locate and assist the latter.

Additionally, SERS is capable of submitting requests to the mission center based on the MATLAB system, thereby connecting rescue teams, first responders, applications, drones, ground vehicles, robots, and various electronic devices. The command center analyzes the available resources and creates an action plan for the rescue. The drones are equipped with special antennas that create a local Wi-Fi network needed to accelerate the operation and connect all the devices. The autonomous ground vehicles and aircrafts are simulated and presented in a 3D environment, which allows observing and controlling the operations on a much greater scale (Bosomworth et al., 2017).

As far as the future trends in the field of emergency management are concerned, the largest focus will be placed on information technologies. Thus, apart from the quite obvious or traditional improvements in the sphere such as a better coordination of resources, the increase of situational awareness, and a more efficient decision-making process, electronic devices will be used to improve the overall effectiveness of emergency management (Haddow et al., 2017). Among them is the introduction of computer programs that are able to provide more accurate results in forecasting weather, various simulators that can visualize and analyze all possible outcomes of a particular disaster, and robots who are equipped with movement, thermal, and others scanners that allow to find any survivors of a certain disaster within a short period of time (Bosomworth et al., 2017).Thus, implementing all these other similar technologies will significantly improve emergency management, thereby minimizing human casualties and property damage.


Bennett, D., Phillips, B. D., & Davis, E. (2017). The future of accessibility in disaster conditions: How wireless technologies will transform the life cycle of emergency management. Futures, 87(1), 122-132.

Bosomworth, K., Owen, C., & Curnin, S. (2017). Addressing challenges for future strategic‐level emergency management: Reframing, networking, and capacity‐building. Disasters, 41(2), 306-323.

Cutter, S. L. (1996). Vulnerability to environmental hazards. Progress in Human Geography, 20(4), 529-539.

Cutter, S. L., Boruff, B. J., & Shirley, W. L. (2003). Social vulnerability to environmental hazards. Social Science Quarterly, 84(2), 242-261.

Dynes, R. R. (1990). Community emergency planning: False assumption and inappropriate analogies. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 12(2), 141-158.

Haddow, G., Bullock, J., & Coppola, D. P. (2017). Introduction to emergency management. Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Harrald, J. R. (2006). Agility and discipline: Critical success factors for disaster response. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 604(1), 256-272.

Kreps, G. A. (1990). The federal emergency management system in the United States: Past and present. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 8(3), 275-300.

McEntire, D. A. (2007). Disciplines, disasters and emergency management. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Publisher.

Quarantelli, E. L. (1987). Disaster studies: An analysis of the social historical factors affecting the development of research in the area. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 5(3), 285-310.

Quarantelli, E. L. (1994). Disaster studies: The consequences of the historical use of a sociological approach in the development of research. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 12(1), 25-49.

Quarantelli, E. L., & Dynes, R. R. (1977). Response to social crisis and disaster. Annual Review of Sociology, 3(1), 23-49.

Tierney, K. J. (2007a). From the margins to the mainstream? Disaster research at the crossroads. Annual Review of Sociology, 33(1), 503-525.

Tierney, K. J. (2007b). Recent developments in US homeland security policies and their implications for the management of extreme events. In Handbook of disaster research (pp. 405-412). New York, NY: Springer.

White, G. F. (1974). Natural hazards, local, national, global. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.