Discuss the Proposition That Local Authorities Are Better Placed to Respond to Crises and Disasters Than Central Government

Topics: Emergency management, Local government, Hurricane Katrina Pages: 18 (5386 words) Published: January 14, 2013

Student Number: AKERA

Course: MSc in Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management

Essay Title: Discuss the proposition that local authorities are better placed to respond to crises and disasters than central government


Both the local authorities and central government have roles and responsibilities in responding to crises and disaster situations. However, several catastrophic crises and disaster events over the past decades have casted doubts on the effectiveness of central governments in responding to crises and disaster situations. As such, some scholars and practitioners seem to be suggesting that the central governments should surrender the tasks of responding to crises and disasters to the local authorities. This essay will argue that while local authorities might be in a better position to respond to small and medium scale crises and disaster events, effective response to mega crises and disaster events requires coordination and collaboration among different stakeholders at local and central government levels. The essay will analyze two case studies: The 2005 Hurricane Katrina in the USA and the 1995 Kobe Earthquake in Japan and demonstrate that while local authorities and central government have limitations to respond to highly catastrophic disaster situations, They both have unique role to play during disaster situations. As such effective response to highly catastrophic disasters requires better coordination and collaboration between different levels of government. To explore this topic more concretely, the essay will be divided in four sections as follows: Introduction; definition of key terminologies and concepts; the analytical section and the conclusion.

Definition of terminologies

The important terms and concepts in this essay that need to be defined include: ‘crises’ and ‘disasters’, response, local authorities and central government. The liturgy of crises and disaster is either not defined adequately or even distinguished from each other (Borodzicz [2005] cited in Module 1, unit 2: 2.5). It is suggested that a failure to distinguish between crises and disasters raises questions about the validity of any synthesis between theory and practice (Module 1, unit 2). Some theorists have therefore attempted to define crisis by distinguishing it from a disaster. Heinzen [1996] and Goemans [1992] cited in module 1, unit 2 offered an argument that while crises are ill-structured situations both in terms of technical, social and cultural contexts, disasters are the irreversible and typically overwhelming result of ill handling of emergencies and crises (Module1 unit 2: 2-11). In line with the foregoing argument, crisis could be seen as an ‘actual accident’, or a ‘scare’ which has shaken public confidence. Therefore, crisis may present either a possibility of failure or success (Module 6, unit 4: 4-3). However, in this essay, the terms ‘crisis’ and ‘disaster’ are going to be used synonymously.

In a review of crisis management literature, twenty-eight different definitions of crisis can be found (Module 1, Unit 2:2.5). Rosenthal in 1989 defined crisis as a serious threat to the basic structure or the funder mental values and norms of a system, which under time pressure and highly uncertain circumstances necessitates making critical decisions (Rosenthal, Boin and Comfort, 2001:6).

The above definition underscore four important characteristics of crisis: first, crisis are typically defined in terms of severe threat; secondly, crisis are characterized by a high degree of uncertainty; thirdly crisis induce a sense of urgency; and lastly crisis are culturally and politically defined events that contain level of conflict and arouse strong emotional response.

Quarentelli, one of the most prominent scholars in disaster sociology once admitted...
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