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2.2: Community Stakeholder Groups

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    Community stakeholder groups can be divided into three different categories—social groups, economic groups, and political groups. In turn, each of these types of groups can be characterized by its horizontal and vertical linkages (Berke, Kartez & Wenger, 1993). Horizontal linkages are defined by the frequency and importance of contacts with other groups of the same type; vertical linkages consist of ties with larger groups. Each of the three types of groups will be discussed in the following sections.

    Social Groups

    It is sometimes said local government is the foundation for emergency management but, in fact, the basic organizational unit for emergency management is the household. Households adopt hazard adjustments (especially mitigation and preparedness measures), households evacuate, and households suffer economic losses. All households, no matter their size or level of resources, have an interest in the emergency management policies developed and implemented in their communities. The household is the primary living unit providing shelter from routine environmental conditions. Households’ actions affect their vulnerability to environmental hazards through their choice to live in more or less hazard-prone locations; to rent or buy residences that are more or less resistant to environmental extremes of wind, water, and ground-shaking; and whether or not to engage in pre-impact adjustments to limit their disaster vulnerability. As a group, households control a substantial amount of the social assets (buildings and their contents) at risk from environmental hazards, but this control is spread among a very large number of households, which makes it difficult to affect their policy choices. Although households typically attach a low priority to natural hazards, there is substantial variation, with some substantially more aware than others of the hazards they face.

    Households vary in their incentives to prepare for disasters and to adopt hazard mitigation. For example, property owners have more money at risk than tenants because they own the structures as well as the contents of these structures. Households also vary in their capacity to select and implement appropriate hazard adjustments because of differences in their financial resources, their knowledge of hazards and adjustments, and the decision processes they use to apply this knowledge. Other stakeholders such as the local and state governments have a modest degree of influence over households. Government agencies often provide hazard information and sometimes provide incentives for adopting hazard adjustments, but are rarely able to compel households to do anything about hazards.

    Just as citizens organize to better develop their understanding of issues and increase their power to present these views to the rest of the public, householders can organize as groups to develop emergency management policy in their neighborhoods. One of the most obvious gaps in the picture of stakeholders is the lack of a broad-based support group for individual householders, analogous to the Neighborhood Watch programs that exist across the country. In some communities, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) are beginning to fill this role. CERTs may also be known as Neighborhood Emergency Response Teams, Neighborhood Emergency Assistance Teams, or other similar designations, but they share a common origin and many other characteristics (Simpson, 2001). CERTs are designed to train first responders at the neighborhood level and organize them in groups capable of providing basic emergency response services such as triage, first aid, urban search and rescue, fire suppression, and damage and casualty estimates at the block or neighborhood level. These groups are usually supported and trained by local emergency service agencies. As they become institutionalized, they can serve as a support group and interest aggregator for householders (for more information, see the FEMA Web site at

    As we move up the scale of social organization, there are private sector groups such as religious organizations and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), nonprofit organizations (NPOs), community based organizations (CBOs), and businesses. All of these groups vary widely in size, level of organizational complexity, and amount of resources available. They also vary based on the functions they perform in society and, thus, varying levels of interest in local emergency management activities. Nonetheless, all are potential partners in formulating emergency management practices and policies. NGOs, NPOs, and CBOs can be important resources for emergency managers. Some have traditionally played key roles in specific phases of emergency management. For example, churches are often used as shelters during evacuations and frequently help provide recovery funding. They should be integrated into the early stages of response and recovery planning processes in order to ensure their resources are fully utilized without unnecessary duplication of effort and competition for access to disaster victims.

    Large scale NGOs organized at the national level also have historically played a role in emergency management. The Salvation Army is widely involved in response and recovery activities and organizations such as the United Way serve to channel local funds to those needing help during the recovery period. The American Red Cross, an affiliate of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, has an official role in this country as the provider of emergency shelter.

    Environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club ( and the Worldwatch Institute ( have not been very involved with local emergency management agencies, in spite of the conceptual overlap between environmental protection and hazard mitigation. This commonality of interests presents an opportunity for local emergency managers to forge alliances with environmental groups at the local level to foster sound land use practices, especially for the mitigation of floods through comprehensive watershed management. Environmental organizations have also published many books that are useful to emergency managers (e.g., Abramowitz, 2001a; Bullard, 1996; Flavin, 1994; Sierra Club, 2000).

    Economic Groups

    As households are the basic units in the hierarchy of social stakeholders, so too are businesses the fundamental units in the hierarchy of economic stakeholders. Businesses are important stakeholders because they are part of the societal institution that organizes the flow of goods and services. Destruction, damage, or even interruption of business activities can have significant adverse effects on the local economy and, in smaller countries, even on the regional or even national economy. Business owners control their resources in the same way as householders and, thus, can make the same sort of choices about how to react to hazards. Unlike households—which rarely exceed more than a half dozen persons in number—businesses range in size from small “mom and pops” that are the same size as families to large multinational corporations employing tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. Such businesses have varying levels of needs and resources to offer the emergency manager. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to disruption following disasters, but are likely to be deeply embedded within the community and so are likely to respond favorably to appeals for assistance. Large corporations may have a large amount of resources in terms of personnel and even money, but local managers may have little discretion over how those resources can be used in the local emergency management process.

    An especially important type of business that is a stakeholder in emergency management is the public utility provider, whether privately or publicly owned. These include the providers of electricity, water, sewer services, solid waste management, and communications such as telephone, television, and Internet access. Such businesses have been active in emergency management because they are responsible for rapid restoration of basic services to all their customers. All other stakeholders depend on these important service providers to quickly restore all the vital services so business interruption is minimized, household functioning is restored, government functions during the critical period, and health care is not interrupted at a peak demand period.

    Businesses rarely react favorably to outside restrictions on their decisionmaking discretion, so it can be difficult to influence managers to adopt mitigation measures. Instead, like the rest of American society, business organizations have preferred to focus on response and recovery and, to a lesser extent, preparedness. Nonetheless, some active supporters of emergency management are beginning to emerge from the business community as the costs of disasters continue to rise. The insurance industry, in particular, has fostered a new emphasis on mitigation through organizations such as the Institute for Business and Home Safety ( Some real estate developers, bankers, home improvement retailers, and other businesses have also become active stakeholders in local emergency management.

    The most useful concept for increasing the business community’s interest in local emergency management has been business interruption. Once businesses realize the enormous potential costs of a failure in infrastructure systems, many began to take emergency preparedness very seriously. The key is to encourage businesses at the local level to understand the importance of their linkages to suppliers, customers, and employees as well as their dependence on a functioning infrastructure system (Lindell & Prater, 2003). If any of these relationships is disrupted by a disaster, businesses can suffer serious economic losses, even if their own facilities are undamaged. For example, employees who lose their housing might move away, customers might need to spend discretionary income on home repair, and suppliers might have their own difficulties with their physical plants, infrastructure, or supply chains. As business managers begin to understand the importance of this web of connections to the health of their businesses, they are likely to become more supportive of emergency management goals. This linkage was fostered by the “partnership model” that was promoted by FEMA’s Project Impact initiative that many cities began experimenting with during the 1990s. Project Impact’s model of involving the business community more directly in hazard mitigation and disaster preparedness met with great success in Tulsa and Seattle, as well as in other cities around the country. The suspension of federal funding has slowed the spread of the Project Impact model, but the success of this program makes it a valuable method for emergency managers to develop a more cooperative relationship with their local business communities.

    One particular set of businesses—the news media—is especially important to the success of emergency management programs because their coverage of all phases of emergency management can be an important way to educate the public about hazards that might strike the community, not just to inform them of an imminent disaster. The news media can provide vicarious experience for those who have not had direct experience with such events. One well documented problem is the news media’s tendency to perpetuate disaster myths rather than provide accurate information (Perry & Lindell, 1990). The news media are both consumers and creators of news. They consume “hard news” about environmental incidents and the responses to those incidents by describing the course of events and reporting the views of different stakeholders. They can also help to create “soft news” by describing the results of hazard/vulnerability analyses and the activities of planning organizations. This “soft news” can help to build support for emergency management even when there is no “hard news” about disasters, so emergency managers should get to know their local news media outlets and cultivate positive relationships with key personnel such as reporters, news anchors, editors, and producers.

    Political Groups

    Finally, there are various types of governmental stakeholders. Beginning at the base, we have the lowest level of organization, the municipality (i.e., town or city) and, just above this, the county. These jurisdictions have varying levels of power from one state to another because states differ in the powers that they grant to their political subdivisions. Much emergency management policy is set at the state level, and the federal government has traditionally been seen as a supporter to local and state efforts. The US Conference of Mayors ( and the National Governors’ Association ( have both taken lead roles in lobbying for increased attention to and funding for hazard mitigation and emergency preparedness at the national level (National Governors’ Association, 2001, 2002).

    In addition to the different levels of government, there are different agencies within each level of government. These agencies vary widely on the dimensions of size, organizational complexity, and amount of human, financial, and technical resources. Different governmental levels perform analogous and complementary roles, but agencies within each level of government differ in their functions. For example, at the local level of government, the agencies most involved with emergency management are the fire and police departments, which are the first agencies to respond to most emergencies. In many jurisdictions, the emergency management function is attached to one of these departments, but in larger communities it frequently is an independent agency. In some communities, there is a separate emergency medical services agency, but often this function is provided by the fire department working together with local hospitals and ambulance companies. Public works departments or engineering departments, transportation departments, and land use planning and community development departments are important stakeholders in the mitigation process, and also have responsibilities during response and recovery phases. Public health departments and housing departments also have important emergency management functions. Making matters even more complex, most members of these agencies belong to professional associations that lobby for disaster-relevant legislation.

    Regional and state-level stakeholder agencies include metropolitan planning organizations/councils of government, flood control districts, and coastal zone agencies, geological services agencies, and soil conservation agencies. The most important stakeholders are the state emergency management agencies, which vary widely in their levels of expertise, staffing, budgets, and other organizational resources. Nonetheless, these are the agencies that provide the major direction for local emergency managers, interact with state legislatures to provide the legal framework within which local emergency managers work, and serve to link local governments with FEMA regional offices.

    Academics specializing in specific hazards (e.g., seismologists, vulcanologists, meteorologists, toxicologists) and mitigation measures (land use planners, structural engineers, and architects) and hazard/disaster researchers (economists, geographers, political scientists, psychologists, and sociologists) form another important stakeholder group. They provide the basic scientific knowledge base on which sound emergency management policies and practices are built. There are several important research centers around the country, some of which are technically oriented and focus on one type of hazard (Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering, Mid America Earthquake Center, Pacific Earthquake Engineering Center, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute), others of which study all hazards and are multidisciplinary or focus on the social impacts of disasters (Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware, Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center at the University of Colorado, Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center at Texas A&M University, and International Hurricane Center at Florida International University). These academic institutions are supplemented by a growing group of consultants and providers of goods and services tailored to the needs of emergency management.

    At the national level, FEMA was until recently the lead agency for emergency management. With the signing of the Homeland Security Act (HS Act) in November of 2002, the United States undertook a significant restructuring of emergency management that is in its early stages. According to the HS Act, FEMA has been absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security, and its responsibilities fall to an Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response. Other under secretaries cover Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection; Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Countermeasures; Border and Transportation Security; and Management. The Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response concentrates on preparedness and response in general, with particular attention to the Nuclear Incident Response Team, coordination, and development of improved communications systems. The Under Secretary is also responsible for aiding in recovery from “terrorist attacks and major disasters”. Mitigation is not mentioned in the authorizing legislation, but the analysis provided by the Executive Branch states that “the specification of primary responsibilities in this section does not detract from other important functions that will be transferred to the Department of Homeland Security…In all areas, the bill fully preserves the authority to carry out the functions of the FEMA, including support for community initiatives that promote homeland security, such as the Citizen Corps” (HS Act, p.7).

    As part of this restructuring mandated by Homeland Security Presidential Directive HSPD-5, the Federal Response Plan has been replaced by the National Response Plan (NRP). The foundation for the NRP is the National Incident Management System (NIMS). NIMS attempts to standardize terminology, standards, and procedures at the national level in order to maximize the effectiveness of response to the very largest disasters or Incidents of National Significance. The NRP and NIMS must be adopted by all federal departments and agencies and by state and local organizations by FY 2005. After this date, no federal preparedness assistance is to be provided to jurisdictions that have failed to adopt the NIMS. Private sector organizations are encouraged to develop emergency response plans that include information-sharing and incident-reporting protocols that fit in with local, state, and federal response plans.

    The NRP includes Planning Assumptions, Roles and Responsibilities, Concept of Operations, and Incident Management Actions as well as a complete set of Emergency Support Function (ESF) Annexes, Support Annexes, and Incident Annexes. These annexes lay out the responsibilities of various federal agencies in the NRP and are organized both by function and by incident type.

    The first of NIMS’s basic components is Command and Management—which includes the ICS for internal management during an incident, Multiagency Coordination Systems for defining operations of various agencies that respond through mutual aid agreements, and Public Information Systems for communicating critical information quickly and accurately to the public. The Preparedness component includes Planning, Training, Exercises; Personnel Qualification and Certification; Equipment Acquisition and Certification; Mutual Aid Agreements; and Publications Management. The third component is Resource Management, which defines standardized resource description, inventory, mobilization, dispatch, and tracking mechanisms. Finally, the Communications and Information Management component covers Incident Management Communications, Information Management, Supporting Technologies, and Ongoing Management and Maintenance.

    2.2: Community Stakeholder Groups is shared under a Public Domain license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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