# 2.4: Stakeholders and Power


The first section of this chapter noted that stakeholders vary in the types and amounts of resources they bring to the emergency management process. One of the greatest differences is in the power different stakeholders have to influence others’ behavior and, thus, alter emergency management policy. More specifically, organizational theorists have described six types or bases of power—reward, coercive, legitimate, expert, referent, and information power (French & Raven, 1959, Raven, 1965). These different forms of power can be distinguished on the basis of social dependence and the need for surveillance to maintain the target’s desired behavior. The most familiar bases of power (reward and coercive) rest on the power holder’s ability to impose upon the target additional positive or negative consequences that are extrinsic to the action itself. These consequences may be tangible (money) or intangible (social acceptance). Both reward and coercive power are socially dependent because they require continuing surveillance to be effective. Such surveillance can make them very (sometimes prohibitively) costly to implement. Moreover, coercive power generally elicits hostility and often can be subverted by noncompliance and active deception. Indeed, it is the low likelihood of detection that causes people to violate the speed limit except when they see police cars. It also explains the failure of lower levels of government to implement mandates, such as NIMS compliance, imposed by higher levels of government.

Legitimate, expert, and referent power bases are somewhat more attractive because they involve little surveillance. However, they are socially dependent in that they are specific to a given source. Legitimate power arises from one’s role relationship to another and can come from a formal social position (e.g., city mayor) or from an informal relationship derived from norms of reciprocity, equity, or helplessness. By contrast, expert power stems from an individual’s breadth and depth of knowledge in a particular domain (e.g., a physician). Referent power is based upon the target’s identification with (or desire to identify with) the power holder; the target uses the power holder as a reference point.

According to Burnstein and Vinokur (1977), information power involves valid, novel, and relevant facts or arguments. Information power can be wielded either by introducing or withholding information (Mechanic, 1963). Informational influence is, in many respects, the most effective basis of power because it is socially independent. That is, once comprehended, it is internalized and its source becomes inconsequential. As a result, no surveillance is required to maintain the target’s desired behavior. However, information power does require acceptance of another’s statements only after an independent examination of their underlying rationale. Thus, exercising information power can be quite time consuming.

The existence of these multiple bases of power should make it clear that power operates in the upward (i.e., households to local government to states to federal government) as well as in the downward direction. Thus, households and businesses can exert upward influence through lawsuits, boycotts, public ridicule, and voter pressure that allows them to actively resist other stakeholders’ actions. This balance of power is the consequence of the federal political structure of the United States coupled with a market economy which produces a complex policy environment that is fragmented vertically (between different levels of government) and horizontally (between the private and public sectors and, within the latter, among agencies within a given community).

Figure $$\ref{1}$$, adapted from Lindell, et al. (1997), illustrates the relationships among stakeholders in emergency management. The core of the figure illustrates the conventional hierarchical relationships among federal, state, and local government, with solid arrows indicating the (downward) direction in which most power is exerted in the relationship. In addition, however, this figure shows the relationships of local government with neighborhoods/households and industries/businesses—who control most of the property at risk. It shows how information and influence flow from the bottom up as well as from the top down, and between groups of stakeholders. Relationships may be based on any of the six bases of power.

In addition to the influence government has over neighborhoods/households and industries/businesses, these stakeholders are also affected by social influentials (e.g., knowledgeable peers), who are in turn influenced by social associations (e.g., environmental organizations). They are also affected by economic influentials who, in turn, are influenced by industry associations (e.g., bankers, and insurers). Finally, local government and businesses are influenced by hazards practitioners who, in turn, are influenced by their professional associations. All of these stakeholders interact with the governmental system to promote their preferred definitions of, and solutions to, problems (Stallings, 1995). Thus, this figure indicates emergency management policy is a much more complex process than government mandates “trickling down” from the federal government. Rather, emergency management involves a complex web of interlinked bi-directional power relationships among stakeholders with widely differing characteristics. In addition to these vertical linkages, there are horizontal linkages among stakeholders within a jurisdiction and from one jurisdiction to another (e.g., from one municipality to another). As later chapters will indicate, these vertical and horizontal linkages provide communities with the resilience to respond to and recover from disasters (Berke, et al., 1993).

Figure $$\PageIndex{1}$$: Power Relationships Among Emergency Management Stakeholders.

The predominant power base of a relationship might change over time, say from coercive power (e.g., mandates) to information power. The model also implies that stakeholders at the top of the diagram must mobilize the support of intermediate levels (especially local governmental agencies and elected officials) if anything is to be accomplished at the lower levels of the hierarchy. In the local government-households dyad, local government has more power. However, households do not lack power altogether. They can change local government through elections, subvert local policy through noncompliance, or appeal to higher authorities to change unpopular policies. Other policy dyads have similar dynamics, and other relationships, such as one between practitioners and state governments, can be hypothesized. The important point is that this is a complex, dynamic set of interlinked relationships that the emergency manager needs to understand.

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