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2.5: The Emergency Management Policy Process

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    3920
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    The basic policy process model, adapted from Anderson (1994), is presented in Table \( \ref{T1} \). This model, which presents five stages through which policies move, can be thought of as a systems model with a feedback loop that runs from policy evaluation back to agenda setting. Of course, the actual policy process is neither linear nor as neatly divided into discrete stages as the model. However, for purposes of analysis, it is useful to consider the various stages in turn, recognizing that they may run concurrently and the process is often cyclical in nature as feedback from policy evaluation is absorbed in the process.

    Table \( \PageIndex{1} \label{T1} \): The Policy Process Model.

    Policy Terminology

    Stage 1:

    Agenda

    Setting

    Stage 2:

    Policy

    Formulation

    Stage 3:

    Policy

    Adoption

    Stage 4:

    Policy

    Implementation

    Stage 5:

    Policy

    Evaluation

    Definition of Policy Stage

    Establishing which problems will be considered by public officials

    Developing pertinent and acceptable proposed courses of action for dealing with a public problem

    Developing support for a specific proposal so that a policy can be legitimized or authorized

    Applying the policy by using government’s administrative machinery

    Determining whether the policy was effective and what adjustments are needed to achieve desired outcomes

    Typical objective

    Getting the government to consider action on a problem

    Generating alternative solutions to the problem

    Getting the government to accept a particular solution to the problem

    Applying the government’s policy to the problem

    Evaluating effectiveness and identifying improvements

    Agenda Setting

    The model begins consideration of the policy process with setting the policy agenda. Many of the most difficult problems an emergency manager will face involve getting the public and public officials to pay attention to hazards. It is common to hear people say that emergency management is of no interest to politicians until a disaster happens. At that point it is too late to do much beyond the most basic reactive response to urgent needs. The time to think about disasters is well before they occur, so a skillful, adaptive response can be planned and tested through drills and exercises. Thus, the emergency manager’s first task is to place hazards on the political agenda in his or her jurisdiction.

    There are at least three types of political agendas: the systemic, the governmental, and the institutional. The systemic agenda is the broadest; it refers to the set of policy issues that at any one time receive attention in the news media and so become a topic of conversation among the voters. The governmental agenda is the set of issues with which legislative bodies and executives are actually engaged at a particular time. The institutional agenda is the set of issues that various institutions are working on, and varies widely across organizations such as government agencies, business groups, local environmental groups, and the like. Agendas are unstable over time because public attention shifts from one issue to another as events occur, and the governmental and institutional agendas change as policymakers both respond to these shifts and attempt to shape them (Baumgartner & Jones, 1993).

    Although preparedness for emergency response and disaster recovery is usually less controversial than hazard mitigation, there are two reasons why local governments prefer to avoid any discussion of the potential for disasters in their communities. First, many local governments and business elites feel that calling attention to the potential for disasters in their community may discourage investment or tourism. Hazard mitigation is especially controversial because developers frequently believe land use and building construction restrictions will reduce or eliminate their profits. Second, there are many problems that arise on a daily basis, such as education and crime, that directly compete with emergency management for attention and resources. Every year a new class of kindergartners enters the public school system, but a disaster does not strike every year, and we cannot predict with certainty when it will strike. It is thus easy for local officials to push emergency management to the back burner and trust to luck rather than develop sound emergency management practices.

    There are various ways to get around this initial reluctance to place emergency management on the policy agenda. First, emergency managers can use the occurrence of a natural or technological disaster in another jurisdiction as a focusing event to draw public attention to the need for local disaster planning and hazard mitigation (Birkland, 1997; Lavell, 1994). The focus of public and official attention on a particular hazard for some period of time provides a window of opportunity for policy change (Kingdon, 1984). The problem for local emergency managers is to make use of this policy window while it is open, for it will not stay open forever. In fact, it is unknown how long such a policy window will stay open, or specifically what conditions will make it close. Nonetheless, Kingdon suggests policy windows sometimes close because of successful action on a problem or, alternatively, persistent failure to take any action. Alternatively, a policy window might close when another event occurs, shifting the systemic agenda on to other matters. A policy window might also close when key advocates for that policy leave, or are pushed out of, their positions in a policymaking body. Finally, policy windows might close if no possible course of action seems available.

    Given these constraints, we have hypothesized a distribution of stakeholder opinions on hazard mitigation over time, shown in Table \( \ref{T2} \) below (adapted from Prater & Lindell, 2000). Beginning before the disaster, most people are indifferent or opposed to any attempts at addressing hazards. About six months after the disaster, about half might be in favor of some sort of action, but about half are still either neutral or opposed.

    Table \( \PageIndex{2} \label{T2} \): Hypothetical Changes in Stakeholder Opinions.

    Time (months)

    Strong Proponents

    Weak Proponents

    Neutrals

    Weak Opponents

    Strong opponents

    t - 6

    5%

    20%

    50%

    20%

    5%

    t + 6

    10%

    40%

    35%

    10%

    5%

    t + 18

    5%

    25%

    50%

    15%

    5%

    Source: Prater and Lindell (2001).

    By 18 months after the disaster, opinion might have shifted back to nearly the same state as before, with only a slight erosion of the numbers opposed to action and a corresponding slight rise in the number in favor of hazard mitigation actions. This hypothesized distribution might or might not accurately reflect the situation regarding emergency management policy in any particular community, but the important point is that support for emergency management is likely to increase in the short run after a disaster, but will almost certainly decay before long.

    Because of the short amount of time available to effect policy change, individual actors must work in an aggressive, pro-active manner to set issues on the agenda and to keep them there. Such individuals are called policy entrepreneurs who act as advocates or champions for an issue. Policy entrepreneurs might be elected or appointed officials, local media personalities, educators, business owners, or interested citizens. Whoever they are, however, they will need three qualities in order to be successful. First, they need technical expertise in hazards, which can either be acquired through the traditional educational process or by self-education as the need arises. Second, they need to have or acquire the political expertise necessary for any successful policy change effort. Finally, they need a great deal of personal commitment because it is very difficult to enact any policy change, and it can sometimes take years to overcome opposition to new policies. Policy change is possible even if no single individual has all of these qualities because a group of individuals can be effective if they collectively have these traits.

    The resulting window of opportunity will not be open for long (Prater & Lindell, 2000), so local emergency managers can act as policy entrepreneurs if they are prepared with at least some data on the hazards to which the community is exposed and on the vulnerability of specific populations in the community. With these data in hand, the emergency manager can make a case that such an event could indeed “happen here.” Second, the emergency manager should have clear ideas about sound emergency management policies that are relevant to the local situation and could be presented quickly for adoption by the local city council or other legislative body. The emergency manager should act in an entrepreneurial manner rather than passively producing plans according to a prescribed template and assuming that the community will follow his or her lead when an event occurs.

    As in any policy debate, there are usually opposing interests that will be just as anxious to keep emergency management off the public agenda as emergency management professionals are to put it on (Bacharach & Baratz, 1962). This conflict of interests is especially true when it comes to emergency management policies. In some cases, there may be philosophical opposition to any governmental activity affecting private land use decisions. The property rights or “wise use” movement and the Supreme Court case of Lucas vs. South Carolina Coastal Council are examples of this attitude in action (Platt, 1998).

    Emergency managers can play an important role in emergency management policy by supporting the hazard mitigation efforts of local planning and zoning commissions as they seek to expand the number of groups involved in the process. Since hazard mitigation, emergency response preparedness, and disaster recovery preparedness are meant to protect lives and property, it is possible to develop a strong coalition in favor of these practices when they are properly presented to the public. Such coalitions can be most effectively mobilized if issues are properly framed to maximize their appeal. The media have an important role in this process, particularly in the matter of issue framing—the words used to describe an issue. Issue framing can vary significantly depending on who is doing the talking. For many years, emergency management in the United States was framed in terms of the Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union. In the 1980s and 1990s, a shift in framing from civil defense to comprehensive emergency management occurred, which promoted an increased emphasis on natural hazards and technological accidents. Currently, the federal government is reframing emergency management in terms of terrorism, coining the phrase homeland security to describe the new frame of reference.

    Another frame, used for discussing natural disasters, has been the term acts of God. This phrase implies a view of humanity as powerless victims of impersonal external forces and, thus, absolved from responsibility for avoiding disasters. The mass media are particularly prone to use this frame, showing pictures of suffering victims that reinforce the message. The rise of the sustainable development paradigm has fostered an increased acceptance of the idea that disasters are at least partly a result of vulnerability created by human choices and actions. This recognition of human responsibility, in turn, has raised the prominence of hazard mitigation on the governmental agenda.

    Scholars have noted that political issues might not be defined immediately as political problems. Rather, they can exist as conditions for some time before the existence of feasible coping strategies moves them into the realm of public discussion as problems that are amenable to solutions (Rochefort & Cobb, 1994). Thus, the first stakeholder to frame an issue can seize a significant political advantage, especially if he or she is successful in linking a proposed policy with widely shared public values. As an example, consider the “wise use” and “property rights” movements, which have mobilized opposition to the regulation of private property for the public good by framing the issue as one of “taking”. Those who support land use regulation as a means of promoting hazard mitigation can offset the takings definition by reframing the issue in terms of the linkage to an alternative value. Thus, proponents of hazard mitigation could frame the issue of land use regulation as one of balancing property rights and responsibilities. Indeed, as will be discussed in Chapter 8, this is precisely what the Association of State Floodplain Managers has done with its No Adverse Impacts Strategy.

    Policy Formulation

    Emergency management policy entrepreneurs must have a set of policy proposals on hand before they attempt to shape the agenda. If not, they run the risk that policy makers will find the issue too overwhelming and ignore it on the assumption that “there is nothing we can do anyway”. As the reframing of an issue from a condition into a problem becomes increasingly widespread, different stakeholders will propose solutions (Anderson, 1994; Kingdon, 1984). During this stage, many policy alternatives are likely to emerge. This makes policy formulation a critical stage in the process because it is a more technically demanding activity than agenda setting. Drafting legislation is crucial to the success of a policy because laws or regulations that are hastily drafted and poorly worded can have negative effects on the policy’s implementation and eventual effectiveness.

    The basis for any sound emergency management policy is a solid understanding of the community’s hazard exposure, its physical and social vulnerabilities, and its emergency management capabilities. As will be discussed in Chapter 6, hazard/vulnerability analysis provides a factual basis for policy formulation. Next, proposed policies must be developed with the local political context in mind. It is crucial to define clearly who are the targets of a policy (i.e., what types of households and businesses), what activities are to be regulated (e.g., land use practices and building construction practices), and what influence mechanisms are to be used (i.e., risk information, economic incentives, legal penalties, or a combination of these). With regard to the activities to be regulated, government has many alternatives. Land use policies can be used to avoid the construction of residential, commercial, or industrial structures in frequently flooded wetlands. Such wetlands serve important hazard mitigation functions by absorbing wave energy during hurricanes and retaining excess water during riverine floods. Alternatively, building construction policies can be used to ensure houses within floodplains are elevated, those near the coast have adequate wind resistance, and those near fault lines have seismic safety features. Moreover, emergency preparedness policies might be used to control lot sizes (thus limiting the population at risk in hazard-prone areas) or mandate the width of streets in subdivisions to provide access for emergency vehicles and egress for evacuees.

    To achieve the desired land use, building construction, and emergency preparedness objectives, governments can use hazard awareness campaigns to make households and businesses aware of the risks they face and of suitable hazard adjustments for reducing their vulnerability. Hazard adjustments include all pre-impact actions—hazard mitigation, emergency preparedness, and recovery preparedness (Burton, et al., 1993). Information campaigns relying on voluntary compliance tend to be politically acceptable, but few have been based upon contemporary scientific theories of social influence, and so these programs have had limited success to date (Lindell, et al., 1997). As will be discussed in Chapter 4, many hazard awareness programs provide very general information about physical hazards (e.g., what causes earthquakes) and sometimes describe what are the different hazard zones (in terms of either intensity, as is the case with hurricane risk areas, or frequency, as is the case with inland flood zones). However, few of them personalize the risk or describe appropriate hazard adjustments.

    Alternatively, governments can motivate the adoption of hazard-resistant land use and building construction practices by providing economic incentives such as low interest loans or tax credits. Of course, the money for such incentives must come from somewhere and cash-strapped local jurisdictions may not be able to provide it. Finally, governments can require hazard-resistant land-use and construction practices as a condition for construction permits. Of course, verification of compliance requires on-site inspections, and the problems with such inspections are extremely well known (Lindell et al., 1997). Specifically, local jurisdictions experiencing budget difficulties frequently cut back funding for building inspectors, so those who remain on the job must process higher inspection workloads. In turn, this requires them to spend less time inspecting construction projects, which increases the likelihood of contractors successfully evading building code requirements and thereby cutting their construction costs.

    More broadly, there is a significant degree of scholarly support for the idea that a combination of risk communication, land-use planning, building codes, and hazard insurance is an excellent way to address hazard vulnerability (Burby, 1998; Lindell & Perry, 2004) Whatever the combination selected, successful implementation requires the policy to be consistent with the community’s capacity (e.g., tax base, agency capabilities) and commitment (especially the community values articulated in issue framing).

    One important strategy in the policy formulation stage is to seek opportunities to work with other stakeholder groups to formulate policies that have a strong chance of being adopted and implemented. In most cases, this will involve working with weak proponents and neutrals to add features that will convert them into strong proponents. Sometimes, this will involve seeking out those who would normally be considered weak opponents—or even strong opponents—to craft a policy that they can accept. For example, this might mean working with developers and builders to formulate policies that allow them to develop less hazard prone areas, build on the less hazardous portions of their properties, or build structures that are more hazard resistant.

    Policy Adoption

    The policy adoption phase involves the mobilization of stakeholder groups to pressure the relevant level of government in order to ensure passage of the desired policy. An emergency manager should have a strategy for presenting the policy in the correct manner and at the right time so procedural issues do not derail policy adoption. It is important to have a policy officially adopted and on the books, for that is what gives it legal authority and allows for the institutionalization of a policy.

    When developing any public policy, care should be taken to include members of relevant stakeholder groups to ensure their interests are considered. Moreover, emergency managers should give special attention to the priorities of their department heads and the jurisdiction’s chief administrative officer. Inclusiveness is especially important in the case of hazard policies, because these policies often require a certain present investment (e.g., tax money allocated to first responder agency budgets) or a certain opportunity cost (e.g., a lucrative land development project foregone) in order to obtain an uncertain future benefit (reduced disaster losses). Moreover, these costs tend to be concentrated on a few stakeholders, whereas the benefits are widely distributed over the community as a whole. Consequently, those who expect an emergency management policy to affect them negatively have a more powerful incentive to mobilize than do those who expect to benefit.

    The typical stakeholder groups that should be considered at the local level are those that have been mentioned already—business leaders (developers, builders, Chamber of Commerce), elected officials, government agency staff, civic groups, church leaders, and neighborhood associations. All these groups have roles to play in providing for community hazard management. For example, business leaders might need to enhance their business plans to include business continuity planning to be used in case of disaster (Federal Emergency Management Agency, no date, c). Their cooperation with the community’s emergency management program can be facilitated by information about the losses they can avoid when disaster strikes.

    Considerations other than economics should be addressed as well. Agencies such as the public works department might be accustomed to dealing with hazards but feel threatened when the decisionmaking process is expanded to include meetings with neighborhood groups. As anonymous bureaucrats, they might not be accustomed to being held personally accountable for technical decisions and might equate citizen participation with needlessly looking for trouble. Conversely, some neighborhoods that are especially vulnerable to hazard impact might have a large proportion of lower income or ethnic minority residents who lack knowledge about the political system or even actively mistrust it. All of these concerns need to be balanced because any perceived unfairness in the policy or the way it was adopted is likely to cause problems in the implementation phase. Even after a policy has been developed, there are many veto points at which interests can block the adoption or implementation of policies they consider undesirable.

    Policy Implementation

    Adoption is not the end of the story. All policies must be implemented in order to be effective. Implementation is the stage most fraught with difficulties because opponents who have failed to block policy adoption often seek to undermine it as it is put into practice. The implementation stage of policy making is defined as those events and activities that occur after a policy is adopted and include the policy’s administration and its actual effects (Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1983). All policies are filtered through “street level bureaucrats”, those individuals who actually interact with the public (e.g., land use planners and building inspectors), so their enthusiastic support for policy goals and implementation methods is especially important.

    Implementation of emergency management policy depends substantially upon the nature of the governmental structure. In the United States, the government has a federal structure, so strong state and local governments can support or thwart the implementation of federal policy—whichever suits their purposes. Conversely, the federal government can either strengthen local emergency management processes by providing information or technical support or undermine local goals by failing to provide promised funding. If all stakeholders are included in the early stages of the policy process, it is more likely that the policy will be implemented in accordance with legislative intent.

    Mazmanian and Sabatier (1989) have developed a widely used model of policy implementation, highlighting specific variables and their interactions that produce varying levels of success. Three types of independent variables are included in this model, the first of which is the tractability of the problem, or how easy it is to solve. Emergency management involves complex problems. Consequently, overly simplistic policies can have unintended consequences, yet comprehensive policies are difficult to develop. As a result, hazard mitigation policies rank low on the tractability dimension and are difficult to implement.

    The second group of variables involves the ability of the statute to structure implementation. This is where statecraft and legislative skill are needed. One component of this concept is an adequate causal theory, which is a clear idea of how a particular emergency management policy will reduce casualties, damage, and losses. In the case of floods, dams are expected to protect people and property by confining excess river flow in reservoirs. The second component is a set of clear and internally consistent policy objectives. Using floods again as an example, conflicting objectives arise because dams are often intended to provide irrigation, electric power generation, and recreations functions (which favor full reservoirs) as well as flood control (which favors empty reservoirs). Moreover, policy clarity can be difficult to achieve because emergency management policy must be carefully crafted to achieve a balance between specificity and adaptability. Thus, on the one hand, clear directives are needed to produce results consistent with the intent of the policy. On the other hand, however, bureaucrats need the freedom to adapt the policy to the varied situations they encounter. The emergency management policy arena is especially prone to changes over time, so a significant amount of bureaucratic discretion probably will be necessary. Another important variable is the percentage of governmental resources allocated to emergency management, which is highly dependent on the fiscal resources available to the jurisdiction at the time of policy passage and on the importance of emergency management relative to other issues on the agenda.

    The third set of variables affecting implementation consists of nonstatutory factors, the first of which is the jurisdiction’s socioeconomic condition and the level of technology available to address the problem. These are constraints over which policymakers have little control in the short term. However, these constraints can be relaxed by means of investments in sustainable economic development (to enhance socioeconomic conditions) and technologies such as Geographic Information Systems (to enhance the level of technology), both of which are increasingly available to local governments. The second variable is one that carries over from previous stages of the policy process—the level of public support for emergency management policy. Public support tends to be cyclical, but it can be stabilized and even increased by persistent efforts to keep emergency management on the systemic agenda. Indeed, this affects the third and fourth factors—the attitudes and resources of constituency groups and support from the state or local government—both of which can be affected by coalition building activity. Finally implementing officials need to develop high levels of managerial and political skills to ensure successful implementation of emergency management policies.

    Mazmanian and Sabatier’s model provides an important basis for understanding policy implementation, but it neglects one factor that is critical to emergency management policy—the hierarchical relationships among federal, state, and local governments. This issue was the focus of May and Williams’ (1986) book, Disaster Policy Implementation, which examined shared governance among multiple levels of government. The authors described four modes of shared governance: limited regulatory, general regulatory, mobilization, and collaborative. These four modes are distinguished by the form of partnership (general or limited) and the form of activity (regulatory or programmatic) in which federal and state governments are involved. May and Williams found seismic safety was an exemplar of the collaborative mode, which is characterized by general partnership and programmatic activity. They observed that, even though federal involvement in earthquake mitigation began with the passage of the 1977 Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act (Public Law 95-124), few collaborative efforts to improve the states’ capacities for seismic risk reduction had been successful by the time of their study. According to May and Williams, problems in the shared governance of seismic safety arose at both ends of the partnership. At the federal level, technical expertise was in short supply and continuing personnel turnover hampered contacts with state agencies. Among the states, only California exercised initiative and showed a willingness to invest resources in the program. Problems arose between the federal government and the State of California mainly as a result of disputes over funding and control of projects.

    Another important aspect of emergency management policy is the effect of state mandates on local adoption and implementation of these policies. Previous research has examined the effect of mandate design on policy implementation (Goggin, et al. 1990; Mazmanian & Sabatier, 1989; Van Meter & Van Horn, 1975). Accordingly, May (1993) compared data from five states (California, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Washington) to discover the links between the design of hazards relevant aspects of land use mandates and the implementation of hazards mitigation policy. May’s analysis examined the effects of five independent variables: mandate facilitating features, mandate controls, mandate goal clarity, agency capacity, and agency commitment. Two of the state mandate variables had a significant positive impact on the level of state implementation. The first of these was mandate facilitating features, which is defined by characteristics meant to increase local government commitment and capacity to address mandate goals. The second state mandate variable was mandate controls, which are the tools state agencies can use to affect local government efforts.

    Contrary to the predictions of Mazmanian and Sabatier’s model, mandate goal clarity had no significant effect. It seemed to be sufficient for agency personnel to have a clear and consistent view of their duties, even if the statute was vague. The level of commitment by the state agency charged with implementing the mandate had a significant positive effect, whereas agency capacity did not, again failing to support Mazmanian and Sabatier’s emphasis on agency capacity. This might be because, if an agency is strongly committed to a goal, sufficient capacity will be allocated to meet that goal even if other programs must suffer. May’s research confirmed the importance of an adequate level of technical expertise, low turnover of personnel, agency commitment to hazards mitigation, and the existence of adequate facilitating features, and controls built into the mandate for the successful implementation of emergency management policy.

    Further analyses addressed the factors affecting mandate strength (May, 1994). The most important factors affecting the strength and style of state mandates for hazard mitigation were the presence of a moralistic state political culture, as opposed to an individualistic or traditionalistic political culture (Elazar, 1994), lawmakers’ perceptions of the seriousness of the hazard, and the political power of the target population. These results suggest it would be useful for local government officials to impress upon state legislators the importance of supporting their efforts at emergency management and for affected populations to organize in order to increase their political power.

    The stronger the commitment of the implementing agency to the goals of the policy, the more likely it is to devote the necessary resources to implementing the policy. The agency needs to have enough tools available, in the form of incentives and sanctions, to adequately implement the policy. If lawmakers are convinced of the seriousness of the problem, they are more likely to provide adequate authority and capacity to the implementing agency so it can properly enforce the policy. This is especially true if the target population has the power to resist the policy.

    Policy Evaluation

    Finally, as in any system, the policy process model provides for a feedback loop in which the policy is periodically evaluated and either improved or terminated. The most effective programs include provisions for such feedback in the language of the statute and are carefully structured to allow for clear evaluation. One prominent illustration of the lack of policy evaluation is Project Impact, a program that will be discussed at greater length in Chapter 7. As successful as it might have been in mobilizing a constituency for community hazard mitigation, there was no systematic evaluation of its success in reducing disaster losses. Worse yet, one of the criteria for selection as a Project Impact community was a history of commitment to hazard mitigation. A demonstrated history of success in hazard mitigation would have made it very difficult to determine the success of a program intended to increase hazard mitigation efforts at the local level. This confusion of selection criteria and desired results made it difficult to disentangle how much of the improvement in hazard mitigation in Project Impact communities was due to the program, and how much would have occurred anyway, given the history of commitment to hazard mitigation in the community.


    2.5: The Emergency Management Policy Process is shared under a Public Domain license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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